"One of the things music does is it makes characters sympathetic. And the last thing I was going to do was have you come away thinking, 'Oh, that poor Richard Nixon!' "
So "Frost/Nixon" composer Hans Zimmer does have a conscience, although such empathetic qualms weren't apparent when he was searching for ruthlessly effective sounds to embody the anarchy of "The Dark Knight's" Joker -- and torturing director Christopher Nolan in the process. Woven around those two projects this year were the threads of two major animated films ("Kung Fu Panda," "Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa"), the small Mexican indie "Casi Divas," and the upcoming Charlize Theron drama, "The Burning Plain."
"If you had to eat caviar all day long, you'd be bored of caviar," he explains, in an urbane German accent. "I don't think I would have done as good a job on 'Frost/Nixon' if I hadn't known I had a big, bright and colorful thing like 'Madagascar' coming up."
Sitting in his gorgeous Santa Monica studio, with its warm wood paneling and books everywhere, the seven-time Oscar-nominated composer (and winner for "The Lion King") says he enjoys collaborating, such as with old friend John Powell on "Panda," Black Eyed Peas maestro will.i.am on the pop-song-filled "Madagascar," and "Batman Begins" partner James Newton Howard on "Dark Knight." The Batman sequel found clearer divisions of labor for the composers than did the earlier film, with Howard creating the rich, melodic strains representing tragic figure Harvey Dent and Zimmer striving to express the focused nihilism of the Joker . . . in one note.