Composer Kris Bowers was less than 10 years old when Venus and Serena Williams took part in their first matches on the professional tennis tour. But within Bowers’ own family, the ingredients that made him an ideal candidate to score “King Richard,” director Reinaldo Marcus Green’s biopic about the sister’s ambitious father, Richard (played in an Oscar-worthy performance by Will Smith ).
“My own father was inspired by the Williams sisters and Richard Williams,” Bowers explained with a smile in this new episode of TheWrap’s “How I Did It” video series. “My father decided before I was born that he wanted me to play the piano. [My parents] really did everything they could to put me in the best situations to succeed because they wanted to make sure we had a chance to achieve something big.”
Bowers not only achieved something amazing with “King Richard”, but did so with the same instrument his own father dreamed he would master. The piano is critical to the success of Bowers’ score – both to emphasize the family warmth in the film, but also cleverly as a percussive means of understanding the sport of tennis.
From the Warner Bros. Eastwood Scoring Studio in Burbank, California, Bowers explained to what is known in music parlance as a “prepared piano.” At first glance, it looks like someone has dried their laundry on the piano strings. Instead, he said, the term refers to “putting anything you can think of into a piano, such as nails, coins, scraps of paper.”
The technique dampens the vibration of the strings but, as in ‘King Richard’, produces a sound that resonates with penetrating, unique power. “At the beginning of the tennis match [in the film], we strip everything down to a prepared piano so it feels incredibly tense. And I wanted to create this rhythmic drive so that hitting the ball felt like it was part of the music and the hits were almost parts of the score.”
Bowers, whose credits also include “Respect,” “When They See Us,” and “Bridgerton,” also described how he used the piano score to weave his individual musical themes for Venus, Serena, and Richard into the film.
Watch the video above for more information, including an endearing home video of Bowers playing a Billy Strayhorn jazz stand on the piano as a boy.
“King Richard” is currently running in theaters and streaming on HBO Max.
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