If you watched Netflix’s steamy regency-era period drama Bridgerton, there’s probably just one aspect of the show you remember more than the…cavorting. And that’s the music, from a playful string quartet cover of Ariana Grande’s “thank u, next” to Sufjan Steven’s “Love Yourself” blending seamlessly with the show’s luxurious aesthetic. We had the chance to speak with legendary music supervisor Alexandra Patsavas, whose work on Bridgerton was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Music Supervision.
You are a really prolific music supervisor. I was so excited doing the research for this. You’ve been on some of my favorite shows ever. Your IMDB page stretches back to the ’90s. Can you tell me a little bit about your origin story? What got you into this field?
Alexandra Patsavas (AP): First of all, thank you. I’ve been really lucky to work on some great projects over the years, culminating with Bridgerton. As you mentioned, I started supervising in the ’90s. But I grew up in Chicagoland in the 80s. And all of the great John Hughes movies were set and released at that time, and of course, all had really incredible soundtracks. I had no idea that supervision was a field. But I really embraced those soundtracks and they were really important to me. Many movies before those movies included great soundtracks, but that was what resonated with me as a teenager. I came to LA in 1990 to work first at a talent agency, and then at BMI. And I got my start in the ’90s with the legendary B-movie producer, Roger Corman. We called it the Roger Corman School of film. It was exactly that for me. I worked on over 50 projects, all low budget, and supported a really generous music supervisor Paul Di Franco, who really taught me the craft. About five years later, in ’99, I started Chop Shop [Music Supervision]. My first TV show was Roswell. And then soon after, The OC and Grey’s Anatomy and Mad Men, and I got to work on lots of projects that really emphasize music.
You’re obviously no stranger to Shonda Rhimes shows. How did you get involved with her? Has it been a partnership from then all the way to Bridgerton.
AP: I’ve done every ShondaLand before it was called ShondaLand. So Betsy Beers introduced me to Shonda, and I started on the Grey’s Anatomy pilot. It was really fun. And Betsy and Shonda really knew they wanted to make it a music show. And we talked a lot about what that sound would be, how it would be articulated in a way that made it unique. And we found ourselves focusing on indie artists, on discovery, some off-kilter instrumentation, and a novel (for the time), very female leaning bent for source music. Lots of female vocals.
When it comes to Bridgerton, early on, what kind of direction did you get? What stage was the script at?
AP: I was lucky, I was able to read the script quite early on and sat down with Chris van Dusen and with Betsy and Shonda before cameras rolled. We talked about what it would be, what would be that signature sound. At that early time, we focused on instrumentals. Once I started receiving the drafts, the early drafts of the scripts, it was intriguing to think about how we would support Daphne (Phoebe Dynevor) and Simon’s (Regé-Jean Page) love story. I could imagine in my mind’s eye, what would turn out to be lush costumes and beautiful production design. Back when I first read it, of course, it was on the page.
From that stage, all the way up to now, how much have some of your own original ideas or visions changed?
AP: I think ideas and visions always change. It’s part of the creative process, but we started with the kernel of – how would we support a regency series with a modern take, how would it be seamless with Kris Bowers’ unbelievably gorgeous score and themes? I know a lot of attention has been placed on the covers. But there’s a lot of original music from the period, as well as other instrumentals. But change is part of the process. So you play the scenes and try a lot of things out.
You mentioned Kris Bowers, the composer, and I’d love to get more insight into your process with him. Were you brought on at the same time? How did you meet in the middle? Did he start with the music? Did you start with the music? Was it a continual feedback loop?
AP: I think your third suggestion is the most accurate. I think I was brought on first probably, but he was hired soon after. Everyone was thrilled when he came on board. He actually wrote the Daphne and Simon love scene in the summer before the shoot started, and I remember all those ideations. I believe Chris van Dusen sent him a piece as inspiration, a classical piece. But music is always a collaboration and we’re partners in our music department, but also partners with the other creative voices – the production designer, the editors, the costumer, we’re all working together to bring Chris van Dusen’s thoughts to life.
Even though there’s a lot of music of the era, and then Kris’ original compositions that are very Romantic-era sounding, there’s also these modern pieces being covered by a string quartet. But they still mesh so well. That was one of the most impressive things about the music on the show.
AP: Thank you very much. I think that was definitely a goal, to make sure there was a seamless quality to the music, so that a viewer might not know when a score piece left off, and a cover began. And for me, the Billie Eilish, the Ariana Grande, the Taylor Swift covers, we were so excited that all those amazing songwriters and performers said yes to this idea. What was really important to me and to the producers, was that those pieces in those important moments were accessible, recognizable, but perhaps not right away. Perhaps it was a few bars or measures of the quartet performance before the viewer would recognize it.
Speaking of some of those modern covers, do you have a favorite one that happened to make it to the show?
AP: I love the Ariana Grande “thank u, next,” because it’s our first use of the cover. And I feel like it signals to the audience that the aural soundscape is going to be different and they can expect iconic modern pop hits. I also really love the Billie Eilish.
Same. I’m sure this was intentional, but the way that it was almost choreographed in with the beats of the scene. There’s a humor to it that I loved.
AP: Something wonderful about an instrumental, especially an instrumental of a song that we might know so well, is that you hear the lyrics subliminally, even if you don’t hear them actually,
Were there any songs that didn’t make the cut that you were hopeful about?
AP: We actually were really lucky. We were able to go with all of our first choices. I started compiling quartets really early on in the process, as well as all kinds of other instrumental covers. Our picture editors, and of course, Chris, Betsy, and Shonda, we played with a lot of different covers through the post process. I do want to briefly mention Kris Bowers’ score again, because he had such a unique challenge that none of us that work in post-production had faced before. We went into post in March or April of 2020 and of course COVID made it impossible to meet in person. So all of our spotting sessions happened this way on Zoom. Kris was able to use some really unique systems of recording all of the instruments as solos and putting it together. It was such an unbelievable challenge. You think about the energy an orchestra gets from recording and performing in a room together, and the challenge of having to do that one talented instrumentalist at a time.
That’s super impressive to hear about. So you’re up this year for an Emmy for Outstanding Music Supervision, which does not come as a surprise to me. But I’m curious, how did you hear about this news and what was your reaction to it?
AP: It’s my first Emmy nomination. So I was beyond thrilled and moved. I actually heard from Kris Bowers, who must have seen the news and emailed me, so that made it extra special.
He’s up for an Emmy too, for the score. That must be a really fun thing to share.
AP: It has been. We’ve had the chance to talk about Bridgerton together and sort of reminisce about the process. I was thrilled.
Do you have any particularly fond memories you would reminisce about?
AP: It was the process – the beginning of the process was unique because the Bridgerton shoot happened in London, but I had worked with ShondaLand for so many years, there was such a familiarity and I knew we would have a lot of creative conversations before we started. That was something I remember really fondly. I was able to visit the set. And that was incredible. It was a very cold day and it was a very sunshine-y summery scene. It was wonderful to watch that. Mostly I remember the post process, which was so unique. I think that process will perhaps change how we approach post moving forward. Some of the things we learned during the pandemic, we might be able to take them with us. I think we’ll leave some of these processes behind as we get back to in-person work. The idea of remote work, the idea that if Kris, for instance, thought the very best oboe player for this particular score piece was not wherever he was scoring, whether that be Los Angeles, or London, or whatever it would be, if this person was in Iceland, there’s a way to do that. It sort of harkens back to how I felt in the 2000s, when every band became a local band, when we weren’t so regionalized. I think the same thing is possible in score now, too.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Bridgerton is streaming now on Netflix.