Toronto composer gets 2 Oscar nominations for work on 'Life of Pi'
This film image released by 20th Century Fox shows Suraj Sharma in a scene from 'Life of Pi.' (Jake Netter / 20th Century Fox / CP)
Cassandra Szklarski, The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, January 10, 2013 5:13PM EST
Last Updated Thursday, January 10, 2013 5:14PM EST
TORONTO -- Canadian composer Mychael Danna collected two Oscar nominations Thursday and according to a deal he has with director pal Atom Egoyan, that means he gets two more walnuts.
Danna says the esteemed filmmaker gave him a nutcracker over the holidays and since then has been giving him a walnut for every award nomination he earns for work on the eye-popping fable "Life of Pi."
"It's rather bizarre," Danna admits of the sudden tradition. "(Today) he said, 'Well, you get two more walnuts for your nutcracker.' It's very Atom Egoyan of him."
So far, Danna's racked up a lot of walnuts.
In addition to Oscar nods for best song and best score, he was to compete for best score at the Critics' Choice Movie Awards on Thursday night and at the Golden Globe Awards on Sunday.
He's also up for a British Academy Film Award on Feb. 10, and last weekend, he was given a composing award at the Palm Springs International Film Festival.
They're all great honours, but Danna admits winning an Academy Award would be the ultimate validation.
"This is it, this is the gold standard," Danna said from Los Angeles, where he was preparing to attend the Critics' Choice bash and then the Golden Globes.
"It's the real message from your peers on the most important level that they are noticing your work. It's huge."
Based on the Booker Prize-winning novel by Canada's Yann Martel, "Life of Pi" is up for 11 trophies overall, bested only by the sweeping historical drama "Lincoln," which earned a leading 12 nominations.
Martel says he watched the announcement on his computer in London where he was visiting his partner's family.
"I was delighted it got that many nominations, which is quite a feat considering that it's a movie that, in a sense, didn't have that many actors in it," says Martel.
"(Star) Suraj Sharma basically carried the movie on his shoulders and he was crowded out by more senior actors in that best-acting category. So to get 11 nominations for 'Life of Pi' was tremendous."
Martel says art is all about taking risks and "Life of Pi" included plenty of big challenges.
"It was an expensive movie to make, it was technically and narratively a challenge, so I'm heartened that they all took that risk," he says, noting the film includes a lot of computer-generated imagery that had to be seamlessly integrated with the actors.
"It was difficult to translate that to the screen.... It could've been one of these cases of a big-budget movie that completely failed because it just doesn't come together."
The 54-year-old Danna says Egoyan offered immediate congratulations when word came early Thursday that he was responsible for two of "Life of Pi"'s nominations.
"He's one of the first people who sent me a message," says Danna, crediting the success of his lengthy career in large part to his former University of Toronto pal.
"I've had the career that I've had based on where he and I started together."
The two essentially began their careers together, with Danna scoring all of Egoyan's features starting with 1987's "Family Viewing." Egoyan went on to establish himself as one of Canada's foremost filmmakers, earning Oscar nominations for directing and adapting "The Sweet Hereafter."
Another long-standing relationship appears to be budding with "Life of Pi" director Ang Lee, who also relied on Danna to compose music for 1997's "The Ice Storm" and 1999's "Ride with the Devil."
Danna has said he and Lee "have a real closeness" and that Lee even attended his wedding in Toronto roughly 11 years ago.
Danna spent nearly a year working on the score for "Life of Pi," while most movies typically require just a few weeks or months. The challenge was to evoke a wide range of cultures and religions mentioned in the film while complementing its 3D visuals.
"Life of Pi" centres on a shipwrecked Indian boy adrift in the Pacific Ocean with a Bengal tiger. Much of it involves the main character Pi speaking to God while surrounded by an endless ocean, with other scenes taking place in India, Montreal and Mexico.
Danna pulled in a wide array of instruments, including mandolin, accordion, orchestra, Persian ney, sitar, the bowed sarangi and a reed flute known as bansuri.
The Oscar race for best score pits him against giants in the field including Dario Marianelli for "Anna Karenina," Alexandre Desplat for "Argo," John Williams for "Lincoln" and Thomas Newman for "Skyfall."
"That just shows you the level of the honour to be in that kind of company. It's the thrill of a lifetime to be in that kind of company," said Danna, whose own impressive resume includes credits for "Moneyball," "The Time Traveler's Wife," "500 Days of Summer" and "Little Miss Sunshine."
Danna's song "Pi's Lullaby" (with lyric by Bombay Jayashri) will compete for best song against "Before My Time" from the film "Chasing Ice," "Everybody Needs A Best Friend" from "Ted," "Skyfall" from "Skyfall" and "Suddenly" from "Les Miserables."
He said he looked forward to celebrating the latest nominations with Lee at the Critics' Choice Movie Awards, where he expected they would share "a big hug."
"That's really kind of one of the nice bonuses of the awards season," he says. "Instead of working with these people that you work so hard with you get to actually have fun with and relax with these guys."
And if anyone is wondering whether Danna is holding on to those walnuts for good luck, he admits that they disappeared quickly.
"I already ate all the ones Atom gave me so I'll have to wait for the next set."
The Academy Awards will be handed out Feb. 24 in Hollywood.