When writer-director Rebecca Miller was playing back her latest film “She Came to Me,” she felt it was missing a compelling song. The National‘s singer-turned-composer Bryce Dessner was sitting next to her when the thought entered: Bruce Springsteen would be perfect.
Dessner was drawing inspiration from Marisa Tomei’s character Katrina, who he describes as “a muse and this gutsy character. She’s a miraculous, amazing and powerful woman. She just felt like she could be a character from a Springsteen song,” he says.
Miller, who used the Springsteen hit “Dancing in the Dark” in her 2015 film “Maggie’s Plan,” loved the idea of Springsteen writing the end credits song. “It was an absurd idea, but it just came to me,” Dessner tells Variety. “What would normally feel insurmountable to most people is not the thing that occurs to Rebecca first, but she said, ‘Oh, that’s interesting.’”
“She Came to Me” follows Steven, a New York opera composer, played by Peter Dinklage. Steven is suffering from a serious case of writer’s block when his wife Patricia (Anne Hathaway) urges him to take walks around the city to clear his head in the hopes that it will help. Instead, Steven meets Katrina (Tomei), a tugboat captain who lures him to bed, and in turn, becomes Steven’s muse.
After much toing and froing, as many people tried to convince Miller not to approach Springsteen, Dessner felt an inkling that the musician would really like the film. “I’m sure he gets asked all the time, but he’s also an artist,” says Dessner. That intuition proved correct.
“Bruce loved the idea. He loved the film. There’s a line in the first opera and in the script: ‘I’m addicted to romance,’ which is also a throughline in the movie, and he wrote the song, ‘Addicted to Romance’ with his wife, Patti Scialfa,” explains Dessner.
The ballad is a duet with soft harmonies and restrained pianos. “He was inspired and he allowed me to produce the song, and we became texting buddies,” says Dessner. “It’s a good testament in life. Just ask. Why not try things as opposed to thinking they’re not going to happen?”
Aside from producing with Springsteen, Dessner also composed the music for the film and wrote the music for the two operas that are central to the narrative.
The film has an emotional quality with comedic beats, so Dessner opted for a piano to drive his score. “The piano compositions are very fast and high-paced,” he explains. “I wouldn’t call it ‘typical film music’ or even music that can be played by average pianists, you really needed a concert pianist to play it.”
For that, he turned to French pianist Katia Labèque. “She brought a lot of humanity and emotion to the skeletal piano line,” he says. In contrast, Dessner describes the operatic pieces as “very orchestral, colorful and full of sound.” The first weaves in and out of the narrative of the film. He wrote music that was grand in every sense of the word with full strings, brass, winds and percussion. As it plays out in the first act of the film, the opera eventually becomes the inspiration for Steven to unlock his creative process.
Says Dessner, “He writes this second opera, and that gives a window into the creative process of how you come up with an idea, how you see a character.” The second opera Dessner says was “a lot more poetic and beautiful. There was a melodic feeling about it. It needed to feel like the ending of an opera and the film.” He adds, “Which is then followed by Bruce’s song.”
Watch the music video for Springsteen’s “Addicted to Romance” below.