Making even Meryl Streep look like a slouch, Randy Newman is currently celebrating his twentieth Oscar nomination, this one for “We Belong Together” from Toy Story 3, up for Best Original Song. We spoke with the legendary songwriter last week about who he wishes would perform in his stead at the Oscars, his future plans (which might include a Tootsie musical), and scoring 2010’s most tear-jerking movie.
Congratulations on your twentieth Oscar nomination.
Thank you very much. It’s always nice, you know.
How did you find out about this one? Do you still wake up early on nomination day?
No, somebody called me and woke me up. I think it was some sort of PR service or something. So someone I didn’t know but usually it’s, immediately when they get the news, someone will call me and wake me up.
When you write a song like Toy Story 3’s “We Belong Together,” are you writing from a certain character’s perspective? Were you writing as Woody?
A little bit. I actually wrote it thinking it would be a duet. Maybe get John Mayer and Lady Gaga, or I don’t know, Katy Perry? But Pixar thought not. I was trying to finally sell out. But no, they wanted me to do it, to retain that consistency because I was the voice in the first movie and to some extent the second. So yeah, it’s Woody more or less.
Will you be performing the song at the Oscars?
Yeah, I think so. I don’t know if they’ve officially announced anything, but that’s my understanding. And again, I tried to get them to hire someone really inappropriate to perform it for me. Someone who’s sort of good, like Katy Perry or Lady Gaga, who’s very good. And I think they tried, except one’s in London and one’s in Chicago. It would have been funny.
Before this one, you were nominated nineteen times and only won once, for “If I Didn’t Have You” from Monsters, Inc. At those other eighteen Oscar ceremonies, how many times did you think, My score or song was way better than the guy’s who won?
Occasionally. The year [my score for The Natural] got beat by Passage to India, I thought maybe I could have won. When I did win an Oscar, I didn’t expect to be particularly moved in any way. I learned not to take it personally, the Academy stuff. It’s just a very strange event is what it is. It’s, like, extraterrestrial. But when I won, the orchestra stood up and that really touched me. I was worried — “Jesus, I’m going to cry or something.” But it didn’t happen.
Speaking of crying, everybody left the theater in tears after seeing Toy Story 3. When you were writing the score, did you expect it to have that effect on audiences? Were you just sobbing at the piano while composing?
I was sobbing, but for a different reason. Certainly the picture was set up to do that. In the last reel, I mean. Lee Unkrich temped the score with music from other pictures I’ve done. It was all my music. He had something from Parenthood in the ending in the temp version, and he loved it. I was a little worried that I wouldn’t be able to make him like what I was going to do, and it worked better, I think.
What are you working on now?
Well, a couple ideas for musicals. I’ve had some meetings. A musical version of Tootsie is interesting to me, and a Face in the Crowd musical. And I’ve been writing songs for myself for a record.