Mr. & Mrs. Smith subverts expectations. The spy series from co-creators Francesca Sloane and Donald Glover isn’t too interested in following tropes of the globetrotting adventure films. There’s the escapism and beautiful sights and sounds, but there’s also mundanity, brutal honesty, and the hallmarks expected from a character-driven drama.

It’s a compelling balance composer David Fleming manages as well.

For Fleming, the writing was inspiring. “The structure of the show is the following: in love with somebody revealing your true self, the resentments that build, and then something deeper revealing itself as well,” Fleming told Immersive Media. “For me, it was important that whatever thematic material needed to be about the relationship first, but needed to work for both storylines because it is about a professional relationship.”

Recently, the Mr. & Mrs. Smith composer spoke with Immersive Media about his elegant score.

The final moment between John (Donald Glover) and Jane (Maya Erksine), your music is beautiful there. How’d you want to convey the emotion there and also build towards it?

That scene was so important to the show really, because tonally the show can be really quirky and funny and has a lot of action, but it really, at its heart is about John and Jane’s relationship and it culminates there. In a way, the elements of their thematic material comes back there, but in a completely different context than it normally has been.

My answer is twofold. One is trying not to get in the way too much because they’re acting is beautiful in that scene. Do something more with texture and just supporting them, but then also hopefully just a few notes, just a few select notes of their material presented in a surprising context where you don’t see it coming. Hopefully, it s kind of linking you back emotionally to them. 

The filmmakers flagged the scene and were like, “You need to worry about the scene,” as I was starting episode one. I was always thinking about it. And in fact, they had spotted it only for the very beginning of the scene, not scoring all the way until she ran out. But yeah, I don’t know. I felt it was important that it told the whole arc. So, it was tricky to be honest, but I’m really happy with how it turned out in the end. 

I love that the show is almost this indie dramedy that also has global action in it. 


Did you want to make the score specific to genre or no?

It was the biggest challenge going into it. But I think ultimately what made it a really fun score to write, right? Because it wasn’t a genre specific thing. And in fact, they were really, Francesca and Donald were really specific that they didn’t want to do the obvious version of anything. Early on, when we were doing some action scenes, Francessa said, “This is good, but what’s the art school version of this? That became some sort of north star for me. What’s art school espionage?”

And for me, the tonal, not inconsistency, but the wide range and the juxtaposition, which is perfectly balanced to me, is what makes the show unique. But that was definitely the job when I signed it onto it, like, how can the music help make sense of this tone or at least help square that away? 

When they’re in Italy on a mission, you do get to go a little more genre. Did you think of Bond and composer John Barry for the missions?

It’s definitely always sort of in the back of your mind. The very beginning of the Nancy Sinatra,’s You Only Live Twice,” it has this beautiful, I’m sure it was John Barry, this beautiful string rise up. I remember listening to that and thinking if we could create string lines like that and make them sound as if we had found them on an old record or something, that would be great. The show is kind of remixing an old genre and taking what’s charming and beautiful about some of those films.

I would say the international episodes tended to bring it out more. I had to check myself a couple times. The boat ride, in fact, was one place where I thought, are we going too far? The filmmakers were like, “No, this is the place where we can do it. This is where we can go for it.”

I think you get the wish-fulfillment of it all.

Yeah, that’s the trick. Episode three, the skiing episode, that one I needed to find a balance. I had gone a little too far into Bond. I was just getting sucked into the scenery and we needed to pull back and be like, “Well, actually, they’re very bad at their job. Actually, their romance is stilted and kind of relatable in a sort of awkward way.” It was good to be aware of that line and know when to get close and when to stay away. 

Like you said, Francesco wanted the art school version of an action score. What instruments did that mean to you?

Well, for episode three specifically, I’ll tell you, I have this little Toy Yamaha synth that I brought out. For each thing, it was finding some instrument or synth around my studio that had a flavor of fun or something. Honestly, the truth behind the score is that there wasn’t a lot of time to get overly conceptual or second guess. It was a lot of what would be fun, what would be great?

A lot of times this kalimba happened to be sitting next to me when I was starting episode one, and it ended up being a major sound of the show. I would love to lie and make like, “Oh, I did the kalimba because it represented this.” It seemed to fit the awkwardness of them, but a lot of it was really done more through feeling and impulse. I’ve worked on other things where maybe you get a little more conceptual about why each instrument. Here, this was really following the show, following the tone of the show and trying to find sounds that seem to just fit.

Mr. & Mrs. Smith is available to stream on Prime.

Jack Giroux

In high school, Jack would skip classes to interview filmmakers. With 15 years in film journalism, he's contributed to outlets such as Thrillist, Music Connection Magazine, and High Times Magazine. He's witnessed explosions, attended satanic rituals, and scaled volcanoes in his career, but Jack's true passion is interviewing artists.