Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross Discuss Scoring Luca Guadagnino’s ‘Challengers’ in Featurette: ‘It’s About the Excitement’ (EXCLUSIVE)

Luca Guadagnino’s “Challengers” is sweaty, sexy and full of angst. The film, which hits theaters April 26, centers on a love triangle between three tennis players with deeply competitive spirits both in the game and off the court. In it, former doubles partners Patrick Zweig (Josh O’Connor) and Art Donaldson (Mike Faist) face off in a challengers match years after they fell out over their pursuit of a promising young star named Tashi Duncan (Zendaya). Tensions mount as they play each other in a finals game with a weight much heavier than a grand prize trophy, and as the film cuts between time periods, the importance of the win becomes vastly heavier.

A pivotal device in the film is the score itself, composed by two-time Oscar winners Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Inspired by Berlin techno and ‘90s rave music, the score amplifies the stress and strain of the scenes at hand, lending an urgency to the film that already teeters on the precipice of anxiety. “‘Challengers’ had two elements that were very powerful in terms of sound,” says Guadanigno in a clip premiering exclusively on Variety. “One was the erotic crunchy pulse of tennis. The racket swinging, the ball hitting, bones crushing. And on the other hand, the pulse and energy of the score.”

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Reznor and Ross had previously worked with Guadagnino on 2022’s “Bones and All,” and once the film wrapped, they received an email from the director mentioning his next project. “The way he described ‘Challengers’ was on a one-sentence email,” recalls Ross. “‘Do you want to be on my next film? It’s going to be super sexy.’ Two x’s.”

“Luca said, ‘What if all the music was driving, thumping techno, like a heartbeat that makes the movie fun?’” adds Reznor.

The resulting score is just that, a collection of rapid-fire instrumentals that throb and gallop like a ball being whizzed across the court. “It allows the audience to feel this fire between these characters that never goes away,” says Zendaya, who also serves as a producer on the film alongside Guadagnino, Amy Pascal and Rachel O’Connor. “It’s constantly changing, and that’s what makes it really fun.”

“It’s about the excitement,” says Ross, “and simultaneously there’s an order and a thoughtfulness to the score.”

While the “Challengers” score will release in tandem with the film, a different version entitled “Challengers [Mixed]” hit streaming services on April 12, featuring a special mix of songs remixed by Boys Noize. A rendition “Compress / Repress,” which features Reznor’s vocals and was co-written with Guadagnino, was included on “[Mixed],” but viewers will have to wait until the end of the film to hear the original version.

Reznor and Ross have worked together on scores for almost 15 years, dating back to 2010’s “The Social Network.” In the time since, they’ve continued to collaborate for films including “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” “Gone Girl,” “Bird Box” and “Soul,” the latter of which they worked on with Jon Batiste.

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