John Debney is the ultimate film music character actor. In equal demand for family films such as Elf and adventure films like Iron Man, to the powerful and poignant The Passion of the Christ, for which he received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Score. Debney is an agile jack-of-all-genres, composing for comedies (Bruce Almighty), sci-fi action (Predators), horror (Dream House) and romance (Valentine’s Day) with the same confidence and panache. Debney is also known for his work in such films as Princess Diaries, Sin City, Liar Liar, Spy Kids, No Strings Attached, The Emperor’s New Groove, I Know What You Did Last Summer and Hocus Pocus. Debney’s work also includes Disney’s The Jungle Book directed by Jon Favreau, Fox’s Ice Age: Collision Course directed by Mike Thurmeier, and Twentieth Century Fox’s award-winning musical The Greatest Showman starring Hugh Jackman and Zac Efron. Debney’s most recent films include The Beach Bum starring Matthew McConaughey and directed by Harmony Korine, Paramount Pictures’ family adventure feature Dora and the Lost City of Gold, and the Warner Bros. comedy feature Isn’t It Romantic starring Rebel Wilson. Most recent for Debney is Come Away directed by Brenda Chapman, starring Angelina Jolie and David Oyelowo, and Netflix’s fist original live-action musical Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey, for which his score was shortlisted for the 93rd Academy Awards.
Born in Glendale, California, Debney’s professional life began after he studied composition at the California Institute of the Arts, when he went to work writing music and orchestrating for Disney Studios and various television series. He won his first Emmy in 1990 for the main theme for The Young Riders, and his career soon hit a gallop. Since then he has won three more Emmys (Sea Quest DSV), and received nominations for a total of six (most recently in 2012 for his work on the Kevin Costner western miniseries Hatfields & McCoys). Debney has scored numerous episodes of The Orville for Seth MacFarlane, including conducting each recording session with a nearly 100-piece orchestra. His foray into videogame scoring—2007’s Lair—resulted in a BAFTA nomination and a Best Videogame Score award from The International Film Music Critics Association.
Debney has collaborated with acclaimed directors as diverse as Robert Rodriguez, Garry Marshall, Mel Gibson, the Farrelly Brothers, Jon Favreau, Jim Sheridan, Ivan Reitman, Peter Chelsom, Rob Cohen, Brian Robbins, Tom Shadyac, Sam Raimi, Adam Shankman, Howie Deutch, Renny Harlin, Peter Hyams and Kenny Ortega. He was nominated by the Academy for his Passion of the Christ score, and in 2005 was the youngest recipient of ASCAP’s Henry Mancini Career Achievement Award.
“If I’m doing my job well,” says Debney, “I need to feel it. I really try to make sure that whatever I’m doing— even if it’s a comedy—that I’m feeling it and feeling either humor or the pathos or the dramatic impact of what I’m seeing. That’s the way I approach it.”