Songwriter Diane Warren is a legend in Hollywood at this point, having received 13 Oscar nominations over the past 35 years. Though she has yet to win thus far, she’s hoping that the lucky #13 will be the one to finally bring her the elusive gold statue she seems destined to win one day.
This year, Warren is once again up for Best Original Song thanks to “Somehow You Do” from the addiction drama Four Good Days, which finds Mila Kunis trying to kick a nasty drug habit and Glenn Close playing her supportive mother, who also has to dish out some tough love from time to time.
Warren earned her first Oscar nomination for 1987’s Mannequin, and though nearly a decade passed before Warren earned her second nod for 1996’s Up Close and Personal, she was off to the races from there. She received 10 more Oscar nominations for Con Air (1997), Armageddon (1998), Music of the Heart (1999), Pearl Harbor (2001), Beyond the Lights (2014), The Hunting Ground (2015), Marshall (2017), RBG (2018), Breakthrough (2019), and The Life Ahead (2020), before Four Good Days brought Warren her latest recognition from the Academy.
Warren teamed with Grammy-winning singer Reba McEntire on the song, and I’m personally really glad that “Somehow You Do” was nominated as whether it wins or not, it’ll expose Four Good Days and its important story to a much larger audience.
Warren took a break from hanging with her 28-year-old parrot Buttwings — who she named “around the time of Beavis and Butthead,” in case you were wondering — to discuss what went into the creation of “Somehow You Do” and how it was “a tough year” for original songs given all the high-profile competition, which includes Beyoncé, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Billie Eilish, and Van Morrison.
Please enjoy our chat below:
Below the Line: How did you first get involved with Four Good Days?
Diane Warren: I first heard about the movie [because of] Bonnie Abaunza. She’s a friend of mine, and she told me about the movie. The pandemic had kind of just started, this was maybe a month into it, and she sent me the movie and I was really moved by it.
And then I sat at the keyboards and I kind of wanted to write a song about hope. I wanted to write a hopeful song, because in this movie, unlike a lot of situations like that, it did have a good ending, and a lot of them don’t. So I really wanted to emphasize the hope, and that no matter what you go through, whether it’s addiction or… I guess what I’m saying is… I wrote the song for the movie, but the pandemic had just started too, so I think some of that kind of bled into it a bit, so there was another layer. I saw there were so many people going through so much at that time. Basically everybody. And that song took on another layer, really, with that. That no matter what struggles you’re going through, whatever it is… [because] there’s a lot of depression, too, you know?
If you look at the comments on Reba McEntire‘s video, it’s not just addiction, it’s a lot of stuff, a lot of mental health issues and depression and stuff like that, and they talk about how this song really got them through a lot of that.
BTL: For sure. I think we all went through our own private battles during the pandemic and I hope you made it through alright. With this Oscar nomination, it sure seems like it.
Warren: Yeah, well, I sit in a room by myself anyway, so not a lot changed, but the silver lining for me was nobody was at my company, so I would come here every day and like, nobody was here, so I actually found the positivity in that and got a lot more done because really nobody was here to annoy me except myself. And it was pretty easy to reach artists because no one was on the road, so it wasn’t all terrible for me, to be honest.
I mean, it was kind of a drag not to see your friends and stuff like that, but my life didn’t change a lot. I just basically sat in a room by myself and wrote songs. But this one, when I was writing, I thought there was something really special about it, it just felt like there was something spiritual about it, almost.
BTL: Can you walk me through your collaboration with Reba McEntire on “Somehow You Do” and how you wound up bringing the song to her?
Warren: OK, so when I write a song for a movie, in general, whatever movie I’m writing for, the artist that does my song, I’m casting that artist to be part of that movie. Even if it’s an untitled song, it has to be authentic and it has to feel like it belongs. Like when I wrote “I’ll Fight” for the RBG documentary, you don’t think of Ruth Bader Ginsburg as [having] a deep, big diva voice, but even though she was small in physical stature, in real life, her voice was gigantic. So I wanted her avatar to be like a diva, like Jennifer Hudson, so that was just one example, if that makes any sense.
And in this movie, or any movie, the artist that does the song has to fit in that movie. And in this movie, I could imagine Glenn Close’s character listening to Reba McEntire. It would totally make sense that that’s what she would listen to. Also, Reba is a survivor, she’s been through a lot in her personal life, and yet in her voice, you just hear her strength and you hear her resilience, and that, to me, is what this movie is about — strength and resilience and surviving addiction. Within this movie, it’s addiction, but surviving anything. So Reba just felt like the right artist. And she’s a really great singer. I’ve done songs with her before and had a hit with her back in the day. So I just thought she could bring some of her own story, almost vocally, to it, and yet fit the story of the movie, if that makes sense.
I just thought she was the perfect artist for this movie and the perfect artist for this song, although William Shatner did a spoken-word version a couple months ago that’s pretty great. It’s so good. It’s just a whole different thing and it works, too.
BTL: Was there a song of yours looking back that you felt deserved to win an Academy Award?
Warren: Well, there were a couple of times where — not deserved, because who “deserves” it — but there were a couple of times where I definitely thought I was going to win. I guess “Til It Happens To You,” the song I wrote for Lady Gaga for The Hunting Ground…
BTL: You won an Emmy for that one, right?
Warren: Yes, I think they might have changed the rules, but I think at that time, you could have a documentary go theatrical before TV, and then it was eligible for an Emmy, so I kind of got to say my Oscar speech at the Emmys. But that was a time when everybody was saying I was going to win, and ‘this one’s the one,’ and they had it in their predictions, and so it was like, ‘yay, I’m going to win tonight…’ and then I didn’t.
There were a couple of times, like, “Because You Loved Me” [from Up Close and Personal] from back in the day, I thought was going to win. And then there were a bunch of times I didn’t think I was ever going to have any chance, like when I was up against Titanic, and you just go to have a good time.
Even last year, the Oscars were on my Dad’s birthday, so I thought, ‘maybe I’ll win,’ but I didn’t. But the thing is, the nomination, to me, is the win. They only pick five songs a year, when you think about it like that. We have the Grammys and there are tons of song categories, but the Oscars only have one and there are hundreds of songs and hundreds of movies released every year.
And like I was saying before, this year was just crazy competitive just to get nominated, and my song was said last! I stayed up all night! I’m not one of those cool people who’s like ‘yeah, I’m going to go to sleep and my agent’s going to call me’ because a) I don’t have an agent and b) I’m not going to sleep and you guys aren’t either, so all the people who say they didn’t really care, yes you did! You care just as much as me, or maybe not as much, but you certainly didn’t fucking go to sleep.
BTL: Were you announced last because of the ‘W’ in Warren?
Warren: No, it’s alphabetical with the song, and yes, I was last. And I was like, ‘oh my God!’ because there were a couple of songs in there that I didn’t think were going to get in, and I was like, ‘Oh shit, that took my slot. Oh shit, that took my slot.’ And then they got to the James Bond song and there was one song after, which could’ve gone a couple of ways…
BTL: At this point, I feel like there is a Diane Warren slot reserved at the Oscars.
Warren: I don’t know about that, but look, I don’t take any of this for granted. Honestly, to be acknowledged, if you look at the people in the music branch who vote, they really are the greatest composers on the planet, and songwriters, and music and film people, on the planet, so the fact that they’d nominate me, I don’t take any of it for granted. I’m humbled and honored and it’s the fucking coolest thing in the world. To me, the nomination is the win. It really is.
BTL: Since you’ve been through this a bunch of times, do you have a favorite part of being a nominee? Is it going to the actual ceremony, is it the Nominees Luncheon, is it getting a better table at Sunset Tower or that kind of thing?
Warren: No, the best part of it is getting nominated and hearing your song. Nothing compares to that. Especially this year, because there have been other years where I’ve been more confident that it was going to happen, but this year, not a lot of people saw this movie.
BTL: I was going to ask you about that, and whether you think getting nominated is about the song itself, or is it a little bit about the movie, or do you think it’s a combination of the two? Because this movie didn’t have a huge awards profile even though it was very good.
Warren: I think it’s all of the above. I think the power of the song and its message really resonated with people and resonated with voters, so I think it had that going for it.
But to answer your question, the best part is just getting nominated. This year, especially. The look on my face — because my friends were filming it — was just pure shock. I put my head in my hands on that last one, like, ‘oh, fuck!’ I was getting progressively more nervous and pulling my hair out, and then they said “Somehow You Do” was the last song.
BTL: Is there a celebratory ritual you have at this point when you hear your name?
Warren: Jumping up and down. No, the ritual I have, I call The Sleepless Slumber Party. So I invite some of my friends, and people come by earlier in the night for pizza, and then there’s kind of a core group that stays overnight and literally counts down the hours. None of us are cool enough to not care. We’re literally counting it down, like, ‘oh shit, only an hour left. Oh no, a half-hour to go! Let’s get by the TV now in case something goes wrong with the TV.’ I get a little crazy about it…
BTL: It’s certainly understandable. It’s nerve-wracking.
Warren: This was the most nerve-wracking year ever, I have to say. I think I need to write songs that start with a letter that’s earlier in the alphabet.
But to answer your question, all of it is fun. It’s all great, starting with that moment when you hear your song, which is the best fucking feeling in the world. There’s nothing that compares to it. And then all the other fun stuff, like the Nominees Luncheon. I hope they’re having one this year in person because last year they obviously couldn’t because of COVID.
But that’s one of my favorite things, because you get to meet everybody and it’s very casual, and nobody’s lost yet. Fast-forward a couple more weeks and four out of those five haven’t won or whatever, but it’s a really fun day and you sit at tables with people that you wouldn’t necessarily ever meet in your life, but they’re the best at what they do.
BTL: Do you know if your song will be performed live during the ceremony, or have they not shared those plans with you yet?
Warren: I haven’t heard anything yet. I would hope so. There are a lot of great artists [this year] and I’m sure they want that, but I haven’t heard anything official yet, no.
BTL: So I grew up watching these big action movies that feature your music like Con Air and Armageddon, and I feel like these days, action movies don’t really have those kinds of songs anymore. I’m curious why you think that is and to what you would attribute that shift?
Warren: I don’t know, but there was something really cool about having these boy movies with kind of these “girl songs,” almost — not girl songs, but softer [songs], like the romantic side of it. You could see Armageddon and all these macho guys through the whole movie, and then at the end, you’d hear “I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing.” It just brought something else to it, right?
BTL: Oh, for sure. I feel like I danced with girls in middle school and high school to that song.
Warren: Wow, don’t make me feel old or anything! No, it’s okay. Yeah, I did a lot of those for Jerry Bruckheimer. We did a bunch of those, like Pearl Harbor and Con Air, and then one of my favorites that wasn’t as big a hit as those songs was the one I did for Gone in 60 Seconds, which was “Painted on My Heart” by The Cult. It’s one of my favorites, and I love that as much as I love “I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing.” It’s so good!
BTL: What popular music are you listening to these days? Do you have a favorite artist or Spotify channel or playlist, anything like that?
Warren: No, I listen to everything because I work with a lot of different artists, so I’m always kind of just aware of everything. So I don’t have one favorite, and in all honesty, in the daytime, I’m doing my own music, and so I don’t really listen to music as much. But it’s more educational for me. It’s hard for me just to listen without going, ‘so what did they do there on the bridge? What chord is that?’
BTL: What would you say is the secret or the key to writing an Oscar-winning song?
Warren: I wouldn’t know because I’ve never won one [laughing], so I’m the wrong person to ask! I have no idea. If I did, I’d maybe have one, I guess. I don’t know. But it’s not even about that, it’s about writing great songs. Like, if you’re writing a song for a movie, it has to enhance that movie or tie it together emotionally. And the best-case scenarios are the ones that live outside of the movie as well, which are my songs. My songs tend to do that. They work great in a movie… and you gave the example of Armageddon with “I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing,” which was perfect in that movie… but then it became a wedding song.
BTL: Right, it has a second life outside of the movie.
Warren: Yes, you want people to take these songs and even though they’re soundtracks for a movie, then they become soundtracks for someone’s life. That’s the best-case scenario, and I’ve been lucky where a lot of my songs do get to have that life, or those lives, actually.
Four Good Days is currently streaming on Hulu.