Los Angeles Times journalist Steve Lopez is still in awe that Hollywood is telling his and Nathaniel Ayers’ story.
“The Soloist,” scheduled for release on April 27, is the incredible true story of Lopez (Robert Downey, Jr.) and his most heartfelt column and book subject, Nathaniel Ayers (Jamie Foxx).
Ayers is a schizophrenic with an extreme talent for music who was born and raised in Cleveland.
“It’s been pretty surreal,” said Lopez in a conference interview. “Seeing Robert Downey calling himself Steve Lopez is a little bit strange.”
Lopez was approached by producers Gary Foster and Russ Krasnoff three years ago with the intention of making a film about Ayers and himself.
Lopez said he had concerns about letting Hollywood tell the story. He was worried that issues would be simplified or the story would be changed.
However, “They made the movie they said they were going to make,” said Lopez.
Lopez said he was very pleased with how themes of friendship, the redemptive power of music, and the simple power of human connection were illustrated in the finished film.
“The film is by necessity a reduction, but the film is true to all the essential themes,” commented Lopez.
He said the film stays true to framing the relationships, the issues and his conflicts.
Lopez was not part of the casting process. “I knew that my job was to write the columns, write the book, and trust the people at Dreamworks to make the movie that they said they wanted to make,” he said.
“I know they went through a lot of people, and I think we couldn’t have been luckier than to end up with Robert Downey,” Lopez said. “I feel great about the way it turned out.”
Lopez loved Downey’s portrayal. He spoke to Downey before filming and told him he trusted the actor’s instincts and depth. “I wanted him to just use his great talents and skills to make something original,” Lopez said.
Lopez was amazed at what Downey was able to do with the part.
“Each time that I see the movie, I see new and different ways in which he captured some essence of me,” said Lopez. “This, I think, is the genius of Robert Downey. I think it’s just an amazing acting performance. ”
Lopez and Cleveland native Ayers first met each other in 2005.
While walking through Los Angeles, Lopez saw a homeless man sitting near a statue of Beethoven.
In the man’s hands was a violin, an instrument he was able to play with professional skill.
Lopez discovered that the Julliard School accepted Ayers at the age of 19. One of the top music schools, Ayers only made it through his third year after developing schizophrenia.
“Here’s the striking image of a guy whose story needed to be told,” he said. Inspired by the homeless man’s story, Lopez featured Ayers in his next column.
To Lopez, that man playing a two-stringed violin near the statue of Beethoven remains “the most inspirational experience of [his] life.”