The Soloist, starring Robert Downey Jr. as Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez and Jamie Foxx as Nathaniel Ayers, a schizophrenic homeless man residing on the rat-infested streets of Skid Row, captures a true story of human connection, second chances and the limitless power music has over changing lives.
Steve Lopez was sweating out another deadline for his weekly column at the Times when he came across Ayers, a musically gifted homeless man, who was producing beautiful music from a two-string violin in Hershey Square.
Lopez discovers that prior to Ayers becoming homeless, he attended a variety of notable universities including Ohio University, Ohio State University, Cleveland State University and Julliard, which is one of the world’s most prestigious performing arts conservatories. After the death of his mother, Ayers left Cleveland to search for his father in Los Angeles.
Lopez didn’t realize that his willingness to establish a relationship with Ayers would require him to take on the role of a social worker as well as a mental health professional. Prior to Lopez meeting Ayers, the writer had never involved himself in a story as much as he did with Ayers.’ After the column came out, readers responded by donating instruments that benefited Ayers, yet at the same time made him vulnerable to getting mugged on the street.
‘The thought of him walking the streets of Skid Row pushing a shopping cart full of expensive instruments frightened me, and I feared for his safety,’ said Lopez. The relationship between journalist and subject evolved into a friendship after Lopez spent a night with Ayers on Skid Row.’ That night Ayers recited the Hamlet Soliloquy with a perfect Shakespearian accent while warding off rats with two sticks he labeled Beethoven and Brawn.
A level of humility as well as grace is portrayed through Ayers’ ability to battle mental illness on the streets while still maintaining an observant and profound intellect.’ Although Lopez wasn’t directly involved with the casting process of the film, he suggested that Robert Downey Jr. take a more creative approach by capturing the spirit of Lopez instead of impersonating him.
‘I trusted his instincts and his depth as an actor that I wanted him to not feel obligated to play me.’ I wanted to have him use his great talent and skills to make something original,’ said Lopez.
‘Each time that I see the movie, I see new and different ways in which he captured some essence of me.’ He did do something original but he did get a lot off me in his portrayal as well.’
The publications of the column and book have helped improve permanent supportive housing for homeless on skid row. However, Lopez feels that there is still a long way to go.
According to Lopez, the most captivating part about Ayers is that most people would look at him and see a bum or just walk right by him.’ He claims that the greatest gift Ayers gave was the advice of recognizing and staying true to his passion of writing.’
Lopez had considered leaving the declining newspaper industry and instead get more involved with helping the mentally ill.’
Although the form of the information industry is changing and print columnists might not be around much longer, Lopez feels he’s the happiest telling stories’mdash;regardless of what media outlet is used to disseminate information in the future.
‘Knowing that about my career and my purpose was revealing. To learn that from a guy living out of a shopping cart remains to this day the most inspirational experience of my life,’ said Lopez.
The two remain close friends and attend baseball games, concerts at the Disney Music Hall, and daily chats on the phone.’ Ayers has acquired a slew of instruments which include a French horn, upright bass, cello, six violins, as well as a set of drums which are stored and played in the basement of The Los Angeles Times. Three out of five stars.