Feature: The Soloist
Wed, 22 Apr 2009 12:56:59
Robert Downey, Jr. Videos
After a couple shifted release dates, the once 2009 Oscar-hopeful, The Soloist, will make its eagerly awaited debut on April 24. Producer Gary Foster fully acknowledges the struggle in landing a secure, finite premiere, betting on an exceptional commercial bounce at the spring box office as due reward. He says, “Everyone in the film is [Oscar] worthy, so now we just wait until 2010…It’s fine. We’re going to have less clutter in the marketplace in April, and I think the picture might have a better fate.” Director Joe Wright chalks up the suspicious move to the flow of funding, remarking: “I think we were a victim of the credit crunch, basically.”
With The Soloist’s release inching closer, I attended the press conference for the film, discussing with the cast and crew both the real-life accounts and fictionalized portrayals of the bond between Steve Lopez and Nathanial Anthony Ayers, depicted in Lopez’s original book and columns, now adapted to the screen.
Despite the syrupy subject matter, Jamie Foxx, who, in dedicated form, inhabits the cello playing, homeless, slightly crazed, Julliard-dropout Nathaniel Anthony Ayers, saw this as ample opportunity to shed light on a harrowing true story—if their heart was in the right place. Foxx recalls, “One: We wanted to tell the story about Nathaniel Anthony Ayers. Then Joe [Wright] wanted to make sure we were sensitive towards the homeless situation in LA. We all had different goals we wanted to achieve in doing the film."
Robert Downey Jr., who plays LA Times writer Steve Lopez, confirms the relationship of Ayers and Lopez goes far deeper than a sensational news story or book deal. He exuberantly states, “Their relationship transcended the book and even the movie—they’re still hanging out now. It’s not like once the movie rights got bought they said, ‘Hey, my job’s done here’ (in typical LA fashion). We knew that these people became friends in the most unlikely circumstances.”
Although filmed in the heart of downtown LA, Director Joe Wright reverted back to his British roots to uncover the true nature of Ayers’ time on the streets of LA and in the LAMP community, a support and housing center located on Skid Row. Wright confesses, “I decided to make the film on the condition to have the [LAMP members] teach me how to make the film. We made the film with them, not just about them…That’s a tradition that goes back a long way in British filmmaking, with British realism of the ‘70s, and indeed, ‘60s—to work with non-actors.”
The current, tumultuous state of the newspaper industry also proved a relevant facet to the backdrop of Robert Downey Jr.’s character, creating an added layer of context to the narrative. “Particularly, when we were doing this last year, the newspapers were seeming like they might be outmoded, [with] all these layoffs.” Catherine Keener, who plays Downey Jr.’s ex-wife and editor, further elaborates, “Recently, I’ve known a couple Los Angeles Journalists who have lost their jobs. Which is shocking—because they have such credibility and credentials…It is surprising that this is happening within a community of elevated journalists.”
Fortunately, the actual LA Times writer Steve Lopez was in attendance, reflecting upon how media is generally reluctant to cover the homeless, and what he tried to achieve with his LA Times column, the inspiration behind Wright’s film. He ponders, “What we needed to ask ourselves was, 'Why do we not put their names in the paper? What are we trying to hide?'”
Finishing off with one last sobering avowal about Ayers’s disregarded place in society, Lopez reveals, “I remained concerned about how Mr. Ayers would handle all of this [attention]. But when people ask me if I have regrets about moving forward [with the columns], I would have had greater regrets if we didn’t.”