The Soloist (2009)

April 14, 2009

Guest: Steve Lopez

Program Goes Behind the Scenes of "The Soloist"

By Newseum staff

WASHINGTON — "The Soloist," a movie about the unlikely friendship between a homeless, gifted musician and a Los Angeles Times columnist, opens nationwide April 24. Fans of the "" film series recently got a sneak preview of the movie and a firsthand account of the story from columnist Steve Lopez.

Distinguished journalist-in-residence Clooney moderated the discussion with Lopez, who was portrayed in the movie by actor Robert Downey Jr.

Lopez described his relationship with Nathaniel Ayers, a gifted musician who performs on the streets of Los Angeles. Academy Award-winning actor Jamie Fox portrayed Ayers. Lopez said it was journalism, rather than social responsibility, that initially prompted him to speak with Ayers.

In his columns, Lopez revealed that Ayers, who lived out of a shopping cart and played Beethoven’s music near a statue of the great composer, had been a prodigy with a scholarship to Juilliard in the 1970s. Schizophrenia forced Ayers to drop out of the performing arts school and live on the streets. Music helped calm his inner demons. Lopez found Ayers articulate, though often incoherent.

Lopez’s columns touched readers, who sent donations of musical instruments — one cello in the film, several cellos and violins in reality — making Lopez realize that leaving Ayers on the street with valuable instruments would make him a target for attack. As Lopez became more involved in helping Ayers, he began to understand the hardships of people who are homeless and mentally ill, and those who care about them.

The columns, which were turned into a book, also attracted movie offers. Lopez pointed out to the producers a problem he had with filming the story: "I don’t know how it ends," he said.

"Reel Journalism," a film series hosted by Clooney and sponsored by the Newseum and the American University School of Communication, showcases classic and contemporary films depicting the integral role of journalism in American life and provides a forum to discuss the role of the press in a democratic society.

"Reel Journalism" Spring Series

  • "The War Room" May 18, 2009
  • "A Mighty Heart" June 1, 2009
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