Friday, May 16, 2008

Reel People: Jamie Foxx is Nathaniel Ayers

The movie is, The Soloist. The movie is based on LA Times articles by Steve Lopez, and has a screenplay by Susannah Grant (Screenplay writer of Erin Brokovich, which won Julia Roberts her Oscar). The film is directed by the hot director Joe Wright who's last two projects were the Pride and Prejudice and Atonement.

Nathaniel Ayers

In April 2005 Steve Lopez began chronicling the story of Nathanial Ayers in columns for the New York Times. Below is a basic bio I can piece together from Steve Lopez' articles.

Nathaniel Anthony Ayers, who was 54 at the time of the interviews/columns attended Ohio State University and later attended Julliard on scholarship in the 1970s for a couple years, when he returned home after getting sick. It's hard to tell if it was at this time that he was diagnosed with Schizophrenia, or if this was another sickness. But he was later diagnosed as being schizophrenic.

Nathanial grew up in Cleavland, raised with his sister Jennifer by his mother was a beautician. Nathaniel's first instrument was the Bass, and switched to Cello during his time at Julliard. It wasn't until he became homeless that he began playing Violin, and had no formal training on that instrument. His switch was largely based on the fact that the Violin was easier for him to carry around in his shopping cart, and easier to replace when it was stolen. For a time he worked at Wendys or other small jobs to get money to replace stolen instruments.

Apparently for decades he would get worse and better off and on, as his struggle with Schizophrenia brought him in and out of group homes, on and off various medications, and in and out of the lives of his friends and family.

After Nathaniel's mother died in 2000 he moved out West. When Steve Lopez from the LA Times found him he only had two strings on his violin which he carted around with the rest of his belongings in an orange shopping cart. Lopez helped Ayers replace these strings (although Ayers was reluctant to accept) but once they were replaced he seamless played Brahms, Beethoven, and Mendelssohn.

Ayers chose to live in one of the worst parts of Los Angeles, an area known as skid row. Using his beat up violin a pillow and his bow to scare away rodent he would sleep in an area filled with homelessness, prostitutes, drugs, and violence.

After Steve Lopez ran his first story a reader donated a Cello to Ayers. Lopez found Ayers out at his spot on skid row, but Ayers was not interested in taking the bait to get the Cello at a different location where Lamp Community, a mentally ill treatment facility was located. But he finally went, not just with Steve, but on his own to Lamp Community for an opportunity to play his cello.

After a couple attempts and visits to Lamp Community Nathaniel effectively stole his cello and took it with him away from the center.

After reading stories and running into Ayers, a downtown Los Angeles club owner (Alexis Rivera of Little Pedro's Blue Bongo) offered Ayers a job playing for an R & B performer Mickey Champion on Tuesday nights, and if he was early he'd get a free meal too. After returning late to his first performance Rivera continued to show grace, but before long Ayers had a disastrous night which involved a "belligerent tirade in front of his audience." His mental illness got in the way of his new opportunity.

In the early fall of 2005, Steve Lopez arranged for Ayers to go to Disney Concert Hall and see the Los Angeles Philharmonic during a practice, where he got a full tour and a private performance and a chance to meet many LA Symphony performers and director Esa-Pekka Salonen. After the concert and the musicians had left, Ayers removed his own violin from his jacket and played his violin in Disney Concert Hall.

The staff at Lamp worked with Steve Lopez to help coax on Ayers-terms into a safer place to live, an apartment of his own. Ayers was reluctant but the staff and Steve Lopez worked seamlessly together. In the process they even included LA Symphony cellist Peter Snyder who would be giving lessons to Ayers (in his apartment, NOT on skid row). Ayers was reluctant and after his first lesson did not return to his new apartment for several days. Lopez lured Ayers back by asking for his own cello lesson from Ayers. During this lesson he met a number of the other residents at the facility. Suddenly, it became Ayers place.

Working with the staff at Lamp Community and having a safer environment to live in, and continue practicing his music Nathaniel Ayers made great improvements and a part to a safer life off the streets.

The Soloist

I initially mentioned this project last year and the caliber of the cast and production team is certainly worth noting, making it an earlier contender for Oscar attention.

In the Soloist, Jamie Foxx takes on the challenging role of Nathaniel Ayers, while Robert Downey Jr. plays LA Times reporter Steve Lopez. The twice Oscar nominated actress Catherine Keener also plays a role in this film. Lisa Gay Hamilton plays Ayers sister Jennifer, and conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen will be playing himself as LA Philharmonic director, in what I imagine is a limited role.

Jamie Foxx who received his Academy Award win for playing Ray Charles, will again play another, less famous, but certainly intriguing musician in this baity performance.

Will Jamie Foxx receive critical acclaim and perhaps even his second Oscar for playing this Real (Reel) Person?


elgringo said...

Although it certainly seems to have all the necessary pieces to be an Oscar contender, I don't think the role will win him another Oscar. I just have a gut feeling that this will not receive the attention that it deserves. Hopefully I'm wrong.


Michael Parsons said...

I just finished reading an interview with Fox, talking about his mom suffering from Schizophrenia. No doubt he will use that coming up to the awards season, and garner perhaps a nomination. I see this being a showy piece of acting, but with no hidden depth.

Anonymous said...

How can anyone post anything about this movie when it hasn't even been released and hasn't been seen????

RC said...


You will notice that this post is about the life of Nathaniel Ayers NOT how Ayers is portrayed in the Soloist...that is yet to be seen.

Anonymous said...

This is all very interesting. But there seems to be a wide gap between the time of his relationship with Steve Lopez, his struggle with mental illness and his ability to emerge from homelessness up to the making of the film. The questions in my mind are...what is he doing now? How has his musical talent paid off for him? What is his mental condition now? I think that this information would be a great distraction for the audience while we impatiently await the film's premiere. It would also provide a valuable connection to and understanding of the film.


Anonymous said...

First Jamie Foxx was excellent in the Soloist. Next, Robert Downey Jr. was excellent as well. He had a lot of patience. The movie was awesome. What concerned me though, was where was his sister and any other family members?

Anonymous said...

First Jamie Foxx was excellent in the Soloist. Next, Robert Downey Jr. was excellent as well. He had a lot of patience. The movie was awesome. What concerned me though, was where was his sister and any other family members?

farleydave3 said...

"Mr. Ayers still sleeps inside and is a member of LAMP. He continues to play cello as well as violin, bass, piano, guitar, trumpet, French horn, drums and harmonisca. The Nathaniel Anthony Ayers Foundation was started in 2008 by him and his sister, Jennifer, to help raise awareness for artists dealing with mental illness."