The Soloist: Is the 2009 Movie Based on a Real Musician?

‘The Soloist’ revolves around Nathaniel Ayers, a musician who suffers from schizophrenia and ends up homeless because of it. Purely by chance, he runs into Steve Lopez, a journalist who hears Ayers playing the violin on the street. The two men strike up a conversation and Lopez decides to write about the musician and share his story with the world. Directed by Joe Wright, the 2009 drama features Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey Jr. in the roles of Nathaniel Ayers and Steve Lopez, respectively.

‘The Soloist’ is very emotionally charged, thanks in part to Jamie Foxx’s portrayal of Nathaniel Ayers and his struggle with schizophrenia. This level of immersion on the actor’s part makes the audience wonder whether there is a true life inspiration behind the story or not. If you are one of these people, then here’s everything that you need to know!

The True Story Behind The Soloist

Yes, ‘The Soloist’ is based on a true story. The screenplay was written by Susannah Grant based on Steve Lopez’s ‘The Soloist: A Lost Dream, an Unlikely Friendship, and the Redemptive Power of Music,’ which in turn is based on the columns the journalist wrote about Nathaniel Ayers when they first met each other. Nathaniel Ayers as a character is complicated as an individual, and that too without schizophrenia in the mix. A child prodigy who was accepted into the Julliard School and became one of the few African American students there at the time is a story that writes itself.

All of this combined made Nathaniel a character that would demand a lot from the actor portraying it, but Jamie Foxx took on this role with the professionalism, passion, and dignity that it deserved. A highly accomplished musician himself, Foxx also put in six months of intensive training to learn how to play the violin and the cello in order to better prepare himself for the role.

In an interview with BlackTree TV, Foxx revealed that soon after he took on the role of Nathaniel Ayers, he met with the real-life Nathaniel as well in preparation for ‘The Soloist.’ “It was just great to meet him, to get to know him up close and personal, to really be able to see his passion for music and his day-to-day life,” the actor said. “I wanted to get his speech down, I wanted to get all his subtleties down but, most of all, I wanted to capture his spirit.”

In ‘The Soloist,’ Foxx depicts Nathaniel’s individuality and resourcefulness in navigating the twists and turns life throws at him while dealing with schizophrenia with such nuance and believability that it makes the audience feel like the actor himself might be suffering from the neurological disorder. In fact, Jamie Foxx did have such a scare while filming the biographical movie.

“It was very challenging, uh, when you deal with matters of the mind, especially being an artist and an entertainer where you have to go in and out of characters; and I had a very, uh, sort of tragic experience when I was 18 — someone slipped me something and I went crazy — and so by taking this on, I felt a little bit of that creeping up and so I talked to a psychiatrist and I asked very foolishly, uh, can I catch schizophrenia and he says no you can’t catch schizophrenia,” Foxx said in an interview with ScreenSlam.

Speaking about how he resolved his fear, the actor continued, “But some of those feelings sort of crept up so I made sure I surrounded myself with people that could, you know, pull me out, you know when I needed to get out.” Schizophrenia as a neurological disorder is oftentimes perceived as dangerous by the public at large, but people need to understand that statistically, less than one percent of the population of the country has schizophrenia and that they are deserving of the same respect and dignity that any other person.

‘The Soloist,’ while a heartwrenching film about one man’s struggle in life due to his battle with schizophrenia, does an excellent job of normalizing the neurological disorder nonetheless. It sends out a message to everybody that though there might not be a cure for schizophrenia, those who are suffering from it can lead normal lives and thrive as well with proper medication and care without prejudice or fear.

Read More: Best Movies on Schizophrenia on Netflix