St. Louisan’s inside view on film adaptation of ‘The Soloist’

BY ELLEN FUTTERMAN, EDITOR

In the new movie, The Soloist, which is based on a true story, the character of Adam Crane is portrayed by an actor who in no way resembles the real-life Crane. Oh well, such is the way of Hollywood.

Still, Crane, 34, who graduated from Ladue Horton-Watkins High School and New York University, says it was weird to hear his name in the movie and watch someone else play him. But mostly he’s glad audiences will learn the extraordinary story of friendship between Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez and Nathaniel Anthony Ayers, a homeless paranoid schizophrenic who is a gifted musician and once studied at Juilliard.

ADVERTISEMENT
Beth Shalom Cemetery ad

Crane met the two while he was director of public relations for the Los Angeles Philharmonic. A friendship blossomed among the trio. Last year, Crane left L.A. to take a similar PR job with the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra. A couple of weeks ago, he saw a screening of the movie in St. Louis with his father, Nolan Crane, and a few of his SLSO friends. His mother, Margaret “Meg” Crane, works at the Jewish Federation. The Cranes are members of Congregation Shaare Emeth.

The Jewish Light caught up with Adam Crane last week at his office in Powell Hall to ask him about the film, the relationship between Lopez and Ayers and the real story behind what’s depicted on screen.

What did you think of the movie?

As a movie, I liked it. I’m too close to the story to fairly judge the movie. As a part of the story, I know the real story. This is Hollywood, so a lot of it is different. As long as the main themes of the homeless problem and mental illness come forward, which I think they do in the movie, I’m OK with it. And obviously it shows the power of music.

How close is Jamie Foxx’s portrayal of Nathaniel Ayers?

I don’t think people will fully appreciate how great Jamie Foxx is unless you know Nathaniel. He nails it. It is unbelievable. As I was sitting there, I thought I was listening to and watching Nathaniel. It’s scary how good (Foxx) was.

Was it weird to see yourself portrayed by Michael Bunin (of TV’s The Boys) who is bald, wears dorky glasses and is older in the film?

It was weird. I laughed when I heard Robert Downey Jr. say my name on the screen and spell my last name to Nathaniel. I’m kind of amused that they thought I looked too young to be a convincing PR director, which is really what they told me when I jokingly asked if I could play myself. There are three lines, for goodness sake! But at the end of the day, I’m pleased they kept my real name because there aren’t a lot of real names or real characters in the story.

What was your first meeting with Steve and Nathaniel like?

I truly didn’t know what to expect when I offered Nathaniel (through Steve) an invitation to attend a concert. I treated Nathaniel as I would treat anyone. It’s all about the music. Once I met Nathaniel he snapped into this encyclopedia of music — he clearly knew what he was talking about. We all just kind of bonded. Steve saw initially in that first meeting we (staff and musicians at the Philharmonic) are pretty genuine. I think Steve expected us to say no, or no way, we’re not going to allow a paranoid schizophrenic into a concert hall. I think he was surprised at the warm embrace we gave him and Nathaniel.

Now that you moved away, do you keep in touch them?

I’m close with Steve and Nathaniel, in fact, I spoke to Steve last night . . . We went to the Barry Manilow concert together on Valentine’s Day last year — Steve and his wife, Nathaniel and me because Nathaniel announced he wanted to see Barry Manilow. We went to baseball games together, all kinds of outings. I love being with both of them. I know I’ll see Steve at the movie premiere (which was April 20 in L.A.). The thing with Nathaniel is that you never know which Nathaniel you’re going to get. You never know when he is going to snap into one of his weird states. I’ve heard a lot of horrific things come out of his mouth, but you realize it’s not the real Nathaniel.

Is Nathaniel getting treatment for his mental illness?

He is adamant about not getting treatment. He feels very strongly based on his experience — when his mother sent him into shock therapy, when he was 20 or 21 (which was not depicted in the film). He’s been traumatized ever since. That was ultimately his demise and what put him to where he is now, on the streets. When he’s physically sick, Steve has to negotiate with Nathaniel for weeks to get him to see a doctor. In Nathaniel’s mind he’s survived on the streets alone for so long he can keep going. When he gets mad at Steve, he’ll disappear for days at a time and Steve will call me to see if I heard from Nathaniel. This is not a story for us, this is real life.

What about the relationship today between Steve and Nathaniel?

Steve and Nathaniel are very close. If anything, not enough of that was shown in the movie. It’s like an adopted son or a brother for Steve. As Nathaniel is re-entering society, he is still living on skid row in LAMP (a facility for the homeless). He hasn’t been exposed to regular interactions with people for 30 years. He still plays his music, constantly. He exists in his own world. It’s fascinating.