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Foxx to portray skid row musician

Times columnist Steve Lopez's friendship with Nathaniel Anthony Ayers is movie's focus.

August 17, 2007|Robert W. Welkos | Times Staff Writer

The unlikely friendship between Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez and skid row musician Nathaniel Anthony Ayers is set to become a motion picture at DreamWorks SKG starring Oscar-winner Jamie Foxx as the musician.

Although the role of Lopez has yet to be cast, producer Gary Foster said Susannah Grant ("Erin Brockovich") has completed a screenplay and British director Joe Wright ("Pride & Prejudice") has signed on to direct the picture, which is scheduled to begin principal photography in January.

Foster, who is producing the film with Russ Krasnoff, said DreamWorks partner Steven Spielberg and studio chief Stacey Snider were advocates for the project from the beginning.

" 'Midnight Cowboy' is a perfect example of what we want this movie to feel like," Foster said. "It won't be slick and glossy. It's going to be emotional and real."

The unusual friendship began when Lopez was walking through downtown Los Angeles a couple of years ago and saw Ayers playing the violin near the Beethoven statue in Pershing Square. Readers were moved by Ayers' story. Ayers was homeless on the streets of Cleveland and Los Angeles for 35 years, Lopez said, after suffering a breakdown at the age of 20 while studying music at the famed Juilliard School in New York.

Lopez said that after first writing about Ayers, "people started donating instruments, he was invited to Disney Hall, and a couple members of the orchestra started hanging out with him. It took me about a year to talk him into moving off the street and indoors."

Ayers, a schizophrenic, now lives in an apartment on skid row, where he has a music studio and likes to play the trumpet, cello and piano. He and Lopez have been to Disney Hall concerts and to Dodgers and Lakers games together. Lopez's book about their friendship, tentatively titled "The Soloist," is due out in the spring.

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robert.welkos@latimes.com

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