Soloist, The: Robert Downey Jr. plays journalist Steve Lopez

With Jamie Foxx already cast, the filmmakers began searching for an actor with the strengths to contrast and connect with him as Steve Lopez – which led them straight to Academy Award nominee Robert Downey Jr., fresh off his very different blockbuster role as “Iron Man.”

For Joe Wright, Downey’s casting was just as vital as that of Jamie Foxx. “When I started working on ‘The Soloist’ it seemed Nathaniel was the film’s extraordinary character, but I soon realized that Steve Lopez is equally so,” says Wright. “He is the film’s Everyman. Steve is someone who’s never been able to commit to other people and he goes into this relationship thinking that he can save Nathaniel, but actually it’s he who’s changed by the experience in the end. Robert was able to bring a great humanity and a fierce intellect to that.”

For Downey, who portrayed a San Francisco Chronicle reporter in David Fincher’s “Zodiac,” playing a columnist in “The Soloist” was both familiar and a complete turnabout from his two most recent roles in big, summertime action films: “Iron Man” and “Tropic Thunder.” He says: “This last year I’ve done these really big, fun, showy movies and I think it was just what the cosmos ordered for me – to do something about humanity and humility and tolerance.”

It was Downey’s initial meeting with Joe Wright that sealed the deal. “I was so taken by the way he saw the movie,” he says. “He spoke about how he wanted to pepper the cast with actual members of the Lamp Community, how he really wanted this to be a film not about mental illness but about faith. He also said it was a love story, which I thought was a charming notion.”

Downey then met with Lopez, which gave him further insights into how to approach the role. “Steve is very charming, very engaging and a great storyteller but, when we met, he insisted that I not try to impersonate him in any way, so we ended up going in a somewhat different direction,” says Downey. “Joe and I talked about trying to really create a sense of a man in crisis, and that crisis is matched, mirrored and somewhat healed by this relationship with Nathaniel.”

After spending time watching Nathaniel and Steve together, Foxx and Downey also latched onto the fun at the center of their unusual relationship, something that really came across when they were on set together. “I think Robert brought levels of passion and compassion that really elevated the script,” says Krasnoff. “Any time an actor can take a brilliant script and elevate it, you have something very special. He brought humor and life to the movie in a wonderful way.”

Adds Foster: “I have never seen anyone on set as detailed as Robert. He works so hard. He looks for every moment and every beat of every scene and tries to find every opportunity to give you options. “It’s been an unbelievable pleasure and honor to watch him create.”