Finding a film about mental illness made by an individual who deals with what he’s depicting is difficult. But Paul Dalio’s Touched with Fire — which opens Friday in South Florida — is one such work. Katie Holmes, who stars in the film as a bipolar poet, says she was “blown away by the honesty of all these characters” when she first read the script, which immediately grabbed her.
In her first meeting with Dalio, she discovered the film was based on his personal experiences.
“I was so moved by his own personal journey and what he has endured and how he has come out of it and the work he’s doing,” Holmes explains. “It was invaluable to have him there every day to ask questions and also to collaborate with in creating these characters.”
And Touched With Fire, a film about two artists with bipolar disorder who spark a romance while in a psychiatric hospital, is a film that works especially well because of that director-actor relationship.
“When you’re playing something that is so foreign to you, it’s incredible to have your director have firsthand knowledge and be able to guide you,” she adds.
The actress also did plenty of research for the role, for which she had to practice the different degrees of mania and depression.
“It was a huge challenge,” Holmes admits. “It’s all in the preparation, though. I took a lot of time to understand where she was at at different points in the story, so that when it came time to shoot, it became very natural. It wasn’t performing. It was coming out naturally, and that was the goal.”
That naturalism extends to her chemistry with co-star Luke Kirby, whose character also deals with bipolar disorder. Of working with him, she has only positive things to say.
“He’s a wonderful actor, and we both really respected the responsibility that we each had to these characters,” she says. “We had a great support for each other, and we knew that there had to be great chemistry. They had to really get along, really identify with each other and really connect. Knowing that, we became partners in this, and we did a lot of improvising. It was really fun, and Paul provided that environment.”
The environment was conducive to making a film that genuinely cares about the romance and the experiences of two mentally ill characters, and Holmes says she approached the story the same way she would approach any other romance.
“I think that the beauty of these two people is they feel so intensely,” she says. “They are two people who have felt so isolated because of this illness, and who both felt like they lost so much of their lives. Then, all of a sudden, there’s somebody who interests them, but who they can also relate to, and they don’t feel so alone. Those are things that every human feels. We don’t feel it to the degree that these two do, but love is love.”