Paul Dalio wrote and directed Touched with Fire, a film that is loosely based on his personal experience living with bipolar disorder.

Paul Dalio On Touched With Fire

Knowing what it’s like to be bipolar, while also knowing what it’s like to be your average movie viewer, informed Dalio about how to approach making Touched with Fire. To set the stage and welcome the audience into the lives of bipolar poets Carla and Marco, Dalio decided to root their stories in what would seem to be everyday experiences.

“So [the audience] could first have an orientation, you know, before they went manic,” Dalio explained to uInterview in an exclusive interview. “And to put [Carla and Marco] in very universal human situations – like… a daughter wanting to go to her mother to find out what she was like – but then to progressively take [the audience] on the journey.”

Showing mental illness on screen, according to Dalio, can be a challenge, particularly when it comes to exploring its more solitary and internal manifestations.

“The depression for instance was the hardest, because all you do in a depression is, you want to sleep and just escape reality,” Dalio revealed. “Some people say, ‘Hey, why don’t you just go for a run,’ you know. If we could afford the brain chemicals to actually stir up a run and have the run stir up the chemicals then we would do it, but you know that’s when you really need to add some of the cinematic elements of sound and to really get in the skin of them.”

Playing Carla and Marco in Touched with Fire are Katie Holmes and Luke Kirby, who Dalio thinks did an “extraordinary” job of portraying what it’s like to be bipolar.

“I thought they embodied it so naturally, and so real, and so vividly,” said Dalio. They were so good, in fact, that Dalio showed the film to his own doctor, who in turn was amazed at the realness of their performances. “He was like, ‘Whoa, be careful. You don’t want to trigger anything in Luke or Katie,'” said Dalio. “It was so real to him, and it was.”

It’s not hard for Dalio to conceive of how Holmes and Kirby channeled what it is to be bipolar. While the filmmaker admits that the actors are blessed with a wide range of emotions, an intensity about their work and vivid imaginations, he believes its something simpler about being bipolar that facilitated their performances.

“These states [mania and depression] are not inhuman,” said Dalio. “These states are very human; it’s just the extremes of humanity.”

Touched with Fire is currently in select theaters.

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Q: You went through bipolar disorder yourself. Were there challenges of trying to bring that mindset to the screen? I mean, how would you even start to think about how to represent that on the screen? -

Paul Dalio: Well, the first thing was to find ways to ground the audience with the characters and what they were like before they went bipolar. So [the audience] could first have an orientation, you know, before they went manic. And to put them in very universal human situations, you know, like a mother wanting to – a daughter wanting to go to her mother to find out what she was like, but then to progressively take them on the journey. That was a big challenge. You have to really control every element of the production design, and the cinematography, and the sound to really immerse the audience in the sense of these people while having an actor who can create a performance that’s not acting, you know, that’s like genuinely just being this person who happens to have these symptoms that come from these emotional extremes. And so, you know, like the depression for instance was the hardest, because all you do in a depression is, you want to sleep and just escape reality. Some people say, ‘Hey, why don't you just go for a run,’ you know. If we could afford the brain chemicals to actually stir up a run and have the run stir up the chemicals then we would do it, but you know that’s when you really need to add some of the cinematic elements of sound and to really get in the skin of them.

Q: Now, Luke and Katie did really fantastic jobs of embodying these characters, how do you think they did with it? -

Paul Dalio: Extraordinary. I mean, I thought they embodied it so naturally, and so real, and so vividly. [They were] so good that I showed the footage to my doctor and he was like, ‘Whoa, be careful. You don’t want to trigger anything in Luke or Katie.’ [Laughs] It was so real to him, and it was. They were just extremely holistic in the work, you know. But they both have extraordinary range of emotions naturally, and they both have an intensity to dive in head first facing the pain of it, facing everything. And they both have an imagination that can make leaps to these states, because these states are not inhuman. These states are very human it’s just the extremes of humanity.