Katie Holmes, Bipolar, Touched With Fire
Katie Holmes in 'Touched With Fire'

In “Touched With Fire,” Katie Holmes and Luke Kirby portray poets with bipolar disorder. They meet and fall in love during group therapy sessions at the mental hospital where their parents, including a character played by Christine Lahti, have institutionalized them against their will.

Directed and written by Paul Dalio, the movie feels authentic in how it represents people with this disorder and how they experience the world. Especially during manic phases when their heightened sensitivities and feelings of omnipotence lead many of them – as this couple does – to go off their medications.


The film’s authenticity comes from the director’s real-life struggles with bipolar disorder, a lifelong illness in which he has experienced swings from psychotic manic highs to suicidal lows. He’s managed the disorder successfully with a cocktail of therapy, work and medication. One of the gifts of “Touched With Fire” is how it gets inside the head of someone with this disorder and removes the stigma of the disease while not romanticizing it.

Katie Holmes, Touched With Fire
Actress Katie Holmes at the ‘Touched With Fire’ press conference | Paula Schwartz Photo

Christine Lahti, Bruce Altman and Griffin Dunne play the exasperated but supportive parents who often seem lost on how best to help their children. In addition to the impressive cast, Spike Lee, who was Dalio’s professor at the NYU graduation film school, is the executive producer of the Roadside Attractions release. The film opened Friday, Feb. 12.


Katie Holmes, Luke Kirby, Bruce Altman, Christine Lahti and Paul Dalio turned up at a press conference last week at the Ritz-Carlton on Central Park South in Manhattan to support the film. Journalists were asked not to ask personal questions, presumably to ward off pesky queries about Katie’s ex, Tom Cruise.

Katie Holmes, Luke Kirby, Paul Dalio
Katie Holmes, Paul Dalio and Luke Kirby at the ‘Touched With Fire’ press conference | Paula Schwartz Photo

But it was Christine Lahti who opened up with very personal revelations about her life when she spoke about why she participated in the film.

“I was immediately drawn to this story because of my own experience with bipolar, not personally, but my sister struggled with the disease for over 25 years, and then she took her life,” said Lahti. “My sister just didn’t find the right cocktail of medication. I feel like if she were alive today, she would find something that would help her.”


She added, “When my sister was depressed, she was like Katie’s character. She would call it being brain dead. When she was manic, she was like Katie and Luke’s characters when they were manic. She often went into an almost psychotic mania. Her life was like a roller coaster, and by the end, she had had enough.”

Christine Lahti, Touched With Fire
Actress Christine Lahti at the ‘Touched With Fire’ press conference | Paula Schwartz Photo

Like everyone who has been touched by suicide, Lahti said she went through many stages, including anger, rage and guilt. “You think, ‘Why didn’t I do this? If only I had done that.’ I still have those thoughts. But then there’s an understanding of why she made that choice. She was the most courageous, strongest and resilient person I have ever known. So I didn’t really have to do any homework for this story. I understood this mom and her daughter.”

In meeting the director, Lahti said she felt inspired by how he was able to live a healthy and functional life while struggling with this disease. “To see him live a life that’s so productive and creative, and celebrate bipolar in such a way that this film does, without demonizing it, was so special. As a society, we think, ‘Oh, you’re bipolar, too bad. You’re going to have to deal with that your entire life.’ But I think Paul has put a positive spin on this disease in the movie. So I’m really proud to a part of it.”


Katie Holmes noted that she didn’t know about the disease when she approached the project. “When I met with Paul, I was so inspired by his passion and willingness to bring such a personal story to the screen. The opportunity to take on such a challenging role was something that seemed right.”

As for how she prepared for the intense scenes between her and Kirby, Holmes said they worked individually and there were also plenty of rehearsals. Most importantly, they turned to the director. “We also depended on Paul to guide our characters.”

Paul Dalio, Touched With Fire
Director Paul Dalio at the ‘Touched With Fire’ press conference | Paula Schwartz Photo


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