Roadside Attractions releases Touched With Fire in select theaters on February 12th, 2016.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Why did the title change from Mania Days to Touched With Fire?
Paul Dalio: When we got picked up by Roadside Attractions, they brought up the point that not everyone would associate mania with love. [With the title Mania Days, some people may think that the filmís a hospital horror story, and patients are stabbing each other with syringes. I didnít want to give that impression to people. So, we were examining other possibilities for the title, and "Touched with Fire" was perfect. Kay Redfield Jamisonís book was the initial inspiration that shifted my whole perspective on things, and led to the life journey that led to the film.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What was the rehearsal process like? What kind of experience have you had with people you know who are bipolar?
Katie Holmes: This was a wonderfully creative experience. I approached this project not really knowing much about this disease. 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. Everyone on the cast and crew had different stories that we shared. I realized through this process how many people have personally been affected, so that made the work really rewarding.
Luke Kirby: In terms of approaching our roles, I think it was just a matter of meeting and striving to find rhythm. That was not only true with Katie, but also Paul and the crew.
Christine Lahti: 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. My sister just didnít find the right cocktail of medication. I feel like if she were alive today, she would find something that would help her, whether it was medication and/or mediation. When my sister was depressed, she was like Katieís character when she was depressed. She would call it being brain dead. When she was manic, she was like Katie and Lukeís 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. Like everyone who has been touched by suicide, there are a bunch of stages that you go through, including anger, rage and guilt. You think, "Why didnít I do this? If only I had done that." I still have those thoughts. But then thereís an understanding of why she made that choice. She was the most courageous, strongest and resilient person I have ever known. So, I didnít really have to do any homework for this story. I understood this mom and her daughter. I also feel like we have come a long way in treating bipolar. When I met Paul, I felt inspired by his ability to be able to live such a healthy life, and find stability. To see him live a life thatís 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, youíre bipolar. Too bad. Youíre 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, Iím really proud to a part of it.
Bruce Altman: I immediately liked Paul when I first met him, and thatís always important to me. I also really like all of these wonderful actors. Donaldís love for his daughter was also really clear to me, as well as his concerns about her relationship with Marco. Donald also really loves his life, which I appreciated. I also really liked the character of George a lot. Even though the film is a work of fiction, the story is based on his own experiences; that was my understanding of it, at least. The idea of someone suffering is something thatís relatable for me. I do know people who are bipolar. So, Paul being able to go to NYU, and subsequently make a movie, was extraordinary and inspiring to me. That helped me be in the moment.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How did Spike Lee get involved with Touched With Fire?
PD: Making the film was definitely a healing experience. When youíre diagnosed with bipolar, you know youíre no longer going to be the person you used to be. You also donít feel seen for who you are by society. It felt like I was stuck between who I used to be, and who I wanted to be seen as now. So making the film really felt spiritually liberating. Spike was one of my professors at NYU. He was one of the few people who saw anything in me, because I was over-medicated during my time there, and I didnít feel anything. I had written a rap musical when I was going through the swing from mania to depression. But when I graduated, I brought him another script, because he had become my mentor, and I told him I wanted to make it. But itís probably the most commercial thing you can make, because it was about getting the biggest audience possible. He looked at it and said, ďIíve seen this way too many times. If you make the rap musical, Iíll executive produce it.Ē He didnít just do that for me; he also executive produced one of my classmatesí films. When I started working on the rap musical, my wife started pushing me to make Touched with Fire. She said, ďYou were going through hell when you wrote the rap musical, but you didnít come out of it with a story that could help other people come out of their illness. You wrote this other script for Touched with Fire after having come out of this experience with some clarity that may be able to help others come out of it. I think youíve evolved, and moved past, that other script for the rap musical.Ē She kept pushing me to show the idea to Spike and I did, and he supported it.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How important was it to show that bipolar people turn to alcohol and drugs when they stop taking their medication?
PD: I wanted to show you that aspect through the charactersí eyes, including the seduction of the mania and how ecstatic it is. These are people, who by nature, need to feel the deepest extremes of emotions, and their contrasting feelings when theyíre on their medication. These people, who are meant to feel things extremely deeply by nature, are instead told to feel nothing, and that can be restraining for them. I think it was important to show that, because people donít seem to understand that concept.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Which of the film's messages resonated with you the most?
LK:When I read the script, I was very struck by the voice that was coming off the page. It felt very raw and intent on getting some kind of word out there. I wasnít sure what that word was at the time, but I felt like it was a message about more than just any one kind of condition. I felt like it was a story that was screaming to be told. Then when I met Paul, I really become struck by what he was trying to say. Itís very striking how many lives that bipolar has struck. Iím delighted to see people who have lived with, or among, it to stand up and talk about it. KH: I agree with what Luke just said. Iím proud of the whole piece, and I think you take away your own experience from it. I think thatís the reason to do things-that way someone can start watching a movie thinking one thing, and then change their perspective on it once they finish watching it.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Why was it important for you to include the list of historical and cultural figures at the end of the film?
PD: One of the most important things about these people is that they made some of the biggest contributions to the human spirit, but were labeled for having a human disorder. I think thatís a very important thing to think about, and for the public to appreciate those people who have the illness. Right now, the conversation is, you are not your illness. But since itís woven into our DNA, no one wants to talk about it. By showing these amazing names, who have brought so much enrichment into our hearts and minds, as well as our understanding of what it means to be human to our core, I feel like people who have this illness will no longer need to hide.