‘Touched With Fire’ a very personal journey for Paul Dalio

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For“Touched With Fire” (opening Friday), Paul Dalioboth wrote the screenplay anddirected — deeply inspired by his own struggles with bipolar disease. In Chicago recently, joined by actor Luke Kirby (who plays the male lead opposite Katie Holmes), Dalio made something of a joke about the positive reaction to the film at festivals around the country.

“It’s nice to see so many people reacting positively to insanity,” quipped Paul Dalio, who made it clear he was NOT making light of a disease who has had such a difficult impact on both those afflicted with it, and their families.

Paul Dalio’s personal life inspired his screenplay for “Touched With Fire.” | Brad Barket/Getty Images

Paul Dalio’s personal life inspired his screenplay for “Touched With Fire.” | Brad Barket/Getty Images

In the film, it’s revealed that both Holmes’ Carla character and Marco (portrayed by Kirby) first showed evidence of their bipolarity during their college years. Dalio said that was close to the truth in his case. As he explained, “College is a time when your brain matures. Your nature at that point is to push yourself and dive in deeply to all kinds of intellectual pursuits. There are many late hours and you are constantly pushing, pushing, pushing yourself.

“You try to break through creative barriers and that takes you up right up to the edge. If you have the nature to go further, which is the bipolar nature, that resides in that gene, that essence of your being — you do push over, and break through into full insanity.”

Kirby added that he completely understood why bipolar disease revealsitself around those college years. “At that age you are physically untethered from your home, and in many cases living on your own for the first time. If you do have any of those qualities [of bipolar disease], you keep going and pushing yourself to those unbelievable highs, which then, of course, plunge you down into unspeakably painful depths of depression.”

For Dalio, one of the biggest challenges in making “Touched With Fire” — besides the financial logistics facing most filmmakers — was communicating to Holmes and Kirby how they should accurately “have the ability to run free and tap into that insanity and reach a state of lacking social inhibition and reveal a fire that is so out of control.

“Obviously, authenticity was paramount. It was certainly a challenge, but in the end we achieved it. They achieved it.”

Kirby, seen earlier in “Take This Waltz” and on TV’s “Rectify,” agreed it was not the easiest film set on which he’s ever worked. “It took time to get there. Paul was unrelenting. Often we had to just keep going. To be honest, there were days when I thought I was going to lose my mind — for real!” he said with a laugh, looking over to Dalio, who was nodding and smiling broadly.

“But, as an actor, to go on this kind of journey of discovery was amazing. It was incredible to come to set every day, but I do have to say — as liberating as all that was, it was often hard to get to sleep afterward!”

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