Actress Katie Holmes credits Canadian filmmaker Sarah Polley with her decision to start directing.
“Sarah Polley is a huge inspiration for me and a very strong reason why I said I think I want to try it,” Holmes said in an interview from Los Angeles.
Stretching herself as an actress, along with moving behind the camera, seems part of a coming into her own phase for the 37-year-old Holmes, who remains best known for her tabloid-fodder marriage to Tom Cruise. They divorced in 2012.
Holmes portrays bipolar poet Carla in drama Touched With Fire, which opens Feb. 18. Her character becomes involved with Marco, a similarly afflicted writer (Canada’s Luke Kirby), while both are in a psychiatric hospital.
“I was really drawn to the challenge of it as an actor and I felt great doing it,” said Holmes. She’s gratified people familiar with the disorder have responded, “they felt heard — and that is the most rewarding thing you can get from a piece of work.”
The movie also explores the use of medications. Marco, having discovered a book about legendary artists with manic-depressive illness, is convinced that, like Vincent Van Gogh, his disorder sparks his genius and antidepressants only dull his brain.
Although the Toronto Star was instructed to stay away from mentioning Cruise or Scientology in our interview, a few days later, Today show host Matt Lauer reminded Holmes of his tense 2005 interview with Cruise — with his then-fiancée Holmes sitting just off the set — and the actor’s dismissal of psychiatry and antidepressants. He asked Holmes what she thinks Touched With Fire says about medication and mental illness.
Holmes responded that director Paul Dalio, “puts the question out there for the audience to make their own decision.”
It was a challenge to play Carla, Holmes told the Star, hitting the emotional extremes experienced by her character in authentic ways as the pair struggle to live outside the hospital while convincing their families that they are good for each other. They try to build a life together, with their situation complicated by Carla’s pregnancy.
Holmes said writer-director Dalio, who has bipolar disorder, was her best guide for getting to Carla’s heart.
“I depended on (him) a lot,” she said of Dalio, who was “very frank about Carla and Marco and (how) they exhibited parts of himself,” said Holmes, adding “there was no part of this process that was easy; every day was emotional.”
In a poignant scene, Carla begs her mother (played by Christine Lahti) to help her understand what has happened to her.
“I felt that was crucial to this character,” said Holmes. “It gave you context very quickly into the film and the pain of this disease. When I read (the script), I was really moved by it and it kind of shook me because the thought of not knowing who you were and being so unstable has to feel so awful.”
Holmes said the long days on set doing such emotional work were exhausting. She used the weekends to “refuel,” spending time “just parenting” with daughter Suri, 9.
Holmes has just finished directing her first movie, All We Had. She also stars in the drama, based on Annie Weatherwax’s novel about homelessness and hope seen through the eyes of a young mother and her daughter.
And she’ll return to play former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy in TV’s The Kennedys: After Camelot, the followup to the 2011 miniseries. Holmes, an executive producer on the Hamilton-shot production, will also direct an episode. It airs later this year.
Holmes is preparing for her next directing job by “reading a lot of books” with an eye to optioning more for future films, allowing her to “continue telling the stories I want to tell through the lenses I want to tell it.”
Studio picture or indie, Holmes said her “wonderful” first experience behind the camera has made her hungry for more.
“I enjoyed the process of thinking on my feet, working with actors, trying to inspire different choices in their performance …. and just enjoying how much I felt so moved by how much people around me contributed to make the movie the vision I had,” she said. “I’m very excited about it.”
Inspired by Sarah
“She has such a poetry to her filmmaking,” Katie Holmes says of Sarah Polley, who she talked to for a 2013 story in Interview magazine about Stories We Tell, the Toronto director’s revelatory documentary about her family history.
The two had worked together on energetic 1999 comedy-drama Go. Holmes was also familiar with Polley’s award-winning 2011 drama Take This Waltz because her Touched With Fire co-star Luke Kirby also starred in Polley’s Toronto-shot drama.
Holmes, who called Stories We Tell “incredible,” asked Polley to share wisdom on acting and directing, family-work balance and who inspires her.
Holmes also praises her female contemporaries who are directing, including Olivia Wilde and her All We Had co-star Judy Greer.
“There are so many inspiring women out there who are telling stories in challenging ways,” said Holmes. “It’s wonderful that there’s this group (of) people going out there and doing it and getting their voices heard. I want to be part of that even more.”