Luke Kirby takes another waltz with romance

People: Luke Kirby

He played a problematic brand of Prince Charming in Sarah Polley’s Take This Waltz and now Canadian-born Luke Kirby is walking a tightrope of sanity as a bipolar Romeo in Paul Dalio’s Touched With Fire

 

By Katherine Monk

He played a pedicab-driving Romeo opposite Michelle Williams in Sarah Polley’s Take This Waltz, and now he plays a bipolar brand of Percy Bysshe Shelley in Paul Dalio’s Touched With Fire, but if you think Luke Kirby has a thing for playing the problematic prince charming, it’s just optics.

The Guelph-raised Kirby is also a regular on the Sundance Channel crime drama Rectify, did several seasons of the Astronaut Wives Club and recently appeared in The Good Wife. And for those who weren’t paying attention to Canadian cinema at the turn of the present century, Kirby starred as the gay son of traditional Italian parents in Emile Gaudrealt’s Mambo Italiano.

“Right now, I’d like to work on my tan if I could find the sunshine,” says Kirby from his home in Brooklyn, where he’s just hanging around until Rectify goes back to camera.

Waiting for the next job is the hardest part about being an actor, but Kirby says he’s used to the waves of insecurity, and if he had the discipline, he’d follow his dad’s advice and put pen to paper.

“But I don’t have that kind of discipline. An actor’s discipline is different. It’s more like a surrender: allowing someone else to control your mercury.”

In the case of Touched With Fire, also known as Mania Days, that was especially true because Kirby wasn’t just playing a poet suffering from bipolar disorder, he was playing a quasi-autobiographical version of the film’s writer and director Paul Dalio.

Son of billionaire fund manager Ray Dalio, Paul Dalio was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and struggled, but with the support of mentors such as Spike Lee, he channeled a lot of his experience into the role of Marco – the character played by Kirby.

“I don’t think there was ever a point where I thought I got it… where I really understood what it would be like to live with the disease,” says Kirby.

“But Paul was there to provide so much support and insight. There were times when I felt I really found the rhythm of Marco’s character, and that I was cooking with it. But Paul was good about keeping Katie and I on our toes. Like I didn’t have any rein. I fought for it for a while, but I eventually surrendered and that was liberating,” says Kirby.

“It’s good to feel exposed. You can make a lot of discoveries, and as time went on, that became the most rewarding part of making this movie. It wasn’t about just learning the lines, it was about becoming the paint, and throwing lobs of it one way or another to create the texture, and allowing the camera to follow that, and tell the story.”

Kirby says because much of the action was improvised, he and co-star Katie Holmes found a good dynamic, which counts for a lot when you consider they were playing lovers both suffering from the same disease.

Love and clinical mania are doppelgangers to the human brain, and Touched With Fire scorches every edge of romantic cliché as it shows us Marco and Carla (Holmes) getting all googly-eyed and goofy in the throes of romance – only to take a violent turn a few scenes later on.

“It’s good to feel exposed. You can make a lot of discoveries, and as time went on, that became the most rewarding part of making this movie. It wasn’t about just learning the lines, it was about becoming the paint, and throwing lobs of it one way or another to create the texture, and allowing the camera to follow that, and tell the story.”

“I think it was a lot of trial and error. Katie and I didn’t talk about how to attack it. But she’s a great person to play with. And a lot of Carla and Marco’s energy is very childlike, and that turned out to be a great way to access what we were looking for,” he says.

“But also just understanding what it’s like to be in love. And when you feel that special someone is reflecting a part of you in a way you never thought possible. That’s so exhilarating. But in this case, it also burns.”

Kirby says from what he’s learned about bipolar, there’s a tendency for loved ones to attach so much hope to the manic phases. “It starts off looking like someone coming out of a depression, and that’s such a relief to have someone connecting and feeling again. But then it gets out of hand.”

Touched With Fire spends time exploring the links between creative genius and bipolar, listing the greats who suffered – from Lord Byron to Virginia Woolf. And Kirby says the whole social desire for a massive spiritual awakening seems to affirm the notion there’s something out there only few can see.

“I don’t really understand what it’s like, but Paul and I would go for long walks around the city and talk about things. That was very helpful for me, just to get to know him a bit better, and get a feel for his experience.”

“But also just understanding what it’s like to be in love. And when you feel that special someone is reflecting a part of you in a way you never thought possible. That’s so exhilarating. But in this case, it also burns.”

As far as the romantic side of the story goes, Kirby was on familiar ground playing the Prince Charming with a few problems.

“I am a good man!” he says, laughing. “It’s funny, when I saw Take This Waltz, I was so surprised. The whole time I was working on it with Michelle, we’d be doing our scenes and if you asked me what the movie was about, I’d be like it’s about two people who meet on a plane and fall madly in love, and it’s summertime in Toronto and you know how beautiful it can be there, and they go swimming and go on rides, and it was this goofy cotton candy story – to me, because that’s where I was at.”

He pauses. “It wasn’t until I saw it that it was like, oh, she’s married!”

Kirby says he’s game to try it all, and reviewing the results.

“I am a glutton for punishment. You have to look at the work. It can be gut wrenching. But you can also get chuffed about it. It’s one of those things you have to figure out as you go along,” he says. “And honestly, I’m always grateful for the work. On those days when you’re working… there’s this thing on set where the record two minutes of room tone, and I always look around the room and think, yup, these were the people the guidance counselor didn’t know what to do with in high school. We all ended up together, playing make-believe.”

 

Touched With Fire is open wide.

 

THE EX-PRESS, February 24, 2016

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