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From vampires to AI, Twilight director Catherine Hardwicke offers a new take on being human

In Quibi's new sci-fi series Don't Look Deeper, Hardwicke introduces us to a biracial teen named Aisha who finds she's an artificial human. The mystery unfolds, 10 minutes at a time.

Catherine Hardwicke (left) speaks with cast members Don Cheadle and Helena Howard on the set of Don't Look Deeper.

This story is part of I'm So Obsessed (subscribe here), our podcast featuring interviews with actors, artists, celebrities and creative types about their work, career and current obsessions.

Catherine Hardwicke knows a few things about telling stories with teens. After working as a production designer in Hollywood, she co-wrote and directed -- for a total of $3 -- the 2003 teen drama Thirteen and followed that up two years later with Lords of Dogtown, a look at skateboarding culture in Southern California.

Then in 2008, Hardwicke did something remarkable while telling the story of a human teen named Bella who falls in love with a vampire named Edward. The movie -- Twilight, based on the book of the same name -- cost $40 million to make but brought in $400 million at the box office. That's not bad, given that Hardwicke was told no one would even go to see it, besides a few teenage girls. 

Instead, Twilight was the start of a five-film series that grossed over $3 billion around the world and helped popularize other film series with a young woman protagonist, including The Hunger Games and The Divergent series. Despite all of that success, Hardwicke was shocked that none of the follow-ups was directed by a woman. More than a decade later, Hardwicke says things are getting better for women directors, calling out Patty Jenkins for directing the blockbuster Wonder Woman, and now her work for Quibi, the new streaming service built around short films and episodes for our mobile times that run 10 minutes or less.

In Don't Look Deeper, Hardwicke taps into teenage angst about self-identify and about growing up through Aisha (played by Helena Howard), a biracial young woman living with her dad (Don Cheadle) in the central California city of Modesto and set "15 minutes into the future." But pretty quickly, we -- and Aisha  -- learn she's not human, a  discovery she tries to explain to her analyst (Emily Mortimer) who quickly reboots and wipes Aisha's memory. Or so she thinks. That sets up the first season, which Hardwicke describes as 14 chapters that explore a world with technology advanced enough to raise the question: What does it mean to be human?

"On one level, we have our character going through all those things that a teenager goes through. But when she's struggling with her own identity and something seems a little bit off, suddenly she finds out that it's really way more off than she thought," Hardwicke tells me from her home in Los Angeles for CNET's I'm So Obsessed podcast series

As for the short-form storytelling format, Hardwicke says she's a fan (though the jury is out on whether Quibi will be a success.)  "Sometimes we just cannot commit to sit down or even stay awake at night for an hour show or a two-hour movie," she says. "You just want something to change your palette and take you to a different place from your workday and be able to go to sleep and dream about something new."


Jan Luis Catellano, Ema Horvarth and Helena Howard star in Quibi's Don't Look Deeper.

I talked to Hardwicke about the unexpected success of Twilight, about women directors (we need more), about what it will be like returning to movie theaters when we're through coronavirus quarantines, and about her relationship with tech, including her Alexa speaker and Tesla (she hopes one day soon it can park itself). And of course, I asked her about why she, a former architect-turned-product designer-turned director who loved watching Clint Eastwood westerns growing up in South Texas, is obsessed with creativity and "how you can nurture your creativity to do something that amazes even yourself."

Listen to my entire conversation with Hardwicke on Apple Podcasts, on Spotify or in the player embedded above, and subscribe to I'm So Obsessed on your favorite podcast app. In each episode, my series co-host Patrick Holland and I catch up with artists, actors and creators to learn about their work, their career and their current obsession.