Director Catherine Hardwicke Previews the Coming of Age Story of ‘Don’t Look Deeper’
Quibi is taking us “fifteen minutes into the future” with its new sci-fi thriller.
In Don’t Look Deeper, directed by Catherine Hardwicke, high school senior Aisha (Helena Howard) can’t ignore the feeling that something’s not right about her, and she’s right: she’s not human. The series also stars Don Cheadle (as Aisha’s father, Martin) and Emily Mortimer (as Aisha’s therapist, Sharon).
Here, Hardwicke previews the series and its characters and discusses delving into the short format of Quibi (episodes have to be 10 minutes or less).
What was the appeal of this show to you and what were you looking forward to exploring in directing it, especially with the short episodes of Quibi?
Catherine Hardwicke: I did think it was very exciting to delve into that short format. Instantly that fit my attention span. I like the idea of the challenge of figuring out ways to tell something in a concise manner but still keep it really exciting and dynamic.
I also thought this subject matter was so interesting because I’m intrigued with our love/hate affair with technology and how that affects our humanity and that push/pull and then the idea of a coming of age story where someone is literally trying to figure out who they are and they’re not even fully human. That’s pretty outrageous. What does it mean to be human? What makes you human? Very fascinating.
Did the shorter format change your approach to ending each episode?
That was really a good challenge because you’re right, you want to end in a way that’s a pivotal moment emotionally or [of] physical danger or a cliffhanger, even an emotional [one]. It didn’t exactly time out the precise way it was written. We couldn’t have even one frame longer than 10 minutes. Some episodes are right up to the end. Some we would literally figure out, if we take this scene out, we will fit in under the 10 minutes and it will still leave us with this pivotal moment and it makes you want to come back and [has] a strong image that makes you want to come back. That was one of the fun puzzles we had to put together in the editing room.
Introduce the character of Aisha. What about her stays the same and what changes as she discovers the truth about herself?
It is like this coming of age story where at the beginning she feels like “something is off, something is weird, I don’t feel 100 percent like everybody else. What is making me have this sense of uneasiness?” So when she does discover what it is, then there’s some new layers she has to discover about herself. In a way, it’s this crazy, peeling back the onion, process of self-discovery. Who’s been f**king with my memory, and then even deeper and deeper as you peel back the onion, are these my real memories? Are they not? Are they created for me? What are real feelings and what are not real feelings? What’s the difference between machine learning and real learning?
Her eyes become open to the world and herself and she goes on this intense process of self-discovery but also the idea of standing up for herself and becoming active in taking a stand and defying her father, probably for the first time. She becomes a lot stronger.
How do the other relationships in her life change as she discovers more about herself?
We loved the relationship with her friend Jenny (Ema Horvath). She really did not like this girl in the beginning, judging a book by its cover or whatever. This girl isn’t cool but she starts to realize she doesn’t even remember their true relationship and she starts to see the good in this other person. She’s loyal, she’s fierce, she’ll go with her to the end. She has a dawning awareness of how amazing her friend is and how much she’ll stand by her. Even the boyfriend she pretty much discarded, he really tries to be a standup guy, too, by the end.
What made Helena Howard, Don Cheadle, and Emily Mortimer the right people for their roles?
Helena was in that wonderful movie at Sundance called Madeline’s Madeline where she’s just very raw and emotional, and so when I saw that film, I thought, “Oh my Gosh, she’s really gonna throw herself 100 percent into this role and just be so passionate about it and feel every moment and make every moment real.” Then when she came up and we started doing some workshops and some hair and makeup tests and how to do her arm and different details with the eyes and things, I started to see how she was able to become that robotic state. She really channeled that. She learned how to not blink for like three minutes or almost five minutes at a time.
I’ve seen [Emily] do so many really interesting performances in The Newsroom and of course fun ones, Mary Poppins, but also I love that show she did for HBO, called Doll & Em. It was kind of based on her and her best friend. She just was able to convey so much and you just kind of always love her, and so to play this character that has a lot of shades and a lot of questionable gray areas and dubious decisions she’s made was just fascinating. She was even digging deeper into it. … What’s made her withdraw so much? I loved what Emily did and everything she’s done before, but I thought this was a new character I’d never seen her play, so that was exciting.
… Let’s just bow down to Don. Everything I see him do, he’s just super fascinating. … Don can do anything, so this was a character that appealed to him because he hadn’t really done this kind of character either. … [Aisha] means so much to [his character]. Don, even in the rehearsals and everything, he just dived, as he always does, very deep into this character.
Don’t Look Deeper, Premiere, Monday, July 27, Quibi