News

Hailee Steinfeld on Why Dickinson Is Unlike Anything Else on TV

Reclusive 19th-century poet Emily Dickinson gets a timely remix for the streaming era.

by | November 5, 2019 | Comments

You know within the opening minutes of Apple TV+’s Dickinson that creator Alena Smith and star Hailee Steinfeld aren’t interested in telling a story about your mom and dad’s poet. This Emily Dickinson swears like a sailor (“This is such bulls—!” she says when told to fetch water before sunrise while her brother sleeps in); her personal soundtrack is filled out with hip-hop and Billie Eilish; and she’s in the midst of a secret lesbian affair with her best friend, Sue (Ella Hunt). 

“I truly felt like it was unlike anything I had read … It was a period piece, but it felt very modern and had a very modern sense of thinking,” Steinfeld told Rotten Tomatoes recently in New York City. “To play this literary icon felt like an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up.” 


Season 1 | Episode 1 Hailee Steinfeld and Wiz Khalifa in “Dickinson,” premiering November 1 on Apple TV+.
(Photo by Apple TV+)

Steinfeld’s Emily has another intimate relationship with a guy named Death, whose smokey coolness is personified by rapper and singer Wiz Khalifa. Smith revealed that, in the series, Emily comes to have a more mature relationship with death when she loses someone close to her.

“In the beginning she is fantasizing that death will come and take her away from this life that’s driving her crazy. In the end, she lived into her old age, so death didn’t come for a long time,” the series creator noted of the poet, who died at age 55. “But we wanted whoever played Death to be kind of larger than life and to bring a sense of just incredible playfulness and wild coolness to the role, and I think Wiz was just the dream of who would do that. And then as soon as he read the script, he just really connected with the humor and the just the vibe of the show, and it was kind of amazing to me how easily he just slipped in to the whole thing.”


Dickinson season 1 keyart (Apple TV+)
(Photo by Apple TV+)

Considering she’s playing a young women who didn’t find literary fame until after her death, Steinfeld also relished the opportunity to explore Dickinson in a way that hadn’t been done before — to give voice to the young woman’s thoughts and to act out the dark, fantastical elements of her poems in a way that’s not entirely expected. 

“I fortunately and unfortunately knew very, very little [about her] before this project. I loved that I could do my deep dive into her with the little facts that are known that are out there, but we got to dig even deeper and basically tell this story of what we think the inside of her mind might look like or feel like or sound like,” the one-time Oscar nominee said.


Emily Dickinson (public domain, as it was created prior to January 1, 1924, in the mid-to-late 1840s)
(Photo by public domain image)

“The whole fun of making this show was taking this person that had this unbelievable imagination,” Steinfeld continued. “I mean, you could make an entire series off of one poem, and we had all of these poems and it was so great to pull from that and from her imagination and sort of combine it with ours.”

Smith was reading a biography of the poet when inspiration hit.

“I was so struck by, I guess, the ironies of her life and the fact that this woman was so passionate and fierce in writing almost 2,000 of the greatest, strangest poems ever written, but practically none of them were ever seen or appreciated or published while she lived,” the series creator said. “In our millennial era of everyone seeking attention for everything they do. There’s something very inspiring in that story of Emily working in secret.”


Season 1 | Episode 6 Hailee Steinfeld in “Dickinson,” premiering November 1 on Apple TV+.
(Photo by Apple TV+)

More than just the story of a brilliant artist, the series specifically explores the limitations Dickinson would have encountered in the 1850s due to her gender and presents this as the main reason she was only taken seriously as a master poet posthumously. The series also relates that she was expected to marry and become a dutiful housewife, social norms that Emily of the series refuses. 

Gender parity — in everything from the pay gap to #MeToo and Time’s Up — is a conversation that continues today, particularly in creative fields and entertainment. Steinfeld could relate to Dickinson’s circumstances. 

“I think that there are so many themes in this show that are wildly similar to events that we go through today in life, especially women,” she said. “But I do think that this is a character who fought against every constraint. And I do find that as a young woman today, we’re constantly fighting to be heard and understood. We have come a very long way and I’m very thankful for that, but I think the show will sort of open a lot of people’s eyes to the reality of what we’re still dealing with.”


Season 1 | Episode 4 Anna Baryshnikov and Jane Krakowski in “Dickinson,” premiering November 1 on Apple TV+.
(Photo by Apple TV+)

These themes also appealed to 30 Rock and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt star Jane Krakowskiwho here plays Emily’s domineering, by-the-book mother (also named Emily). 

“It had such parallels to today’s young modern women, and that really surprised me,” she told Rotten Tomatoes, but for her role, she was the enforcer of such limiting expectations. “I think the parents represent the times, the world that we were living in, that patriarchal world.”

Krakowski recounted how playing a stern-but-dutiful housewife herself isn’t exactly a glass-slipper fit. Her Mrs. Dickinson practically lives in the kitchen, an arena in which she’s not a natural. 

“First of all, this part was a real stretch for me because I can’t cook anything in a kitchen,” Krakowski joked. “She is known as the greatest homemaker of Amherst, in all of New England. My friends who know me very well are like, ‘We can’t believe 90 percent of your scenes are in a kitchen.’”

Fortunately, she was up for the challenge, not only spending most of her time in the kitchen, but even getting down and dirty in the house work.

“We did it so real. We actually were plucking those chickens…. It’s really hard to get it off your fingers…. You weren’t just a housemaid [back then], you weren’t just dusting; you were going out and killing dinner and then bringing it inside.”


Season 1 | Episode 5 The cast of “Dickinson,” premiering November 1 on Apple TV+.
(Photo by Apple TV+)

Dickinson seems primed for the Instagram-savvy generation, but more than a history lesson, Steinfeld hopes that it empowers viewers in the way it did for her while making it.  

“I feel like I have this newfound fearlessness that I always knew was inside of me,” she said. “After playing this character, I feel like there’s nothing wrong with saying what’s on your mind and speaking your truth. I hope that young girls can see the show and feel that sense of fearlessness and bravery and wit and beauty that comes with doing what makes you feel good.”

Dickinson season 1 is now available on Apple TV+.


Like this? Subscribe to our newsletter and get more features, news, and guides in your inbox every week.

Tag Cloud

TCA remakes Certified Fresh Sundance 24 frames composers Tarantino boxoffice stoner Emmys chucky singing competition festivals Thanksgiving Shudder renewed TV shows animated Countdown Vudu Set visit TCA Winter 2020 The Witch cults Classic Film medical drama FOX 71st Emmy Awards thriller 20th Century Fox Trailer Disney+ Disney Plus PlayStation Logo Ghostbusters YA Paramount Netflix Christmas movies Interview Baby Yoda Quiz Drama crime drama mission: impossible directors Country A&E superhero anime BBC what to watch IFC war zombies dark Hallmark Christmas movies Ellie Kemper nature anthology Women's History Month See It Skip It Peacock Opinion Dark Horse Comics 007 Election children's TV hist Superheroes venice WGN stop motion police drama Comedy asian-american President vampires Photos The CW 2019 Emmy Nominations worst movies Food Network Arrowverse ABC ITV casting disaster Grammys Sony Pictures video blaxploitation Horror Superheroe SundanceTV crime thriller Year in Review BET Awards Fall TV adventure Marvel Studios television Lucasfilm discovery Turner Classic Movies Universal quibi Writers Guild of America strong female leads indiana jones richard e. Grant Britbox dramedy Super Bowl VH1 Amazon Prime period drama satire MTV tv talk Endgame biography PaleyFest ghosts Marvel 4/20 Comedy Central FX Turner comic Pirates Hear Us Out Awards TCM Rocketman reviews unscripted GLAAD LGBT green book DC streaming service mockumentary Black History Month Mary poppins Mindy Kaling Mystery Avengers Shondaland Watching Series slashers breaking bad laika BBC One hollywood TV Land documentary Trivia Teen finale Elton John USA Biopics Pop psychological thriller spinoff mutant TIFF Film Martial Arts docudrama Syfy Warner Bros. Apple Captain marvel TV christmas movies criterion Adult Swim natural history Mary Tyler Moore Infographic Fox News A24 Musicals football AMC sequels Sundance TV streaming Stephen King First Look theme song game show 2018 GoT Film Festival Lifetime Schedule scorecard child's play revenge Cannes Calendar sports HBO Max Reality Competition Hulu Holiday psycho 72 Emmy Awards witnail Best and Worst OWN diversity transformers Extras Comic Book cancelled television dragons Esquire National Geographic DirecTV Heroines Tomatazos movies rotten TruTV USA Network Epix Tumblr films canceled Western The Walking Dead LGBTQ Cartoon Network Bravo cancelled TV series Chilling Adventures of Sabrina The Arrangement batman universal monsters nbcuniversal a nightmare on elm street Chernobyl PBS Acorn TV Christmas hispanic MSNBC space crime book documentaries indie versus Song of Ice and Fire Pride Month ESPN Sneak Peek science fiction rotten movies we love Sundance Now Awards Tour Pop TV Apple TV Plus APB dceu Travel Channel dc game of thrones RT21 toronto TCA 2017 video on demand 21st Century Fox all-time aliens fast and furious FXX comedies San Diego Comic-Con Creative Arts Emmys Showtime SXSW Anna Paquin History Amazon 2020 news Netflix festival Spectrum Originals Columbia Pictures CBS Sci-Fi Tubi Lionsgate Marathons Masterpiece 45 Binge Guide First Reviews TCA Awards werewolf BAFTA screenings NBC DC Comics cancelled TV shows X-Men blockbuster best Rock Spike Cosplay robots Toys Box Office jamie lee curtis romance spider-man Marvel Television TNT sitcom OneApp Star Wars golden globes Mudbound SDCC Funimation Music toy story Academy Awards 2016 YouTube Red Holidays true crime joker Star Trek TV renewals Discovery Channel parents social media Polls and Games elevated horror emmy awards doctor who DC Universe series CMT cats Amazon Studios Kids & Family Nominations CBS All Access Rom-Com HBO Go latino technology VOD politics concert Disney Plus Starz Nat Geo Brie Larson CW Seed Black Mirror 2017 harry potter teaser Reality Valentine's Day Character Guide Pixar comiccon cooking binge critics romantic comedy Winter TV Action ratings nfl award winner talk show sag awards screen actors guild spain Paramount Network travel kids adaptation cinemax die hard Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt cops supernatural justice league franchise Video Games BBC America crossover Fantasy TLC Comics on TV based on movie classics cartoon Television Academy halloween HBO Trophy Talk Premiere Dates Disney Channel cancelled cars El Rey Animation spy thriller DGA FX on Hulu historical drama serial killer Nickelodeon Mary Poppins Returns Rocky GIFs dogs Pet Sematary reboot south america RT History Television Critics Association political drama American Society of Cinematographers YouTube independent Disney streaming service facebook TBS Oscars sequel The Purge worst MCU name the review Spring TV Ovation spanish language Freeform Podcast Winners comics stand-up comedy New York Comic Con canceled TV shows zombie Hallmark zero dark thirty Crackle Red Carpet miniseries IFC Films obituary Amazon Prime Video CNN movie 2015 E! YouTube Premium Family scary movies ABC Family Summer Musical free movies Disney Apple TV+ Walt Disney Pictures NYCC E3 WarnerMedia BET twilight foreign Crunchyroll VICE Lifetime Christmas movies