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

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