On a per-minute basis, Apple TV+’s Dickinson is probably the densest show on TV, in terms of a combination of literary references, a contemporary soundtrack, and scenes that can suddenly shift from hard comedy to poignancy. Balancing it all at the show’s center, there’s Hailee Steinfeld as the legendary Emily Dickinson herself, playing a brash young version of the great poet who alternately sulky and cutting and enthusiastic about throwing ragers. Dickinson is Steinfeld’s first TV show, after a movie career of attention-grabbing performances from her breakout in True Grit through The Edge of Seventeen and Bumblebee. In making the show, she relished the chance to dig deeper into a single character, as Steinfeld told Vulture over the phone. Along the way, she also found herself thinking about her own career, her fame, and even her approach to the music she makes.
I feel like Emily Dickinson, known late-in-life shut-in, would handle quarantine pretty well. Has playing her helped you get through all this?
In the beginning, it did. At this point? Not so sure. But I’ve had conversations with castmates and [Dickinson creator] Alena [Smith] about how Emily would’ve had no problem with this whatsoever.
Have you done any bread-baking? The bread Emily makes on the show looks so good.
I have not, but you’ve given me something to do now.
In the first season, the scenes that really stood out are those fights between Emily and her father, with you and Toby Huss facing off, especially the one where he slaps her and she disassociates and “goes to the circus.” What was it like to film that?
That relationship was one of my favorites to figure out. Having all 10 scripts at the beginning, I loved that I was able to see this clear arc, but the discoveries as we filmed kept happening. Toby and I had so many conversations that were fun to have and uncomfortable to have about that relationship, which is very loving and protective. It’s complicated and tricky.
Was there a moment where the relationship clicked for you?
I had a few, and luckily the first one came in the first episode, with the scene where the whole family is sitting around the table and Emily decides to announce that her poem is being published and all hell breaks loose. That was a moment I had on set with Toby where I feel like we really locked. The scene was rewritten a few times, and Alena was very particular with every word, and once we nailed it, that was definitely a moment.
Emily’s other defining relationship is with Sue Gilbert, played by Ella Hunt. They don’t even necessarily have the words to describe the love they feel for each other. How was it figuring out how to play that?
I don’t know how to describe how the dynamic was different to me than making a film, but because each episode felt like making a film, it felt like we had dug so deep. Ella and I were able to have the time to have these conversations, and I don’t know if I’ve had conversations with actors as I’ve had with this project. Ones where you set aside the time and sit down and discuss. Sue was somebody that saw Emily for who she was. A lot of people had all these opinions and preconceived notions about this person, and Sue saw through that. It’s a really beautiful relationship that happens to be between two women who just see each other. Continue reading “Dickinson Has Hailee Steinfeld Thinking a Lot About Fame”