Hailee Steinfeld is sitting in a room fumbling with two straws in an attempt to “make one really long straw” for her large coffee. She’s told that someone is finding her an actual large straw to which she retorts that she can just make one herself. From her candor to her impulsive rebellious response, Steinfeld is clearly still embodying her latest role of Emily Dickinson. The new series, Dickinson, is available on Apple TV+ and showcases the life of the young American poet during the 1800’s, while integrating contemporary sensibilities throughout the language and music in the show. Written and created by Alena Smith, the series stars Steinfeld, Jane Krakowski, Toby Huss, Adrian Enscoe, Ella Hunt, and Anna Baryshnikov.
“When I read the script, I felt that it was so different and cool and shocking and heartbreaking and exciting and empowering,” Steinfeld says of joining the show’s cast. “It’s so many things in one project so effortlessly and meaningfully that it all makes sense.” What Steinfeld means is that the show chases several different storylines that range from romance and heartbreak to gender norms and societal hierarchies. “It took us a second to find it, but we found the groove pretty quickly and found this modern sense of thinking in this period world and that there is comedy in that tragedy,” Steinfeld adds of filming the complex series.
Emily Dickinson is shrouded with mystery as she remained quite secluded in her later years, rarely leaving her home, but rather, communicating through letters and poems. The creative liberties taken in Dickinson allow audiences to feel connected with Emily as a young woman living in a time when her dreams and aspirations were not accepted. As Steinfeld says, “she was a wildcard.”
There is a scene in the show’s second episode where Emily says that she is willing to risk being embarrassed in public if it means she can experience something creative and enlightening. This moment was a character-defining moment for me as a viewer. Emily’s decisive nature and fearlessness is invigorating. “I think a lot of what I’m about to say has a lot to do with this show and having played this character but, as a 20-something-year-old figuring my life out. I just feel like everything is so filtered now,” 22-year-old Steinfeld says in response to that particular scene. “Everyone is so edited and concerned and overly self-aware. And, me too, by the way. I just think that I’m at that place where that’s exhausting.”
Steinfeld adds that that particular scene (shown above) is a very telling moment because it shows how strongly Emily feels about being creatively fulfilled compared to worrying about how society feels about her. “All Emily Dickinson is about is creativity and inner beauty. I hope that this show opens young people–young women’s eyes to embracing yourself, and who you are, and being unapologetically yourself.”
While Emily definitely has a strong sense of self and demonstrates that through her unique writing style, unfiltered voice, and at-times hilarious antics in the show, Steinfeld admits that what makes Emily so relatable, are her more typical human reactions. “She’s an artist and she knows that. She’s accepted that she thinks differently than other people and she isn’t understood by everyone,” Steinfeld says of Emily. “She realizes who she is but in our show, there are moments where she will put up a front to try to get through a certain situation without someone thinking she’s weird, and I think I’ve done that in my personal life multiple times.”
The story of Emily Dickinson is intoxicatingly interesting, with tragedy and love laced throughout her poetic words that have helped influence some of the most prolific writers in America. The show incorporates music into each episode to enhance Emily’s rebellious and boundary-breaking spirit, and creating a more modern vibe to the show. From Billie Eilish and Lizzo to Steinfeld herself, the series features some of today’s most influential artists. Steinfeld admits that she struggled at first to create a song that would do the show justice, saying, “Trying to write a song for a show that’s about a poet is not an easy thing to do.” Her song “Afterlife” that is featured in Dickinson was actually a song Steinfeld had already been working on and she revisited it, tweaked a few things, and it ended up being pretty perfect for the show, something she calls “the unknown Emily Dickinson effect.”
Since portraying Emily Dickinson, Steinfeld has started working on new music slated to be released early next year. “I feel like I can write anything and everything and nothing is wrong, and there’s no reason to hold back. I was really inspired by her.”
Watch the complete first season of Dickinson on Apple TV+ now.