Probably best known for her hilarious roles in shows like 30 Rock and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, actress Jane Krakowski is notably funny. Her sense of humor extends beyond her on-screen performances as well as she discusses her latest role as the domestic housewife Mrs. Dickinson in the new Apple TV+ series, Dickinson, alongside Hailee Steinfeld, Toby Huss, and Anna Baryshnikov. “You have no idea what a stretch this is for me. I can’t cook a thing,” Krakowski tells me of portraying Mrs. Dickinson. “Ten years ago, before I had a child–because you have to have more stuff when you have a kid–there was literally Champagne and a roll of film in my refrigerator.”
Dickinson, written and created by Alena Smith, tells the story of American poet Emily Dickinson and her family, set in the 1800’s, but with many modern influences laced through the language used and music featured. Krakowski’s character as Emily’s mother may be an admitted stretch for her to play, but she flawlessly offers such humor and depth to the role throughout the show’s first season. “I think there are moments, certainly as the series goes on, that are even screwball comedy,” Krakowski says of the show itself. “Whenever I take a character on, I try to represent the whole person. I think I have to have empathy for a character. I have absolute sympathy for her, and compassion. I enjoy when she can be humorous or slightly naughty,” she adds of Mrs. Dickinson specifically.
The complicated nature of Mrs. Dickinson ranges from her challenging relationship with Emily to her tunnel vision-like desire to be an exceptional housewife. “I find the mother-daughter so complicated and deep and confusing and I look forward to exploring it more. Even though she doesn’t approve of Emily, I feel like there’s so much more in it. There’s a slight bit of jealousy, there’s a little bit of, Does my husband like you more than me?,” Krakowksi explains.
The challenging family dynamics depicted throughout Dickinson offer relatable insight into modern relationships, giving the show a playground of storylines to explore. “I think if you just make us the representation of the 1800’s, we’re sort of locked out of the whole thing, whereas everyone can understand family dynamics through all the decades. That is forever and that’s something you can hold onto and hook into ultimately for a series to go for a while.”
Krakowski tells me that she never learned about Emily Dickinson’s poetry in school, but rather, her own mother was a huge fan, so she was exposed to Dickinson’s writing from her mother’s enthusiasm. “I definitely had a personal slant in [the show]. I’m sure that’s why I gravitated to it so quickly. Interestingly, the poems I remember loving the most as a young person are not ones I like now. Because I’ve changed and my sensibilities have changed, now the deeper, more sexual, and complicated poems are far more interesting than even some of her most famous ones,” she says.
Emily Dickinson’s words are strung through the series as episode names and are voiced over as Emily is shown writing. While Emily Dickinson’s writing is 200 years old, the messages still resonate with younger audiences in such an impactful way. Another important aspect of the series is the featured music. From Hailee Steinfeld to G Flip, the artists included are the voices of today’s youth, which Krakowski finds inspiring. “Billie Eilish is given two songs and I know Billie Eilish is a big representative of young girls right now. The families I know that have teenage girls [say that they’re] really listening to every word she is saying and feel like she’s connecting to their inner turmoils and thoughts,” she says. “I find now, I sort of look at Emily’s poems and I feel a lot of the same angst and turmoil and questioning about death and how we belong and who we are and how we fit in, which is what the young generation is doing right now as well. I feel like there’s a synergy between the two of them.”
The synergy between the music and the storylines helps make Dickinson a modern story with a relatable narrative, even despite the abundance of corsets.