From show creator Alena Smith, the Apple TV+ original series Dickinson follows Emily Dickinson (Hailee Steinfeld) on her road to being a published poet and the promise of fame that will follow. When Sam Bowles (Finn Jones), the ambitious editor of The Springfield Republican, does his best to convince her to take her work a step beyond letting just Sue Gilbert (Ella Hunt), her brother’s wife who she also happens to be in love with, read them, it tests Emily in ways that she never could have imagined.
During the virtual press day for the second season, Hailee Steinfeld (who is also an executive producer on the series) spoke to Collider for this 1-on-1 interview about what she’s most excited about with Season 2, what she’s learned about being a producer, her own relationship with fame, the Emily-Sue dynamic, what Wiz Khalifa brings to the show as Death, and what leads her to have a giggle fit on set. She also talked about finally being able to confirm that she’s a part of the Marvel Disney+ series Hawkeye, the excitement of developing her character, and how she’ll still be juggling her music with her acting projects.
COLLIDER: When it came to Season 2, what were you most excited about getting to explore and dig into with Emily Dickinson, especially having a season under your belt?
HAILEE STEINFELD: It was so fun coming into a world that we had already laid the groundwork down for. Coming back and being with my amazing cast and a lot of our same crew was really awesome. One thing that I was really excited to dig into this season was this idea of fame. The whole theme of Season 2 is the outburst of celebrity culture and technology. These questions that Emily is searching for the answers to are questions that I’ve never really asked myself. It challenged my way of thinking, in regards to what fame really is and what it means, and how you achieve a certain level of fame. So, getting into all of that is what I was looking forward to most this season.
What have you learned from being an executive producer on the series that you feel has also really deepened your understanding of acting and filmmaking?
STEINFELD: Just being a part of these decision making processes over certain aspects that I’ve never really been concerned about, as an actor. And not only that, but then seeing them through. I’ve always had an appreciation for how many people it takes to pull off something great. Especially in regards to film and television, there are a lot of people involved that aren’t even on the set, and on the set, there are a lot of people. As a producer, I’ve realized that the amount of work that every single person has to put into something in order for it to work is quite a lot, and I’m just so grateful for that. And also, the experience of just becoming a producer on this, with this being the first project I’ve done that on, I’ve had a wonderful experience with it. It’s just deepened my appreciation for what I do and everyone involved.
How would you say this season has made you re-evaluate your own relationship with and your own feelings about fame? You’ve been in the public eye since you were a kid, so what has that been like for you to deal with, and how do you find your own balance between life and the fantasy world that fame can create?
STEINFELD: This season challenged me to figure out what my relationship with fame really is. I would say it’s a healthy one. I’ve never really thought anything of it. I was very young when I started acting and I never had this idea of fame or what I wanted out of it. It just was never anything that ever really occurred to me. It was the work that I wanted to do. It was being in a movie and acting and performing and entertaining. I didn’t realize what would come after, and is still coming, and goes up and down. It’s a funny thing that can easily consume you, as with Emily in Season 2. I definitely relate to her curiosity and confusion when it comes to fame, but not so much her struggle, thankfully.
Throughout Season 2, we see these parallel dynamics between Emily and Sue [Ella Hunt], and between Emily and Sam Bowles [Finn Jones]. What was it like to really get to explore the Emily and Sue dynamic more deeply? How much would you say that relationship will define her this season?
STEINFELD: What’s so wonderful about the relationship between Emily and Sue this season is that, whether Emily knows it or not, at least in the beginning, Sue is pushing Emily to become her own person and confident enough in a space with her writing where she will share it with other people and not just Sue. They have such an unbelievably deep understanding of each other that keeps them coming back to each other. They’ve proven that no one and no thing can diminish the love that they have for each other, which is a really beautiful thing. The relationship evolves quite a bit, and it’s a really fun one to play out. It’s something that we’ve taken what we know from Emily’s life and this relationship she had with Sue Gilbert. Sue was one of very few people that actually read her poetry, and then [showrunner] Alena [Smith] fills in the gaps of what we do know and how we interpret it. It’s a fun one.
What do you think it is that Emily sees in Samuel and what was it like to add Finn Jones to the series?
STEINFELD: Oh, it was so fun. I’m such a fan of him, and he was just so wonderful to have around and have on set. It’s always so amazing to see when actors come onto something that is a world that’s already been established, and they come in and just jump right in. That’s not an easy thing to do. Hopefully, he would agree with what I’m saying, but it seems like he was able to find himself right at home. He brings such a mystery and an intrigue to this character and to the show itself, which is why Emily gets into so much of what she does. She is so intrigued by Sam, and also slightly fearful of him, just trying to figure out if the interest that he’s taking in her is really professional or not and really trying to get to the bottom of it. She likes him and likes the idea of him. She likes the idea of him publishing her and introducing her to fame, but is also fearing it. It’s a lot of back and forth, push and pull, and up and down.
One of my favorite aspects of this season is the spa day that Emily and the women in her life take together. What were those moments like to film? Was there a memorable scene to shoot from that episode?
STEINFELD: Oh, my goodness, the whole episode. There was a point where Anna [Baryshnikov] and I were sitting in a steel tub covered in — I was gonna say mud, but to be completely honest, I don’t really even know what that was. It was just some stuff that we were completely covered in, and the photos that we have of that, it was just hilarious. Every day on this show, I have found it to be so memorable. We go from having a moment like that, to then finding ourselves completely grounded in this time period, in these corsets and on this set that is so accurate to the time, and we’re talking about serious and complex subject matters. It’s just such a fun balance, as an actor and as an artist, to be able to go in and out of those in one show. That’s why I love being a part of this world so much. It’s always presenting itself with something crazy.
How was it to have Wiz Khalifa back? What’s he like, as an acting partner, and did it feel completely surreal to know that you’re stepping into Death’s carriage and sharing a scene with Wiz Khalifa and Nick Kroll, as Edgar Allan Poe?
STEINFELD: Oh my goodness, it was absolutely surreal. Such a fun thing. In Emily’s mind, Death is an escape and a world of freedom, creativity, love, fun and freedom. To be able to step into that carriage and quite literally have all of those things, with none other than Wiz Khalifa, is amazing. He’s always shown up perfectly prepared and ready to go to work. He is so fun to be around, not to mention an unbelievable artist and one of my favorites. We’re lucky to have him come back for the show. I know he is obsessed with it, which is why he came back. It’s super cool.
One of the comments that most stood out to me this season is, “Don’t let your emotions get in the way of your career. That’s what always happens to women.” Have you ever had anyone accuse you of letting your emotions get the better of you at a time when you’re just speaking up or standing up for yourself?
STEINFELD: Thankfully, I don’t feel like I’ve been directly accused of that. In different outlets in my life, I feel like people have alluded to that. I feel like I’ve done a good job of not letting that happen, although it’s hard when you’re human and you feel things, and you’re passionate about something and there’s something that upsets you. I’m a very emotional person and it’s hard for me, when I get to a certain point, to mask that or act like that doesn’t exist. That’s human behavior, and I’m not ashamed of that or embarrassed by it. I think I’ve gotten to a place where I feel like, if I’m that emotional about something, then that means there’s something seriously wrong and it needs to be fixed, so I’ll do whatever I have to do. Even if it means getting emotional about it, to fix it or to change whatever it is that’s happening, then that’s what I’ll do. I’m thankfully in a place where anything that anybody would have to say, in that regard, I’d disregard.
Are you somebody who ever gets giggle fits during scenes? Do you break during takes or are you typically pretty good at holding it together?
STEINFELD: It depends. For the most part, I’m pretty damn good at keeping it together, and I hope my castmates would agree. But if I hit a moment of either just pure delirium or exhaustion and I giggle at one little thing, that will set me off for about 20 minutes. It happened recently, on what I’m working on now, where I literally just had to take a lap. I needed to get a breath of fresh air. Sometimes you get into a rhythm of things, and then somebody slips or I slip, or something happens, and you find it funny. Once that spot has been marked with the big X, you can’t get past it. So, I have my moments.
Do you have a favorite moment from the entire season?
STEINFELD: It’s hard to choose. Just coming back into what feels like a real family now. We were lucky to get a lot of our same crew members from Season 1. We live in this house. The majority of the show takes place in the Dickinson homestead, now the Evergreens, and those sets have become and now feel like home to us. So, it’s great to be able to go back into what feels like home. We separate, go our separate ways, live our lives, and work on different projects, but then we come back to this really strong foundation and we get to go from there. This whole season has been a really wonderful experience. I loved being able to spend more time with my castmates and getting into these characters a little bit more. I’m looking forward to doing it for Season 3.
Congratulations on being able to confirm that you’re in Hawkeye. How much were you told about the arc of your character prior to signing on, and how much of that is really about trusting Marvel, based on their record?
STEINFELD: If there’s anyone to trust, it’s Marvel. I’m just so honored to be a part of the MCU, and more so excited to be able to talk about it. It’s been quite awhile that I’ve been having to keep that a secret, and I’m not good at that. It’s been a wonderful experience, developing this character and taking elements of her from the comics and what we know with her history. It’s just very exciting to be playing a character, much like Emily, that is so loved by so many people.
You’ve also been very focused on your music career. When you sign on to do a Marvel character, it means not only doing your series, but likely popping up in future Marvel movies and other projects. Did you debate signing on, due to how much time it might take?
STEINFELD: No. That didn’t play into any reason why I wouldn’t want to be involved, that’s for sure. My music is something I can do on the road and on the go. Simultaneously with my acting obviously makes it a little more challenging, but it’s thankfully it’s something that I can continue and have continued to do and work on as I’m working on these shows.
Dickinson is available to stream at Apple TV+.
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