Apple is a company whose technology has been described many times as ahead of its time, so it feels appropriate that one of the series that launches its streaming service, Apple TV+, is about a poet who defied the conventions of his time in the NINETEENTH century and whose work has been considered as one of the most original in american literature.
‘Dickinson’, the comedy-of-10 episodes-Apple TV+, follows the events of Emily Dickinson, the underestimated and poorly understood american writer, whose poems were discovered in a trunk only after his death in 1886. The series is an intriguing combination of an environment and characters of the periodwith language and contemporary music.
“I love the way in which he used wit and irony in his poems. He wrote his poems as puzzles, in which the meaning is not obvious”, says Alena Smith, creator of the series. “But what struck me even more attention was the irony of his life” it adds.
Although Smith makes it clear that the history that led to the screen is an interpretation of the life of Dickinson, many of the stranger aspects are those that are based on real facts and can be used perfectly as a mirror of what it means to grow today in the united States, as the inequality of gender, the fluidity of sexual and the dynamics of growing up within a family with different expectations to their own. Smith created a series in which, with a touch of magical realism, we also see the anguish inside of the heroine.
To interpret the complex character, the filmmakers turned to Hailee Steinfeld, the young actress and singer known for dramas such as True Grit and musical comedies like Pitch Perfect. “It brings a powerful cultural force and as an icon of his generation,” Smith says.
A few days ago Steinfeld, who enjoys a huge fanbase that includes 12 million followers on Instagram, spoke with TIME about his experience playing the complex character, the torture of wearing a corset and her work as a producer.
What made you say yes to Dickinson?
I read the amazing scripts written by Alena Smith and shortly after I talked with her, and there was born an incredible interest in being part of this project, which felt very different, interesting and cool; in a way, revolutionary. It touches many issues that are still relevant today.
What I knew about Emily Dickinson?
In high school I met some of his poetry, but it was not much. It was only until I started this project that I really met her in-depth work.
This is not a historical drama, but a comedy about a poet. In this interpretation, who is Emily Dickinson?
Is someone with a mind very complex, who fought against any restrictions in physical, emotional and mental. What is interesting is that we take facts of his life that we know of and that are documented, but expand the emotional aspect, so in a way the series shows effectively an interpretation of Emily Dickinson and her poetry, and that we believe that it would be his mind, or what we believe that was the process of writing those poems.
The rise of streaming with Netflix and Hulu, and what could be call the new golden age of TV, it gives you the opportunity to tell many of these stories that normally would not be made to the traditional TV…
The most exciting thing is to be able to make content that is so easy to access. It is wonderful to be able to present to the new generation characters such as this. His job (Emily’s) is timeless, and surely you are going to identify.
It has a fanbase big, what do you expect to carry the show?
It is a series of fun, exciting, rebellious, beautiful and emotive, a lot of things that I think are going to appreciate, but I also think that to a real level about deeper issues that the people still afraid to speak, but that they are going to identify. The poetry of Emily confronts everything from his family to his sexuality, being lost and confused, feeling misunderstood. The most important thing is that the series is authentic, and people of all ages respond to that.
He also worked on the music for the series, how was that?
The idea of working with music was always in the air, but only until the end of the record, and I returned to Los Angeles, they called me to ask me for the song, and I had to deliver as 3 days. I wrote a couple of topics that did not impress me, and I looked in a folder of music that I have and I found the ‘After life’, a song that I did a couple of years ago, but he had never found the right place. The changed a bit to adapt it to the show and fit perfect. When I went back to the study, and their poems inspired me to write more.
It is the first work that makes it on TV, how was the transition coming out of the cinema?
A lot of people told me that it was like making a movie of 5 hours, but I think the biggest difference that I detected is that you have to move very fast. In a movie you can’t afford to spend all day working on a scene, and in this case we were recording a full episode in a week, which is a little crazy. Another thing to which I soon took getting used to was the change of directors in each episode. In the end it was a wonderful experience, but an interesting transition.
He is also executive producer of the series, what does this charge?
I had always wanted to explore the facet of production and, of course, wanted that the first project in which it happened was very special. It has been exciting to be a part of conversations in which he never participated. I feel very passionate about this project, so work on a deeper level has been a good lesson.
Jane Krakowski, who plays the mother of Emily, recently said that the brace helped him to empathize with his character and the limitations of women in that time, what happened to you something similar?
Be stuck in those corsets each morning defines the rest of your day. Everything about you, physically and mentally, it impacts: the way in which you walk, you breathe, you eat, the way that you talk about. One runs out of air very fast and very often. I love that it is another way to transport myself to that time. That restriction helped me a lot.
We also know that he visited the original house of Emily, in Massachusetts, which is preserved almost intact…
It’s amazing to go to a place and feel like it is haunted. And when you’re in the room of Emily Dickinson and see the desk in the corner, the wallpaper and the colors almost child… She lived there all his life, that was his world. It was something rare because it is almost that you can feel there. And to think that all these poems came out of the corner of this room.
Smith mentioned that expects to do more seasons, do you see, interpreting Emily Dickinson for several years?
I love the idea of coming back and delving into this character. I know that Alena has lots of ideas and stories, and I’d love to see how it turns out.
CLAUDIA SANDOVAL GOMEZ for THE TIME