Emerging as one of the most profound voices of her generation, Hailee Steinfeld fearlessly reimagines and revolutionizes the period piece.
“I loved the fact that this was unlike anything I had ever read,” explains actress Hailee Steinfeld when asked about what first attracted her to the role of Emily Dickinson. Steinfeld plays the famed poet in Dickinson, the historical comedy-drama created by Alena Smith and streamed on Apple TV+. “It was something I heard about and thought, ‘OK, a period piece? Emily Dickinson could be cool. Let’s give it a shot.’ And it was just so not what I was expecting (in the best way possible), from the dialogue and all of the modernism that is in this show to the music involved. There were so many elements, including Alena Smith herself,” Steinfeld says. “I’ve gotten so lucky in the last decade to have come across incredible, creative and bright women. It’s hard to really pin down what sort of energy it creates, but it’s different and it’s special. There’s a sense of sympathy that women bring to the table as far as storytelling—and there’s a difference when a woman writes a young woman’s dialogue. It’s real, and it feels authentic and emotionally rooted in an accurate way.”
Steinfeld not only stars as the famed titular poet in the series debuting its second season this month, but also serves as an executive producer—and even a chanteuse for the show. “This was such an amazing experience as a producer for the first time, launching this show with the platform, with Apple and Apple TV+; it really was a whole new venture for a lot of people involved, including myself,” she shares. The timing of releasing a streamed show to help launch Apple TV+ hit just when people craved more content than ever. “It’s been really interesting to see this whole shift, not only in the last year now in our world, but in the last few years with entertainment making the switch over into the streaming world. As a viewer, as an audience member of streaming platforms and shows, I love it. And I think Apple TV+ has really nailed something with the platform. It’s been really exciting to see it all evolve. And having gone from one season to another, it’s a really cool thing to be a part of.”
The show resonates not only in the accessibility of the Apple TV+ streaming platform, but also in the unapologetically authentic portrayal of a character who is more fluid in terms of sexuality. “This show is all about not putting people in a box,” she says. “I feel as though I am part of a generation that is doing everything in our power to break down those boxes and barriers and titles. We are who we are. And artists are artists. They can cross over into any genre or territory they want—as long as they can create and connect. I think there’s something about this show that addresses and acknowledges so many things that people are afraid to talk about so directly, and that’s what Emily does in her poetry so well.”
As she debuts her second season of Dickinson, Steinfeld wholeheartedly believes in the transformative power of the pen. “Reading some of her poetry can make you uncomfortable because it makes you think about things you don’t really want to think about or talk about,” she muses. “I feel that’s why I’ve connected with it on such a different level. And I have found that my friends, specifically, have as well because it portrays certain aspects of a young woman’s life accurately… and that’s hard to come by these days—or harder and harder, I should say.”
Steinfeld is quite the auteur herself and shares that she spent much of quarantine writing music. “One of the first things I did was turn my guest room in my house into a studio,” she says. “I’ve been writing a ton and creating from my room—much like Emily. I am really thankful to have this time to sit and focus. I feel that people I’ve encountered and worked with and characters I’ve played—including Emily—have also instilled this sense of fearlessness within me to have that courage to go to the places that I go and want to go.”
Steinfeld’s unflinching way of addressing the unspoken feels like a fitting voice for her generation. “I feel like my generation is more motivated now than ever, which is so exciting,” she shares. “I think it’s been an amazing thing to watch happen. … It’s like a whole fire has been lit within all of us. Change needs to happen, and we are part of that change. I think if we didn’t before, we know that now.”
Photography by: Photographed by Catherine Servel