Complex love stories fuel great writing and Emily Dickinson’s letters and poems hint at fiery relationships that Dickinson explores in great detail. A romantic union with best friend Sue (Ella Hunt) was already complicated by her betrothal to Emily’s brother Austin (Adrian Blake Enscoe). In Season 2, the arrival of Springfield Republican editor Samuel Bowles (Finn Jones) set hearts aflutter while also causing Emily to doubt herself. In “I’m Nobody! Who are you?” Emily discovered the truth about Sam’s duplicity by witnessing a steamy tryst. Meanwhile, her sister Lavinia (Anna Baryshnikov) has also been entertaining a new beau who lacks insight regarding her desires. Henry “Ship” Shipley (Pico Alexander) thinks he nailed the grand gesture proposal but struggles to understand that the youngest Dickinson doesn't dream of being a traditional housewife.
What To Watch recently caught up with Finn Jones and Pico Alexander to discuss recent episode developments and the pair revealed what it is like to work closely with Steinfeld, Hunt, and Baryshnikov on Alena Smith’s bold series depicting the literary icon. The big reveal in Episode 8 features an illicit library hook-up, which Jones discussed in relation to working with intimacy coordinator Nicole Callender. This role is still a relatively new addition to a film and TV set and the Dickinson actors spoke in detail about the benefits of this practice. Jones played Loras Tyrell on Game of Thrones and this was not a feature when the HBO series was in production. Beyond the shooting logistics, Jones and Alexander also talked about character motives, 19th-century costumes, and big hair.
What appealed about the show when you read the scripts?
Jones: It wasn't very clear if he [Sam] had good intentions or if he had more nefarious intentions, I like the fact that he was almost like a snake. Being very charming and lascivious at one point and then possibly very selfish at another point. I also like the parallels between someone like him at the time being the editor of this new technology — the printing press — and someone like a Jack Dorsey of Twitter, and how much power and influence he has. I thought that was a very interesting overlap, which was interesting to explore.
Alexander: You know what I like about Ship, he's very lost but he's very confident. He seems to have no problem saying the stupidest things and that's fun.
You both have amazing women that you’re working with. Finn, you're in a love triangle of sorts, and Pico you've got the lovely Anna Baryshnikov. What was it like working with these powerful women in a show like this?
Alexander: Well, really to demonstrate the extent of the power, it's really thanks to Anna that I had the job, in a way. We know each other from the New York theatre scene. I'd done a reading of a play that she had written a couple of years ago. And I think as she was speaking with Alena about potential casting, she put my name in the hat. So yeah, I'm so grateful to Anna because she put me up for it, and working with her, [she’s] the most comfortable scene partner. She's a dream fellow actor.
Jones: It's honestly the total dream team and similar to what Pico was saying about Anna, Hailee is the most wonderful perfect scene partner. I think she is one of the best actresses of her generation, if not one of the best actresses around at the moment. She carries herself with incredible professionalism but at the same time has this amazing warmth for the entire cast, the entire crew, she makes you feel incredibly welcomed. The same goes for Ella, they were wonderful people to hang out with and work with. You’d sit down and talk about the scene, and you allowed each other to get to those moments in the scene to be vulnerable and then also have fun at the same time — not take it too seriously. It was a great experience. I often find that whenever you work with women, whether they're line producers, writers, directors, actresses, there's just a level of compassion, warmth, and togetherness.
I was wondering did you have an intimacy coordinator on this series and how was that experience?
Jones: Yes first time ever. So I've worked on Game of Thrones that is notorious for sex scenes and intimacy coordinators was never a thing. They told me this time around there was going to be an intimacy coordinator. And my first reaction was like, 'Oh, we don't need that. That's weird. I don't want someone coming in and telling me how to do a scene.' But the coordinator came on and it was just the best experience. She was almost like a stunt coordinator but for an intimate scene. You'd have a conversation with them beforehand, you tell them what you feel comfortable with, what you don't feel comfortable with. They will then be the intermediate between you, the director, and the producer. Number one, when you're on set, you never really want to say you feel uncomfortable on the day to the director because you don't want to fuck up the artistic process. So it's good to know that you have someone on your side from that point.
Then also from a technical standpoint, there's one scene [in Episode 8] where I have to go down on Ella's character and it's like, 'Okay, this is really intimate and could be uncomfortable.' And so you treat it like you would treat a stunt. 'Okay, Your hand goes here, your head goes here, you perform this motion. Ella, do you feel comfortable with this? Finn, do you feel comfortable with this? Yes, okay, great.' Sets up boundaries, everyone's working in the same ballpark. I just found it to be incredibly beneficial. It takes the awkwardness out of it. So it makes everyone feel comfortable and it treats it like a stunt — as it should be treated.
Alexander: It was my first time as well and I think they are a necessary feature moving forward. Again, Anna and I know each other from before, we also happen to get on really well. So we feel pretty comfortable with one another, but that isn't always the case.
Jones: And you can feel comfortable with someone and still be an awkward experience You know what I mean? It's a weird thing to do.
Alexander: And when are doing the actual scene, most of the time you're lying in the bed in between takes with the other person. Those instances can sometimes feel like the most uncomfortable because all of a sudden you're not doing the scene anymore. Everybody else is going on about their own business and now you are just alone with this person — I don't know how you're dressed, I don't under the covers waiting for the next take to start. In that case, really helpful to have somebody come to the two of you and be there, 'Is everything okay? Are you guys all right?' And check in with you, it’s good.
You both have quite big things that happen in last week’s episode — breakups and revelations. Finn, you mentioned that you don't really know initially what Sam's intentions are at the start. Can you talk to me about when you got that script and realized that when he said he was being faithful to his wife he was lying?
Jones: I'm always trying to find the truth in the character. I never feel as an actor you should play the character being a bad person. They always have to convince themselves of their badness, or immorality. I got the scripts at the very beginning so I knew exactly what was going on throughout the whole season, but I remember thinking that Sam must justify it. Mary can't be there for Sam intimately in the way that she hopes she could be. I don't know maybe she has some form of social anxiety or something like that. There is love within that relationship, I do think they care for each other. But I think there's also an understanding when Sam is away, Sam does his thing. In my mind to make him not feel so reprehensible that was the arrangement. And even though what he does is totally not cool — especially how he treats Emily — he's not so out and out lascivious. That's how I came to terms with making it more relatable and human
Pico, do you think Ship loves Lavinia, or is he looking for an ideal wife who doesn't exist?
Alexander: I think so, unfortunately. Definitely, at first, I think by the end there's more mutual respect than there was at the beginning because they've helped each other out in some way. As far as Ship's relationship with the concept of love, probably some work to be done there.
The costumes by Jennifer Moeller are incredible. You wear fantastic ascots and waistcoats. Is there anything you would like to borrow from that period — especially as we’re currently living in a stretchy waistband situation?
Jones: I love the long jackets, they felt very good to be in; you feel very sophisticated. I don't like the hats so much. They can stay in that period.
Alexander: I'm into the idea of getting dressed up every day. There's something to be said for presenting yourself in such a dignified, elegant way, day in, day out — I can't relate to that at all.
Pico, you also have this amazing huge hair. Did that take a while to get done?
Alexander: Just coiffed it up. No, but Austin's hair — so that’s Adrian’s hair — takes a very, very long time, a lot of curls. Suzy [Mazzarese-Allison] our lovely hair guide would be working on him, they have to show up earlier than everybody else. Hair and makeup are there two, three hours beforehand, putting all these wigs on the girls. Yeah, mine she put as much product in it and just shoot it up.
And finally, because Dickinson is a balm for a lot of viewers, is there something you've been watching over this period that has given you joy?
Alexander: I watched I May Destroy You, I thought was beautiful. And I've been watching Alone, which is a reality TV show about survivalists in the Arctic.
Jones: I just watched this great animation film called Wolfwalkers. It's one of the best animations I've seen. It's nominated for Golden Globe. I hope it wins.
Emma Fraser spends most of her time writing about TV, fashion, and costume design; Dana Scully is the reason she loves a pantsuit. Words can also be found at Vulture, Elle, Primetimer, Collider, Little White Lies, Observer, and Girls on Tops. Emma has a Master’s in Film and Television, started a (defunct) blog that mainly focused on Mad Men in 2010, and has been getting paid to write about TV since 2015. It goes back way further as she got her big start making observations in her diary about My So-Called Life’s Angela Chase (and her style) at 14.
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