Created by Alena Smith, Dickinson has quickly cemented itself as the flagship series of the Apple TV+ streaming Hailee Steinfeld stars as Emily Dickinson, the famous Massachusetts poet who went largely unnoticed in her time, only to become a posthumous sensation, since her body of work went largely undiscovered until after she passed away in 1886.
Though based on Emily Dickinson’s life and adventures, Dickinson isn’t a typical period drama, but an often surreal comedy. To that end, it helps that the first two episodes were directed by Eastbound & Down’s David Gordon Green. Steinfeld’s Dickinson is basically a woman born into the wrong century, who is made to feel like a fish out of water, even in her own home.
Season 2 of Dickinson introduced new characters played by Iron Fist‘s Finn Jones and Red Dead Redemption 2′s Pico Alexander. These actors, who play Samuel Bowles and Henry “Ship” Shipley (the latter of whom is a fictional creation for the series), spoke to Screen Rant about their work on the show, from working on the rising Apple TV+ streaming service to having fun with their spectacular period attire.
Both seasons of Dickinson are available to stream on Apple TV+, and the series has already been renewed for Season 3.
So, you’re on a show on Apple TV. That’s cool, because even though it’s Apple, it’s the biggest company in the world, there’s a bit of underground cred to its slate of programming. These are misfit shows that maybe wouldn’t fit in on mainstream cable and streaming. These are the shows that your parents don’t know about yet. When you’re on the set of a show, is the network something you’re aware of as an actor? Are you, like, “Oh yeah, this is clearly a Netflix show, there are obvious Hulu vibes on this one.”
Finn Jones: When I signed up for the show, Apple TV hadn’t been released yet, and neither had the show. So I had no idea what an Apple show was going to be. Immediately, as soon as I was on the set, I realized that Apple are doing it right. I’m not just saying that because I’m in an Apple show. They genuinely are. They’re putting money where it matters. They’ve got incredible taste when it comes to hiring creative teams, and they’re very supportive of the creative process, both financially and creatively. I’d put Apple up there with HBO when it comes to… I think they’re one of the best groups making TV at the moment, frankly. It’s cool! It’s amazing to be part of the team and work on that platform, because they really care.
You’re both newcomers in Season 2. Tell me about the process of fitting in. Do you have to spend the first couple of weeks sitting by yourselves in the cafeteria before they let you hang out with the Season 1 cast? Tell me about acclimating.
Finn Jones: There was lots of hazing. Lots of rituals. Our clothes were stolen so we were made to walk through sets half-naked.
Pico Alexander: Yeah, it was tough for Finn. It was really tough for him.
Finn Jones: Yeah, you got it pretty easy. I was the whipping boy.
Pico Alexander: They were horrible to him. He was the whipping boy. After we got hazed, you know…
Finn Jones: We became one of them. It was a tough process, and now we’re part of the cult.
Pico Alexander: No, no, no. It was the friendliest set ever. (Laughs)
Finn Jones: It was… Disgustingly friendly. (Laughs) It was just crazy how welcoming and amazing everyone was. It was like we’d been there forever. It was like we were Day 1 cast.
Pico Alexander: It was creepy!
Finn Jones: Yeah, it was creepy! (Laughs) To be so friendly, they must be high on something. (Laughs)
Okay, that’s all good to hear, then. Dickinson is historical fiction, but it plays fast and loose in the best ways. With that in mind, did you have to do any real research on your characters, or did you not have to root them in that way?
Pico Alexander: For me, more the first one.
Finn Jones: I did some research into Sam Bowles. I was curious into who he was, historically. But I was more interested in how I could relate to him in a modern context. I looked at what he did, bringing a new technology to a society, similar to something like Twitter. So then I was, like, “Okay, who runs Twitter?” It’s this guy called Jack Dorsey. So, what’s he like? And trying to draw parallels between a young tech billionaire and Sam Bowles. That’s kind of where my head was at.
So you grew a gigantic beard, is what you’re saying?
Finn Jones: Yes, and invested all my money into Crypto! (Laughs)
That’s interesting. Is that your process on everything? Taking your character and relating it to something our 21st century minds can actually process?
Finn Jones: I think it was specific for this show. Because it’s historical fiction, but also incredibly contemporary. For this specific project, it was the thing to do, because it helped bridge those two worlds.
You’re decked out in some amazing clothes in this show. Do you get to leave the set in costume, or are there strict rules against that, or is it not your style? I mean, if I had a role on a period show, I’d wear those clothes all the time. I’d make it my de facto style.
Pico Alexander: Where’s your, um, blouse? No, dude, it’s awesome. I think we wouldn’t even be allowed to go out in costume because it would violate our NDA or whatever, right? You don’t want people to recognize what it is, because it might end up spoiling something in the show. It was pretty secretive, but it’s so fun. The collars are super high, you know?
I love that. You didn’t have any girlfriends or anything who wanted you to wear your costume home?
Finn Jones: (Laughs)
Pico Alexander: No… Zak… We’re not all so lucky.
Finn Jones: We only have cats, and the cats aren’t interested.
Pico Alexander: My cat did not want me to dress up as my character from Dickinson.
I’ll bet the wardrobe department would not want your cats anywhere near those outfits.
Pico Alexander: He doesn’t shed, he’s hypoallergenic.
Okay, you’re playing in this unique period sandbox. With scripts and language and training to not use the wrong slang and all that, is that a boot camp you have to do, or do you have vocal coaches, or do you just become more loyal to the script because of it?
Finn Jones: I found it to be really freeing. It’s historical in terms of visually, but when it comes down to the relationships between the characters, it’s actually incredibly contemporary and loose. There was a level of freedom within the period-ness of it. You’re in these very refined costumes, but at the same time, you can behave like a 21st century slob. It was fun! It was a cool convergence of the two.
You’re both young actors, but you’ve been around the block. We’ve seen you in a lot of different things with, wait, let me put this the right way… Different budget levels. If you want to work at Screen Rant, you have to be a Wrong Turn scholar. When you’re making a low-budget wild horror movie like Wrong Turn or on a huge Game of Thrones set, or Pico, on a Red Dead Redemption virtual set, what kind of training kicks in? Is it all the same, do you have to treat it the same, or do you have to take it on a case-by-case basis and figure out what the rules are for each production? Or is that disrespectful to the work?
Pico Alexander: I think every job has its own set of demands, and every person has their own way to get at those demands. In this case, for me and the character I was doing, it was more about chilling out and relaxing, because he is so playful in his scenes. It was about getting to a playful headspace. He’s a bit of a clown, so as long as I could be loose and make sure I was relating to the other people on the set, really giving them my attention and listening, just a little banter would really get me warmed up for the scenes. Nothing too serious! Just being playful.
Finn Jones: As actors, you always bring the best you can to a role. Then, you just hope that the project you’re working on can equally bring the best of their reimgs to the show or film. Sometimes it works, like Dickinson. It’s amazing. You step into the role and it’s like, “Oh s***! These guys are spending the money. They’ve got crazy-good directors and writers and other cast members… Sometimes, though, you turn up and you go, “Oh. uh… Okay, I see what this is.” You never really know! You just have to do the best you can, given what you’ve got to work with.
It’s a credit to both of you then, that whenever I see you, you always bring it. Is there a project you’ve done that you’re particularly proud of, but you feel maybe didn’t get the attention it deserved in its time? Something you’d like to shout-out for the Screen Rant reader?
Pico Alexander: I like this movie I worked on, called Indignation. It was a smaller movie, it’s slow, and it had a small release.
Finn Jones: For me, it’s probably the second season of Iron Fist. We’d only released the show a month before Disney announced that they cancelled the whole slate. So I feel like, for that second season, we really, really worked hard to turn the show around. We put a lot of effort and energy into getting that show back to where it should have been from the start. Then, within, like, three weeks of it being released, there was news that all the shows were cancelled. It felt like a bit of a bummer. We put all this work into it, and then the only conversation that was around it was that all the shows got cancelled. That kind of sucked.
Well, it worked for you, since now everybody wants to see you back in the saddle as Iron Fist in the future, but that’s a whole other conversation that we’re not going to have right now because I’m sure you’ve had it 150 times today already, I’m sure. Look, Dickinson rocks, you guys are great, and high collars are coming back.
Pico Alexander: Hell yeah, boy!
Finn Jones: Bring back the high collars!