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Is There Anything Dickinson's Hailee Steinfeld Can't Do?

The 22 year-old's career path thus far suggests the answer is no.
  • Hailee Steinfeld in a promotional photo for Dickinson (Apple TV+)
    Hailee Steinfeld in a promotional photo for Dickinson (Apple TV+)

    The concept of a youthful, rebellious, sexy version of Emily Dickinson seems so outrageous that it's hard to imagine it working. Frankly, it sounds insane. But then you look at the young actress playing the title character, and you start to think it might just work. The star is Hailee Steinfeld, the 22-year-old actress who already has an Oscar nomination, a #1 box-office opener, and a top-5 pop record. Now she's headlining and executive producing a flagship show on a brand new streaming platform from America's most renowned tech company. 

    Hailee Steinfeld was 13 years old when she was cast as Mattie Ross in the Coen brothers' 2010 remake of True Grit. A headstrong and capable young girl determined to get justice for her daddy and adamant that soused U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) help her do it, Mattie would have been a phenomenal role for any young actress. Steinfeld and Bridges made for a fantastic pair, and the chemistry was only improved when Matt Damon joined the mix as a Texas Ranger. It was the perfect breakthrough role, one which placed Steinfeld at the center of a $250 million worldwide box-office hit, and earned her an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Never mind the fact that she was the clear lead performer in True Grit — more so even than Bridges, who was nominated for Best Actor — but was bumped down to supporting due to an annoying Academy habit of placing all child actors in supporting categories. This was the project that put her on the map.

    Still, there's a difference between "Oscar-nominated child actor" success and "crossover popular actress-of-a-generation" success. Interestingly, another young actress also had an Oscar breakthrough around that time: Saoirse Ronan (2007 nominee for Atonement). As it happens, they both sit atop the pyramid of younger Hollywood actresses today.

    Steinfeld's next big role came in the sequel to Pitch Perfect, playing the talented younger upstart who helps Anna Kendrick and the Barton Bellas get the boost they need to win. Yes, as movies go, Pitch Perfect 2 was pretty forgettable, but it made a boatload of money. Nearly $300 million at the worldwide box office, and gave Steinfeld her second massive hit.

    Steinfeld's next big role is the one that made the incontrovertible case that she is among the best of her generation: The Edge of Seventeen was a miraculous little high school comedy about a young girl enduring through the (somewhat self-inflicted) calamity of her best friend dating her hated brother. Steinfeld's Nadine Franklin isn't easy to love, and she's prone to self-sabotage in the most spectacular of ways, but much like Ellen Page in Juno and Saoirse Ronan in Lady Bird, Steinfeld was able to turn those qualities into something deeply relatable to anyone who was ever a teen (or  who knows one now). Edge of Seventeen was never going to be a box-office smash, but it was something even better: a teen movie whose quality will endure. It's the kind of film that people will be discovering and revisiting for years to come.

    What does this all mean for Dickinson? It means Apple certainly cast the right actress to imbue the classical poet with a decidedly 2019 energy. Throughout her still young career, Hailee Steinfeld has managed to nail the mature-beyond-her-years child as well as the wildly relatable modern-day teenager, two skill sets that make her uniquely qualified to sell viewers on Dickinson.

    Will you be watching Dickinson? Weigh in on our forums.

    Joe Reid is the senior writer at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: Dickinson, Apple TV+, Hailee Steinfeld