Because Emily Dickinson could not stop for Death, he kindly stopped for her.
And on new Apple TV+ series Dickinson he’ll be stopping for her literally in the form of Wiz Khalifa. EW can exclusively reveal that the rapper and entertainer will guest star as a personification of Death (seen above) on their new series, which offers viewers a look at a young Emily Dickinson infused with modern dialogue and music.
For creator Alena Smith, it’s the realization of a grand dream for the show. “We literally put Wiz Khalifa on our tone board as this would be the dream, like he’s the aesthetic we want Death to have and then somehow we magically got Wiz Khalifa, so that was incredible,” she gushes to EW.
Star Hailee Steinfeld, who portrays the young, titular poet, was also thrilled to work opposite Khalifa as her character’s creative muse/imagined paramour. “I’m a huge fan of him in general, so the fact that we were able to get him to do the show was so exciting and he loved the idea of it,” Steinfeld tells EW. “He read a bunch of it, and he was so into it. He showed up unbelievably prepared. He’s got the greatest sense of humor ever. It was just so fun to have that weird crossover as part of our show. It is very different and weird and interesting and exciting, and he is a major element in this show that makes it all of those things.”
The show comes with a contemporary bent, and hip-hop and rap in the score built into its DNA. But for Smith, this casting was essential to conveying Emily Dickinson’s journey over the course of the first season. “I wanted Death to be the coolest guy in the world because Emily is in love with Death,” she explains of why Khalifa is the perfect choice. “Part of the story of the season is about her coming to a more realistic and mature understanding of Death, but where she begins is a kind of Goth worship of death. I just really wanted it to be someone that you would genuinely get excited to see.”
Smith says the show at large is about bringing obscured voices out of history and drawing parallels between then and now. “The series is also a meditation on who gets seen and who doesn’t and who gets to be at the center of history and who doesn’t,” she reflects. “This role has certain implications in terms of the history we’re telling about this period and about American consciousness in general. But in a certain way, this is Emily Dickinson’s fantasy of Death, so we’re seeing it through her eyes.”
That’s part of what makes the series tick as a whole for Smith, reallocating power and who gets to be a part of the narrative. “The fundamental fact of her life is, she didn’t publish while she was alive, so her voice never got heard while she was around to have someone hear it,” muses Smith on Dickinson. “So if we’re hearing it now almost in a beyond the grave kind of way, there’s a reclaiming of power going on.”
So now the carriage of Dickinson’s poem can hold but just themselves, in the form of Khalifa and Steinfeld, and just a little bit of that immortality she wrote so powerfully of.
Dickinson premieres Nov. 1 on Apple TV+.