Ella Hunt on Playing a Quiet Force in Apple TV+'s "Dickinson"

The English actress spent time crafting the voice of Sue, Emily Dickinson's best friend and editor.

Ella Hunt is no stranger to out-of-the-box acting projects that require her to embrace individuality and quirkiness. In fact, on one of her most recent projects, Anna and the Apocalypse, Ella played a young woman attempting to survive a zombie apocalypse in the middle of the holiday season. Her latest endeavor follows a similar pattern with Ella portraying Susan Gilbert in Apple TV+’s Dickinson, a costume drama that gives the life of Emily Dickinson (Hailee Steinfeld) a modern refresh, complete with a Top 100 soundtrack and vernacular straight out of Urban Dictionary.

“I was really excited to see a show that was tackling a poet that was so misunderstood in her time, looking at her through a contemporary, almost millennial gaze,” Ella tells Teen Vogue. “I think there are so many decisions and choices about the way that Emily lived her life that feel like 2019 choices.”

Looking at the famed poet through a contemporary lens, Ella portrays Emily’s best friend Sue, a teenager dealing with hormones, societal standards, and ever-mounting grief. Unlike typical TV show best friends, Sue has a complexity to her that adds depth and dimension to both the show and Emily herself. It’s vital to understand the multiplex relationship between these two characters in order to appreciate the beauty of a Dickinson poem. This, of course, is part of the reason why Ella chose to play Sue in the first place.

Spending an inordinate amount of time curating the perfect lace accessories ultimately helped Ella build Sue the character as an individual separate from Sue the person, of whom not much is known. In reality, Sue Gilbert was Emily’s best friend, rumored lover, editor, confidant, and sister-in-law, among many other things.

“Sue is definitely the most interior character I’ve ever played,” Ella explains. “She’s completely introverted when it comes to her emotions because she’s experienced so much loss it’s almost like she doesn’t even know how to feel — feeling is just too intense for her.”

With the challenge of keeping her heart as far away from her sleeve as possible, Ella embraced a less is more tactic when portraying Sue. This rule carried over not only in her performance but in Sue’s costumes as well, which were meticulously curated by Ella and Dickinson costume designer John Dunn. Complete with intricately laced corsets under layers upon layers of dress, Sue’s costumes are, as Ella described, of a Winona Ryder in Beetlejuice aesthetic. Seemingly following Victorian mourning etiquette, Sue is primarily clothed in black, but the minute details of her costume shouldn’t be overlooked.

“My costume was kind of fun and challenging because I’m basically in the same costume for almost the entirety of the season, so we want to get as much depth into the costume as possible with it just being one costume,” she says. “For my character, it was really about finding the things that we look at Sue and see that she’s in mourning, but we look at Sue and we go, that’s Sue’s staples. She’s always in a choker, she’s always in black gloves, that’s how we see her looking.”

Ella noted that the Sue and Emily originally bonded over their mutual loathing of housework, which pretty much sums up the BFFs modern-thinking attitudes. “She really was Emily’s life-long best friend and in real life, when she and Austin got married, they moved to the house next door and Sue’s room, the bedroom, faces towards the direction Emily’s bedroom faces. So their bedrooms looked at each other their whole lives,” Ella said of the duo’s real-world relationship.

A show rooted in conforming to societal restraint, Dickinson enhances the perception most people have of Emily herself, bringing her poems to life a singular episode at a time. For Ella, she didn’t have any preconceived notions of Sue or Emily, which she says allowed her to build a character from scratch.

“I certainly didn’t have a preconceived idea of who [Emily] was, because I think a lot of people who studied her in school have this idea of her being a recluse who never left her bedroom and only wore one dress and was quite boring. So I actually feel quite lucky that I came into the project with any of that to put to the side, I just got to start with a blank slate, which I love.”

Although the show itself is rooted in only partial realism, Dickinson does delve into the rumored queer relationship between Emily and Sue. It’s this narrative that is often erased from history, but fully embraced by showrunner Alena Smith and her crew. For Ella, carrying the relationship complexity between the best friends was particularly important and something Hailee and herself worked extensively on together.

“I think Hailee and I were so much a team when it came to portraying that relationship,” Ella said. “I was really drawn to the story of Emily and Sue because it’s both this affectionate friendship and deep, true romance and Alena had written it so beautifully that really, at the end of the day, we just had to come in and say the words and enjoy playing these two people in love, basically.”

While Dickinson is rumored to be renewed for a second season, Ella has several other exciting projects in the pipeline. Next year, she will star in the comedy Kat and the Band as Kat, a teenager who lies about her age and becomes the manager for a struggling band. A singer and songwriter as well, Ella is also working on new music to be revealed in the (hopefully) near future.

In the meantime, fans can prepare themselves for Dickinson’s premiere by re-reading Emily’s most popular poems and listening to Billie Eilish on repeat — no, seriously.

“I think people are going to be really surprised by how contemporary [Emily’s] voice is. I think we’re in a time where everyone is obsessed with people like Billie Eilish, who are taking a much darker approach to popular writing, and I think Emily Dickinson is sort of the Billie Eilish of 1850."

With that in mind, get ready to watch the premiere of Dickinson tonight on Apple TV+.

Originally Appeared on Teen Vogue