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Performers of The Month - Readers' Choice Most Outstanding Performer of November - Hailee Steinfeld



The article was written by Aimee Hicks, Ellys Cartin, and Jamie Coudeville. Article edited by Donna Cromeans (@DJRiter). Article prepared for publication by Aimee Hicks.

If the real Emily Dickinson were alive today to handpick her portrayer there is every likelihood, she would take one look at Hailee Steinfeld and declare that nobody was better suited to portray her. Steinfeld exudes charismatic charm mixed with a clear tint of rebellious energy. Since she stormed onto the scene, she has taken the industry by storm in a take no prisoners sort of way. She charges into every role or musical project and commands to be noticed by the masses. The way Steinfeld just naturally is can't be recreated and there is no real heir apparent to what she brings to the table. She is a one of kind performer just in the same way Emily Dickinson was a one of a kind writer. Their paths were meant to cross one day so that Steinfeld could bring this larger than life version of the writer to the screen. Steinfeld's charisma and immense acting prowess made audiences flock to Apple's new fledgling streaming platform to watch this gifted performer wow as Emily Dickinson. That same magnetic energy led her to be named SpoilerTV's November Readers' Choice Performer of the Month for her flawless performance in I Have Never Seen 'Volcanoes' (1x2).

The episode opened in the same way it would end, with Emily and Sue (Ella Hunt) in bed together. This time, however, was a soft and at times humorous exchange. They discussed what things would be like after Sue married Austin (Adrian Enscoe) and Emily dreamed of an existence where she could be the one marrying Sue. Steinfeld clearly had fun with this scene. It had a deep underlying layer of emotions that she perfectly tapped into with soft tones and the way she and Hunt interlaced their hands and played with each other's fingers. Added emotion was in the softness of Steinfeld's voice and the loving way she had Emily look at Sue. Steinfeld was focused on Hunt until Austin knocked on the door then in a quick shift, she took Emily from soft and a bit flirty to full-on little sister brat mode. Her entire demeanor shifted, and she was looser in her line delivery and snarkier in her retorts. Watching Steinfield play the emotional and deep side of Emily is beautiful, but the snarky bratty side she brings out in Emily is so ridiculously fun to watch and that's what she tapped into for the end of this scene. The concerned look on her face when "fire" can be heard being screamed downstairs was hilarious.

Steinfeld's performance is, in part, successful because of how her Emily moves just a little faster than everything and everyone around her. She is a whirlpool that quickens the entire show. Emily also has a keen appreciation for theatrics, and that quality is on display in this scene. Steinfeld glides into the chaotic kitchen in her nightdress, exclaiming with exaggerated concern when she spies the burning loaf of bread. She drops the pretense instantly when Maggie (Darlene Hunt) jokes about it and plops herself down into a chair with delight scrawled across her expressions. Her mother (Jane Krakowski) tells her to help make new bread. Emily's shawl is draped over her head at that point, and she blows the fringe upwards with an exasperated exhale. She reminds her mother that Maggie's arrival is intended to relieve Emily from doing chores, though she avoids her mother's eyes at the end of that statement, thoughtfully examining an orange instead. Her next faux-serious response is delivered in a low, deep voice. Steinfeld excels at imbuing Emily with a mischievous spark that brings zippy energy to the entire show.

Despite going to breakfast in her pajamas, Emily is not at ease. Having to witness the constant flirty attempts her brother Austin is sending Sue's way makes Emily anxious. She acts out accordingly. When Austin tenderly approaches Sue, Emily snatches up the morning newspaper to interrupt their interaction. This is the only scene in the episode where Emily is trying to catch up, and Steinfeld filters her performance through Emily's longing to not be left behind. A discovery in the newspaper takes her out of the moment, and she geeks out with pure admiration. The others move past her to the breakfast table, but she is lost in wonder at the existence of a college lecture on a volcano. Indignation quickly follows when her father Edward (Toby Huss) reminds her she cannot attend a college lecture. Her father writes off her academic wishes and interests as a silly mood, leaving her visibly deflated. She sinks into her chair at the table, letting her shawl droop, mustering a little to grab a biscuit off the table. Steinfeld's delivery of Emily's almost-whispered remark that she must "steal random bits of knowledge" to supplement her education is lathered with frustration and punctuated by tearing a chunk off the biscuit. Already under intellectual strain, Emily tries to minimize her exposure to Austin and Sue's meanderings. She gets one early win when Sue agrees to spend the day with her; a grin cracks briefly onto Emily's face. When Austin explains that he and Sue have a ritual for when they are apart, Emily announces that she will take part in the ritual too. Her whisper that he can't stop her is spoken as a promise, and the quick quirk of her eyebrows shows her pushing back the sadness the thought of exclusion drew on her face.

There's a slight change in Steinfeld's acting whenever Emily shares a scene with just Sue. Her character can be more carefree, to dream more and, of course, get into more mischief. That last one shows in the grin Steinfeld gives when putting on the hat. When Emily gets the idea to sneak into the college it is evident by Steinfeld's body language. The viewer could almost see the lightbulb above her head. After that, she is a force of determination and she will not be persuaded otherwise. The dance montage that ensues is one of pure delight. It is obvious that both actresses had fun while shooting this.

An entirely different vibe permeates the next scene. As Emily and Sue approach the college in disguise, the audience can see through Steinfeld’s performance that even the bold Emily is growing concerned that they will be caught. She desperately tries to hide her concern with excitement as Sue's confidence wavers. They are too quiet, too dignified to fit in properly with all the boys laughing and skipping and wrestling on the lawn. Emily, however, can barely keep a lid on her excitement. Steinfeld holds her head high and fixes her dramatically solemn gaze on a distant point. She's essentially playing Emily, who in turn is playing the role of a boy. When Emily's friend George (Samuel Farnsworth) catches the women, Emily breaks character, eagerly pleading for him to keep their secret, which he does. Steinfeld effortlessly goes from "Emily as a boy" to "regular Emily" when asking George to keep their secret. But unlike earlier, she shows the audience that in this case, Emily was not too worried as she trusts George to keep quiet, which he does.

The lecture transfixes Emily. She is quite thrilled even, her excitement so tangible that she quivers in place, grasping her walking stick to solidify herself. Not only is her intellectual curiosity being well-fed, but she is also taking a walk through forbidden pastures with Sue at her side. She sees Sue's hand on the railing, waits a moment, then places her hand over her friend's. Steinfeld makes every movement and glance count to give each of Emily’s actions maximum impact. As the speaker describes the volcano, Emily flashes back to her and Sue's antics from earlier in the day. Steinfeld’s growing exuberant expression perfectly leads up to Emily’s feeling bubbling over, and she interrupts the lecture with a joyous shout that gets both her and Sue kicked out. In the staircase, they stop to catch their breath. Emily's hair is disheveled, but her face glows with happiness. Sue's cheerful, unrestrained laughter reflects Emily's warmth. For a moment, they are both free.

Steinfeld plays a very different Emily in the next scene when Edward Dickinson chastises his wayward daughter. She sits quietly in a chair, with her hands folded neatly in her lap. Her eyes fill with shame and even a little fear. As his voice gets quieter, his displeasure more pronounced, Emily grows more and more still. He hands her a copy of his essay on the proper place of a woman; she feebly protests taking it but he insists. She gives him one unreadable glance that might be a plea for understanding. Up in her room, Emily crumples the essay and tosses it to the ground. She hurries to pick up the paper, as inspiration dawns on her, but her writing session is interrupted by her mother. Krakowski and Steinfeld keep this scene tense, with the former looking away from Steinfeld at first, and Steinfeld playing Emily as trying to look away as well. Emily keeps being pulled back into what her mother is saying though. Mrs. Dickinson reminds her daughter that everything Emily possesses was provided by her father. Thus, she must apologize to him. Emily tries to write this conversation off as her mother being upset about getting a maid, but she knows better.

A very humble Emily walks quietly into the kitchen, with her hair somewhat neatly fastened up, and asks Maggie to show her how to make bread. In the breadmaking montage, we see many facets of Emily's personality. She carefully executes the details as Maggie instructs her, paying close attention to the symmetry of each one: sprinkling the flour evenly and scoring the top of the loaf with precision. When the loaf is done, she removes it from the oven briskly and sets it down to escape the heat. It is a perfect loaf, and her smile is relieved and proud. After carrying it almost on tiptoes into her father's study, she waits half a beat for him to acknowledge her. He doesn't, and she slips away silently, leaving the bread behind. Outside the door, she pauses, waiting for him to try it. This scene is almost entirely composed of Steinfeld looking down at things with attentive meekness, but here she lifts her eyes and stares not at some distant point but some inner void. Her gaze can only be described as haunted.

The final scene of the episode is a stunningly edited and brilliantly acted masterpiece. The scene is dark, but the actress's faces are perfectly lit in this beautiful warm glow. It opens with their feet brushing against one another until the camera pans up their bodies to show Sue gliding her fingers over Emily's clavicle. Emily is trying to appear relaxed, but it’s clear Sue's touch is having an affect on her that she is trying to suppress. Steinfeld perfectly plays Emily's uncertainty in the early part of this scene. When Steinfeld allows Emily to look at Hunt's Sue the look on her face is one of awe and heartbreak. Through her masterful acting, the audience can feel what Emily just can't say at the moment. Then the topic shifts to that of volcanoes. In the hands of any other performer, the shift from Sue apologizing about Austin to Emily talking about volcanoes could have been jarring. Yet, because of Steinfeld's soft, almost whispered, line delivery and perfectly placed pauses, it's clear the topic never really changed. They were both talking about love and loss and how they were feeling at that moment. Sue knows Emily so well she understood what was being said and found a way to allow them both one beautiful moment together. A moment of emotional release they both needed.

This is where the scene becomes filled with raw, sensual emotion. The energy changed when Sue came up and started to trace her fingers along Emily's chest again. At the shift of movement, Steinfeld's focus changed from the ceiling to Hunt. Her eyes focus on Hunt and the two women stay eye locked for quite a few beats. There is a transference of energy that one rarely gets to see in an intimate scene. They are deeply focused on each other and Steinfeld doesn't let one of Hunt's touches go unanswered. Steinfeld's breathing begins to labor and her body physically trembles. She keeps her eyes locked with Hunt until she has worked Emily up to a place where keeping her eyes focused let alone open would be unnatural. A sharp intake of breath and furrowing of her brow leaves one to use their imagination to interpret what Sue is doing to Emily just out of frame. She moans and gasps as the audience is taken on a ride with Emily as she experiences a profound overwhelming wave of pleasure. Every moan and gasp are perfectly timed to the movement Hunt is seen contributing to the scene. Both actresses feeding off what the other is doing. Even when one isn't the focus of the shot the other is still giving it their all. The camera focus shifts to Hunt, but their intertwined hands can still be seen and Steinfeld is tightly gripping Hunt's hand. Even when not directly on screen Steinfeld still makes herself very present in the shot.

Then the scene gets added depth and richness, coming further to life, as one of the real Emily's poems is voiced over the scene by Steinfeld. Her sensual delivery of the poem was so perfectly executed that it naturally flowed. As she delivers the poem the audience watches her body arch and her brow tightly furrow as she bites her lip and gasps under the ministrations of an invisible hand. Then the literal climax of the scene hits and she doesn't let it go there. She lets the audience see Emily processing the life-altering experience she just had as her breathing slowly calms. Right up to the end of the scene Steinfeld didn't let any movement Hunt made go unanswered. As Hunt shifted back to lying beside her Steinfeld deeply inhaled and swallowed hard allowing one to imagine what was occurring. Hunt returns her head to Steinfeld's shoulder and the two women's heads gently snuggle together. Steinfeld looks up and for a split second before the episode fades to black the audience can see this menagerie of feelings flash over Emily's face showing the profound impact Sue's ministrations had on her.

The thing about intimate scenes is they are never glamorous when being filmed. Performers must put themselves into some awkward situations to bring scenes like this one to life. It is usually pretty obvious when two performers in an intimate scene aren't entirely comfortable with each other, but on the flip side, you can tell when they are. Steinfeld and Hunt thankfully fall into the latter category. This scene required Steinfeld to be extremely vulnerable bringing to life a moment that is usually confined to behind closed doors. Because of the close bond she has with Hunt, she was able to just let go and give in to the feelings the scene required. The two actresses were constantly connected in the scene rarely without the touch of the other guiding their performance. These two delivered a beautiful intimate scene that was full of raw emotion and strong feelings. Steinfeld's performance was transcendent taking the audience on a ride of emotional awakening with Emily.

All these reasons are why Hailee Steinfeld was named SpoilerTV's Readers' Choice Performer of November. She never once faltered in this episode or at any point in the season, from deeply emotional to insanely hilarious she never missed a single beat. Her chemistry with Hunt is unparalleled and a fun bond to watch develop on-screen. She headlined the show and Executive Produced it and it was clear how much heart and soul she put into making this show something truly special and doing honor to the legacy of Emily Dickinson. Steinfeld brought a breath of fresh air to the overcrowded and often stale world of streaming television through her performance as Emily. The show and Emily are special and in the hands of this talented actress, both will be done proud and be well honored.

This article couldn't cover every little moment, so please use the comments to discuss what wasn't covered in the article. Be sure to comment on your favorite moments of her performance from this episode and throughout the season.

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