Meeting actresses Molly Shannon and Susan Ziegler while in college at NYU, playwright and film director Madeleine Olnek years ago found the foundation for what would become the group’s latest feature, Wild Nights with Emily. Premiering at SXSW, the comedy stars Shannon as Emily Dickinson, painting an altogether unexpected portrait of the iconic American poet.
“We had worked together [in college], and of course, I had always wanted to work with Molly again, but I had to wait until I had something that had enough depth and scale,” Olnek told Deadline today, speaking to the long wait for this film to come around. “I wasn’t going to ask [Shannon] to do anything before this.”
Coming across a New York Times article discussing scientific advancements that cast a new light on historical figures, Olnek found the initial inspiration for her film here, learning that Dickinson had a love affair with her brother’s wife, Susan (Ziegler), and that the brother’s mistress (Amy Seimetz) played a critical role in bringing Dickinson’s poems to the world. “I read this article and I was like, ‘Oh my God.’ Her whole life was basically the total opposite of everything you’d ever heard, and I couldn’t even believe it,” Olnek said.
“I think it was so interesting that she was sold to the public as some spinster recluse who was so reserved, when in reality, she was aggressively trying to get her poems published, she had a lively romantic life, she was funny,” Shannon added. “I just found the whole story so fascinating, why people need to make women like they’re some kind of broken-hearted victim—that that’s easier for us to digest, versus a woman who’s really not that at all.”
To hear more from Deadline’s conversation with the Wild Nights with Emily team—in a panel featuring Olnek, Shannon, Seimetz, Ziegler and Brett Gelman—click above.
The Deadline Studio at SXSW 2018 is presented by MoviePass.