Saturday Night Live legend Molly Shannon isn't particularly known for her dramatic roles, so it's a good thing that her new film Wild Nights with Emily takes a comedic look at the life of celebrated poet Emily Dickinson, playing her lesbian romance for laughs rather than overwrought drama.
According to Shannon, the dour portrait that's been painted of Dickinson isn't true to the reality of her life. "She's perceived as a spinster recluse who wanted her poems burned upon death," Molly Shannon told Entertainment Weekly. "That story was fabricated... She was a lively woman who 100 percent wanted to be published and went up against big men at the head of literary journals, [while] she had a love life -- with her brother's wife [Susan]."
The film's trailer highlights Dickinson's romance with her sister-in-law -- this is not some coy love story, there is tongue. "It's such an important movie, to correct and change history and tell the truth!"
After Dickinson's death, her brother's mistress Mabel Loomis Todd helped publish a collection of her work, poems inspired by her love for Susan, which Todd ensured was kept secret. "I think she was less threatening that way," explained Shannon. "But she was full of lust and passion. I think that comes through in her writing. I don't want to say she was 'dirty,' but she was a very passionate, hungry, deep, insightful, tuned in, expressive lover!"
The role of a celebrated literary figure is not necessarily one that some would think is in Shannon's wheelhouse, which she admits was part of the reason why she took it. "It's not something I'd ever get offered in mainstream Hollywood," Shannon told EW, who says the film's humor helps make the story accessible. "Making it funny and lively gives her a life that we've never associated with her. She was happy, funny, loved kids, could be silly, and she was ahead of her time in that she was going up against these men."
Wild Nights with Emilyopens in select theaters April 12.