Who Plays Lavinia In 'Dickinson'? Anna Baryshnikov Is Forging Her Own Path

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Dickinson is a modern and feminist retelling of the life of author Emily Dickinson, and no character is more integral to her story than her dear, dorky, and uptight sister Lavinia. Anna Katerina Baryshnikov is the actor who plays Lavinia in Dickinson, but she likely shares more in common with the freewheeling, artistic Emily.

Lavinia was born just two years after Emily in 1833, and according to Emily herself, they couldn't be more different personality-wise. Both Dickinson sisters were clever, but it was Lavinia who took charge of the household. She juggled an active social life while also cleaning and running errands for the house — basically, doing all the mundane tasks while Emily focused on her writing. "It was Lavinia who knew where everything was ... It was she who remembered to have the fruit picked for canning, or the seeds kept for next year’s planting, or the perfunctory letters written to the aunts," Lavinia's niece Martha, Emily and Lavinia's brother Austin's child, noted in a letter published in The Life and Letters of Emily Dickinson.

"[Emily] had to think — she was the only one of us who had that to do. Father believed; and mother loved; and Austin had Amherst; and I had the family to take care of," Lavinia wrote in a letter published in Emily Dickinson's Home. It was Lavinia who Emily relied on during social outings, especially later in life when she became more reclusive. And after Emily's death, it's Lavinia who successfully convinced family members and publishers to print her sister's poems and letters. The world knows who Emily Dickinson is largely because of Lavinia's efforts to honor her sister's work.

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Baryshnikov certainly knows what it's like to have a famous family member, too. She's the daughter of former dancer Lisa Rinehart and Mikhail Baryshnikov, the legendary director of American Ballet Theater who is also considered one of the greatest male ballet dancers in history. Unlike Lavinia largely dedicating her life to letting her more artistic sibling flourish though, Baryshnikov is determined to strike out on her own to make her own mark.

She got her start with acting in a rather unconventional and comedic way. When she was six, she was cast as the fairy queen's handmaiden, Peaseblossom, in a children’s Shakespeare production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The night before her debut, her babysitter reminded her to project her voice "so that the man in the back of the room can hear you.” Baryshnikov told W Magazine's Katherine Cusumano that she took the advice to heart. “It was supposed to be this beautiful, light moment. I suddenly start screaming.”

Baryshnikov delighted in the laughter she elicited, and realized early on that she enjoyed performing in front of an audience, often wielding her talent to comedic effect. Cusamano notes that, "Baryshnikov is soft-spoken and delicate ... but in conversation, she can casually slip in and out of devastating imitations of friends and family."

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Baryshnikov jokingly called her father Mikhail "that dude" to Interview magazine, and noted that despite being a famed performer, she doesn't let his legacy overshadow her own journey. “When you are related to someone who is involved in whatever you’re doing, there is a tendency to compare yourself,” she said. “It took me a while to realize that this was going to have to be my own experience.” “My parents were deliberate about not making calls or putting me in front of agents,” she told Nylon. “They knew it would mean more if I had worked for it myself."

Baryshnikov has been slowly but surely putting more experiences under her belt, from playing Sandy in Manchester by the Sea, Maya in the CBS show Superior Donuts, and now Lavinia in Dickinson. Through it all, Baryshnikov has forged her own path — just as the Dickinson sisters did.