Q&A with Kiernan Shipka, ‘Mad Men’s’ Sally Draper
The young actress, now 14, landed the role in the hit AMC drama, starting Season 7 April 13, when she was 6 ½.
CHICAGO — Can we agree that Don Draper sunk to a new low of lousy parenting last season on “Mad Men” when he barely took pains to hide his infidelity with the neighbor lady? That recklessness pretty much ensured that someone would walk in on one of his assignations. That someone turned out to be his preteen daughter, Sally.
“Sorry about that!” Jon Hamm joked to 14-year-old co-star Kiernan Shipka at a recent PaleyFest event in Los Angeles. The funny thing is, it wouldn’t take much effort to make a supercut called “Sorry about that!” featuring scene after scene after scene of adults going rogue in Sally Draper’s presence.
As former Chicago Tribune critic Maureen Ryan once put it: “You could almost sum up the AMC drama by calling it a prelude to Sally Draper’s inevitable years of therapy.”
That, or a full-blown counterculture-fueled rebellion. Let the sunshine in, Sally.
Originally from Chicago (her mother, Erin Brennan, was queen of the St. Patrick’s Day parade in 1986), Shipka moved to L.A. when she landed the role on “Mad Men.” She was just 6 ½ at the time.
Fame at a young age can warp reality, but you don’t sense that with Shipka, even as she’s become increasingly interested in fashion. Serious designers provide her red carpet looks, and she wears their clothes with considerable more style and self-assurance than most seasoned actresses.
When we talked by phone last month, I said she reminded me a little of Tavi Gevinson, the preternaturally accomplished Oak Park, Ill., high schooler and founder of the online magazine Rookie, who also has a keen eye for fashion.
“Tavi? Yeah, I know Tavi! I had brunch with her last week! We shopped a little bit too. She’s fantastic. I did an interview with Rookie a long time ago. She was in L.A., so we met up — it was Tavi, me and my friend Amandla Stenberg, who was Rue in ‘The Hunger Games.’ ”
The seventh and final season of “Mad Men” (the first half of which airs this year) begins Sunday, April 13. The following is an excerpt of the conversation with Shipka.
Q: Where are you in terms of wrapping things up on “Mad Men”?
A: We’ve done the first seven episodes, and we’re in sort of a little bit of a hiatus right now, and then we go back in a couple of weeks to finish up the rest (which will air next year). I think we’ll be done by June. It definitely feels like it’s ending. I think it’ll feel that way more once we get back, because it’ll truly be the last of everything, and it’s sad!
Q: What year are you in school?
A: I’m just finishing up my senior year.
Q: Wait, you’re 14!
A: I do an independent study program, so it’s a little more concentrated. It’s just a different work schedule, so I can get done with it faster. It’s called Laurel Springs, and it’s a full online curriculum that’s K-12. It definitely caters to young actors.
Q: How have you been able to plow through your studies so fast?
A: I’ve never taken a summer break, so I could just get it all done.
Q: What about college? Will you go the Doogie Howser route?
A: I don’t know if I’ll ever be the Doogie Howser! Just going in there super young and people looking at me weird? I feel like that would be kind of strange. So I think I’ll probably stick with online courses at first, and then when it’s a little bit more normal to enter a (college) classroom, I’ll look into normal college.
Q: When I watch “Mad Men,” I’m always reminded that girls dressed younger for longer in the 1960s compared with today’s fashion. What goes through your mind when you put on the costumes for Sally?
A: It’s fun because a lot of those clothes I wouldn’t wear in real life — they’re not my style — so I think it’s cool that I get to go that route and dress up as this different person. And really, unless (costume designer) Janie (Bryant) and her team make a piece, it’s all vintage. It’s all from that time period. So it’s one more step into that world.
Q: Is there one fashion trait from the ’60s that you hate?
A: That’s so easy. It’s the pants. The pants — ugh! They’re so stiff, and they’re high-waisted. If I had to choose one thing (to ditch) that would probably be it. I like the style of the pants; it’s just comfort-wise, no.
Q: In the past, you’ve said you haven’t watched “Mad Men” because you were too young. Is that still true?
A: Now I’ve seen the show. I was sick in bed with a cold, so I just decided to start. You know, that typical Netflix binge-watching. So far I’ve seen all of Season 1 and tidbits of everything else.
Q: What’s it like watching yourself as a 6- or 7-year-old kid, all these years later?
A: I was so tiny. It’s like all this home video footage of me running around and saying things with a lisp. I think I’m going to have to watch it again because the first time, all these memories were coming back.
When I was little, I was just doing my scenes. And that was pretty much all I knew. I knew that there was a whole show beyond what I was doing, but I was more focused on the Sally parts. So going back and seeing why my character was saying certain things and how it all played out, it was cool to look back and get the full picture.
Q: By the way, I noticed that you post a lot of photos of beverages on your Instagram.
A: (Laughs) Yes, I do. That’s very right. Oh, man. But yeah, my Instagram is basically food. In the comments, people are like, “You just eat? Is that your only thing?” I like my Instagram to look nice. And beverages are just really pretty; that’s basically it. So a lot of times, it happens to be coffee or rose water lemonade or whatever. And honestly, half the time I’m not even at those places. They’re photos I’ve taken a long time ago and decided to post.