Mad Men's Kiernan Shipka Gains Her Super Powers
When I was fifteen, I was spending most of my free time feeling cool for sneaking sips of cherry-flavored vodka while I watched Sex and the City. While neither of those accomplishments are anything to sneer at, I couldn’t help but think that I could have used that year more productively after talking to Kiernan Shipka. “I just finished high school this year,” she tells me sheepishly, “and I’m starting college in the fall.”
Though to be fair, Shipka had an earlier start at career-making than most of us. At the age of six she joined the cast of a new show called Mad Men, a series that quickly became a cultural phenomenon and an even quicker showcase for Shipka’s preternatural talent for acting. As Sally Draper, the daughter of the ever-gloomy protagonist Don, Shipka started the show as a child actor in a bit part and blossomed across seven seasons into the confident, well-spoken, and subtly witty actress to watch.
Though the mammoth TV show came to a close this year, Shipka’s just getting started. Her latest project is the film One and Two, an indie thriller that marks the narrative directorial debut of Andrew Droz Palermo. The film is a potent mix; part science fiction, part family drama, and all emotionally resonant. Milk’s Jake Boyer chatted with the budding actress to discuss the twists and turns behind this new project, the experience of watching her younger self on screen, and whether or not she’s ever tried squirrel.
What first struck me watching ‘One and Two’ were those lush locations. Was it unique for you to shoot outdoors?
It was! It was soo cool! So much of the film was shot outdoors, but it wasn’t completely unique for me. We filmed it in North Carolina, and I had done one shoot there before, so I felt kind of nostalgic in this weird way. I had a great time being in those surroundings.
Did you prepare for this movie as a period piece? What kind of preparation does that entail?
I didn’t prepare for it so much as a period piece, but that feeling was something that I had to continually prepare on set each day. The way I treated it was constantly reminding myself that [my character] Eva was at home, but these were the only surroundings that she ever knew of. There was this curiosity that was bubbling and building for the outside world and what it had to offer her. And it was a true mystery, a total grey area. So I was instilling that as much as I could to get into the mentality of that.
Do you have any special methods of getting into character that you use on set?
For me it’s all about connecting with the character, along with obviously being memorized. And then the process of thinking about what your character is going to do and letting yourself be in the moment, while kind of forgetting that you’re in the moment (laughs). Operating on instinct has always been my go-to technique.
If you could be gifted with any superpower what would it be?
Like being able to know everything?
More like being able to use 100% of my brain, that would be pretty neat. And it would be super handy, way more useful than flying or being invisible. Though either of those would be cool in their own right.
Are there any actors or filmmakers that really inspire you?
Well there’s a real good handful out there. If it’s classic actresses, I love Elizabeth Taylor and Audrey Hepburn. But I’m a huge fan of Kristen Stewart right now, I love Julianne Moore, and I’m a fan of the Coppolas, both Gia and Sofia.
What did it feel like to finish ‘Mad Men’ this year? Is it strange to have stopped something you’ve been working on for almost your whole life?
It is strange. It definitely feels as if everyone is moving forward now. The new chapter is beginning, I mean, I guess it has already begun. We wrapped filming last year so it’s been a very slow process of letting go. I’ve had a lot of good time to process everything, and I feel nothing but being so, so appreciative. And excited, very excited for all the things that come next.
Have you watched all of ‘Mad Men’ now? Is it weird to watch yourself act at that age?
I did, I went back and watched it all from the beginning. And in the beginning I’m so little that it feels like I’m watching a whole different person (laughs). It’s a real trip down memory lane, it’s super cool honestly. It’s like flipping through a family album, it all felt very nostalgic, and that was lovely. I was six years old when we filmed season one, and now I’m 15 so it’s been a big stretch of time.
So that means your sweet sixteen is coming up! Any special plans?
I don’t know yet, but it’ll be here soon. I think I just want to have friends over and have some really good food. Though I’m prioritizing the food, that’ll be the most important part.
Are you a big foodie? Do you have a meal of choice?
Anything, everything really. There’s so many good places to go in LA. Such good sushi there, I love Squirrel.
Not the meat! The restaurant! I should definitely clarify that I’ve never tried actual squirrel. Anyways, I’m just a fan of good food, not picky about what it is.
What’s been one of the most surprising things you’ve ever had to do on camera?
Obviously some aspects are more challenging than others. But a lot of scenes that are way tough I try to treat as fun challenges instead of dreading them. And over the years I’ve been channeling into those more emotional works in regards to what goes on in front of the camera. It’s more about embracing them, that’s what makes you a better actor.
‘One and Two’ is out now via IFC, get tickets here