Mad Men’s Sally Draper, actress Kiernan Shipka,comes into her own
For six years—half her life—Kiernan Shipka has played Sally Draper in AMC’s Mad Men series with an endearing honesty, and both she and her character are growing up fast. Through the messy divorce and remarriage of Sally’s parents and the ensuing therapy sessions, Shipka offsets Sally’s little-girl naïveté with a growing psychological maturity. With a major role in the feature film Very Good Girls—alongside Demi Moore, Dakota Fanning and Peter Sarsgaard—to look forward to in 2013, the 12-year-old tells us about forging the path to a meaningful career.
RL—Tell us when you decided to become an actor. How did you make the decision, and who inspired you?KS—When I was growing up in Chicago, I was going up on different sorts of stages and pretty soon realized that that’s what I wanted to do. I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else, and my mom said that if I did 10 commercials, I could move to LA I was six at the time. I first moved to LA for three months, then I started working on Mad Men, and LA has been my base for half my life.
RL—Which roles have you enjoyed the most so far? And which do you think have been the most influential in your own development as an actor?KS—I love all the roles I have played, but Sally has been the nearest and dearest to my heart because I’ve had the most time to develop and grow with that character. Portraying her and acting all those wonderful moments has stretched me as an actor, and the challenges have been so rewarding.
RL—How would you describe Sally Draper?KS—She is the typical child of a broken family in the ’60s. This season, she’s becoming wiser and smarter; she’s playing people a little bit. She’s realizing that she can get what she wants by using her mother and Megan Draper [Don Draper’s second wife]. She’s more and more influenced by Megan, who is young and hip and has a fresh personality. Sally is in that awkward phase. She’s stuck between a child and a teenager, and Megan is pushing her to become more of an adult.
Kiernan Shipka with the models at the Ralph Lauren Fall/Winter 2012 Girls runway show
RL—Is it difficult for you to play someone who’s your own age but from a generation that lived 50 years ago? How do you get into her worldview?KS—Everyone actually makes it easy because the writing is so impeccable and the sets and costumes transform you. As soon as the director calls “action,” you don’t feel that you’re in 2012 any longer. I also had to do a lot of research into the ’60s. For example, I was a huge Beatles fan and saw how different our reactions were. I mean, to me they’re a classic oldies band, and to Sally they’re like Justin Bieber!
RL—Sally Draper has gone through some life-changing moments in the past seasons. You’ve been very courageous. Has it been a challenge as a young actor to address life’s more difficult moments?KS—It’s always hard to address these real, raw and natural life moments. But since they are so real, you can totally see why that would happen. The turning points are always important—for example, in one episode Sally has an ice cream with her grandfather, and he tells her she can do anything. Nobody’s ever told her that before. She starts to get more courageous, and that shows in the next season, when those words really stick with her.
RL—Sally has grown up and developed a real fashion identity of her own. She’s been looking very mod lately. How do you think her style will evolve as the 1960s progress?KS—Yes, right now Sally is being influenced by Megan, who has the best trench coats! I think that’s only going to get better as she gets older.
RL—You’re a real fashionista yourself. How would you describe your own style?KS—My own style is changing a lot. It depends on my mood, but I like pieces that are timeless and look very modern and chic. But I also like taking risks and having fun with fashion. I love Peter Pan collars, preppy style, shift dresses and mary janes.
RL—You attended the Costume Institute Gala this year. How was that?KS—I wore one of my favorite dresses. Alexa Chung tweeted about it, and I was so excited because I love Alexa Chung!
RL—You’ve often mentioned Grace Kelly as an inspiration. Can you tell us a little more about that? What is it you love about her?KS—I was introduced to her photos a couple of years ago. She carried this elegance and class—everything she wore was so stellar. She’s an amazing inspiration, fashion-wise, because those pieces never go out of style.
RL—Aside from Mad Men, you’re also about to appear in the film Very Good Girls. Can you tell us about the film and your role?KS—It’s about two girls who come of age and have a great summer. I play Dakota Fanning’s little sister. It’s an incredible project. It was a much tighter schedule than Mad Men; we filmed in three weeks.
RL—What else is in the pipeline? How would you like your career to grow?KS—I’m about to start Mad Men again, which is so exciting. I don’t know what’s next for me, but I want to play interesting and unique characters, a little bit of drama and a little bit of comedy. I’d love to balance television, drama and film.
RL—Is there a dream role, a character you’d love to play?KS—I love Hazel’s character in John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. She’s 16, and she’s just a cool, endearing character. John Green is my favorite writer.
Arts and lifestyle writer SHIRINE SAAD has contributed to The New York Times, MTV, Nowness and Surface, among others. She has just written Boho Beirut: A Guide to the Middle East’s Most Sophisticated City.