KIERNAN SHIPKA IN LOS ANGELES, MARCH 2015. PHOTOS BY CARA ROBBINS.
This weekend marks the beginning of the end for Mad Men, whose final seven-episode arc kicks off Sunday, April 5 on AMC. Created by Matt Weiner in 2007, the show about a 1960s ad exec and his demon-filled private life has garnered awards for nearly every branch of its creative team, and ushered in a mid-century modern renaissance of grand proportions. It’s also made household names out of both its stars—Jon Hamm, Christina Hendricks, Elisabeth Moss, John Slattery, etc.—and its characters.
Yet, of the many careers Mad Men has helped launch, few are showing as much promise today as that of young Kiernan Shipka. As Don and Betty Draper’s daughter Sally, Shipka has quite literally grown up in front of our eyes—from a precocious six-year-old in Season One to a precocious 15-year-old now. This year alone the Chicago-native stars in two feature films (Fan Girl and One and Two), and makes a pitch-perfect cameo opposite Ellie Kemper in Tina Fey’s buzz-y new project, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
In anticipation of Mad Men‘s big finale, we sat down with poised-beyond-her-years Shipka at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills to talk dream roles, style icons, and the hunt for great gelato.
ALY COMINGORE: When the show first started, what kind of things did Matt tell you about Sally?
KIERNAN SHIPKA: When I started I would really just get my scenes and practice my scenes, but as far as Sally’s future there was no real heads-up. As the seasons progressed and there were more storylines for Sally. Matt and I met with my mom and we’d kind of brief her. Besides that, though, I didn’t know too far into the future what was going to happen, but I was always excited and he always seemed to be excited about her.
COMINGORE: Do you feel like playing a young girl in the 1960s has made you more appreciative of growing up in the decade you are?
SHIPKA: Oh yeah, for sure. [laughs] I am 100 percent happy to be here right now.
COMINGORE: I know you can’t discuss the last few episodes, but you guys have finished shooting. How was the wrap party? Were there tears?
SHIPKA: The wrap party was funny because we hadn’t actually wrapped yet. It was like, “Okay, see you on Monday!” But it was great. It was super fun. After the last day of actual filming a lot of people made speeches, but after the emotional stuff happened everybody just hung around and played Catch Phrase, and that kind of felt like the real goodbye moment. But the wrap party was so nice, too. It was at the Roosevelt Hotel and it was very fancy and super fun.
COMINGORE: What’s your dream role at this point in your life?
SHIPKA: Ah! I don’t know! Am I allowed to say the role I already played? It’s Sally Draper. I can’t think of anything that would be more amazing as an actress. I mean, I love emotional stuff; I love drama. I love comedy, too. But from an acting perspective, I just love the really emotional things. As far as a dream role, though, it would just be working with great people and playing a character that I really like.
COMINGORE: Did you get to keep anything from the Mad Men set?
SHIPKA: I got to keep a necklace, but everything else I think went back.
COMINGORE: What were some of your favorite outfits Sally wore?
SHIPKA: There were a few. I really liked the coats a lot. When it was a little chillier outside, Sally’s coat game was strong. [laughs] In the first season there was this blue coat that she wore to the office that was so cute. She also wore some great plaids. There was this one scene where she was saying goodbye to Glen when she was moving—that little yellow top with the plaid jumper-skirt sort of deal—I love that one.
COMINGORE: Do you have a favorite episode?
SHIPKA: As a viewer, I really liked the pilot, just because it was all so new. You see Don living his life and being this ad man—being Don Draper—and at the end of the episode he goes to his family and it’s like, “What?!” That to me was one of the greatest pilot episodes ever because it was such an accurate introduction.
COMINGORE: What was the most challenging scene you had to do as Sally?
SHIPKA: There were a couple difficult scenes, but emotionally challenging scenes I find to be a fun challenge, so the difficulty of the scene isn’t necessarily a bad difficult. There was one scene in the “Tomorrowland” episode where we were in a pool and it was very cold outside. It looked like this gorgeous California day, but in real life it was not like that. [laughs] I owe that one all to the editors for making it look so good.
COMINGORE: I’ve heard rumor that you’re a bit of a foodie.
COMINGORE: What do you like to cook?
SHIPKA: I’m actually not a great cook. Do you want to hear a horror story?
COMINGORE: [Laughs] Yes.
SHIPKA: I was trying to make a vegan doughnut—
COMINGORE: That sounds like a challenge.
SHIPKA: It is not easy to do. I was using the Babycakes cookbook and it was going great, but I think I accidentally swapped the amount of baking soda for the amount of flour and vice versa. It was kind of the worst cooking experience—besides something catching fire. [laughs] I’m more of an eater than a cooker.
COMINGORE: If you could eat one thing and one thing only for the rest of your life, what would it be?
SHIPKA: Oh man. I think it would be a breakfast item. I don’t know exactly, but it would have to be something savory. I love sweets, but if I had to eat something for the rest of my life I’d probably go savory. It would be something not too over-the-top, though.
COMINGORE: Best meal you’ve ever had?
SHIPKA: I went to Italy two years ago and I had the most amazing meal ever. There was this magical steak and this amazing cake and it was just a dream.
COMINGORE: Where do you like to eat in L.A.?
SHIPKA: I kind of like the hidden gems. There’s so much good food in L.A., though. I love sushi. That would definitely be up there on my list. I drove to Altadena once for gelato.
COMINGORE: Was it worth it?
SHIPKA: Oh yeah. It was totally worth it.
COMINGORE: If you could raid any person’s closet, who would it be?
SHIPKA: I would say Alexa Chung. I really like her style. You also see her in street-style wear a lot, which makes it a little more plausible then, say, Anna Dello Russo. I don’t think I could pull that off. [laughs]
COMINGORE: What’s the most star-struck you’ve ever been?
SHIPKA: I met Tony Hale once. I was so excited that I didn’t know what to do with myself, because, Buster! It was at the Emmy’s and he came up and hugged me and I was already in a daze. That was one of those moments that was just totally crazy.
COMINGORE: What would you say you like the most about acting?
SHIPKA: I would say it’s a combination of playing a character and working with other people. Working alongside another actor is so awesome. And just being a part of a production; I’ve always loved telling stories and I think acting is kind of my way of doing that. You get to be a little piece in this big equation, and I really love that.
MAD MEN RETURNS THIS SUNDAY, APRIL 5, ON AMC.