‘Mad Men’ Star Kiernan Shipka on Life After Sally Draper
Kiernan Shipka would like to be a Marvel superhero, please. And she has some ideas for Sally’s future, too.
The 15-year-old actress, best known for her years spent playing Mad Men’s Sally Draper, recently had her first brush with green screens, wire-stunts, and superpowers. We’re on the phone talking about her first major post-Mad Men role, as the gifted Eva in Andrew Droz Palermo’s sci-fi drama One & Two (in limited theaters and on-demand this weekend). Eva teleports at will on screen, vanishing in a pop of wispy smoke then reappearing some distance away—kinda like X-Men’s Nightcrawler, minus the blue fur.
There are no city-demolishing men in tights in One & Two—it’s not that kind of superhero movie—but appearing opposite a Daredevil or a Captain America on her next super-powered outing sure sounds sweet. “Oh my gosh, yeah, of course!” Shipka says. “I’m so down.”
Shipka is three months removed from Mad Men’s finale extravaganza and open to playing just about anyone. It’s been nine years since she walked into an audition at age six with a slight lisp and nailed her lines cold. (“Could you even remember your phone number at that age?” series creator Matthew Weiner asked in The New York Times, recalling Shipka’s audition. He also calls her a “prodigy” and a “freak,” lovingly one assumes.)
For years Shipka was too young to watch the episodes she helped make but, almost from the beginning, Sally displayed a maturity beyond either of her parents—or any other kid on TV. She carried some of the show’s best scenes. She masturbated, she smoked, and she wore go-go boots. She exposed her mother’s vanity and expressed disgust at her father’s philandering. (“I could have run into that woman,” Sally tells Don days after catching him mid-coitus with a downstairs neighbor. “I could be in the elevator, she could get in, and I’d have to stand there, smiling, wanting to vomit while I smell her hairspray.”)
And in the series finale (spoiler alert), Sally shoulders the weight of her mother’s impending death and takes on household tasks to help care for her brothers, while Don (or was it Peggy?) dreams up that infamous Coke commercial—which Weiner, a one-man FBI-equivalent keeper of secrets, revealed to Shipka before almost anyone else.
“I remember when Matt Weiner actually showed it to me. It was this funny moment,” she says. “I was just on set walking back from rehearsal and he goes [whispers] ‘Do you want to see the end?’ And I was just, ‘What?’… Then he, like, pulls me aside and pulls up YouTube. At this point I’m thinking, ‘What the heck? What is he—what is this?’ And then he pulled up the commercial and I just tried not to cry. I just thought it was so good.”
She calls the ending, which she “couldn’t have been more happy with,” a “perfect mixture of being content but not giving a direct answer.”
But thanks to her onscreen dad Jon Hamm, who jokingly floated the idea of a Sally-centric Mad Men spinoff in May, a few fans are holding out hope to see more of Don and Betty’s precocious daughter.
“We would want to watch Sally grow up. Move through the ’70s and turn into a rock star and turn into Joan Jett or something,” Hamm proposed. “Ride a motorcycle and kill a guy. Make a bunch of money and then become Oliver Stone in the ’80s. Date Kurt Cobain in the ’90s. She’s just a touchstone for every generation. Yeah, I’d watch that show. Sally Through the Decades.”
Shipka starts giggling when I bring up Hamm’s show pitch and admits the question has come up “more than a few times.” (For the record, she’s “not saying no” to the idea.)
“I’ve always said that I always thought [Sally] was gonna be alright,” Shipka says. “And I still have this gut feeling that she’s such a strong person and such a smart person that I think she would go on to do really, really good things,” she offers.
Maybe like Joan, who launched her own production company (named after herself!), or Peggy, who remains boss lady at ad firm McCann Erickson?
“I definitely see her being a boss lady! That’s a great way—now I’m gonna steal that,” Shipka laughs. “She’s a hard worker and very intellectual, so I definitely see her going into something fun and interesting and helpful to others.”
But Shipka herself has already moved well beyond Sally Draper’s world. She’s delved into the world of adolescent smut with Lifetime’s V.C. Andrews adaptation, Flowers in the Attic, and terrorized Ellie Kemper with pure teen hatred on Netflix’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
Besides One & Two—a moody, atmospheric film about a rustic family unknowingly isolated from the modern world, The Village-style—Shipka also leads Fan Girl, a teen comedy in which she plays a pop-punk-obsessed budding filmmaker opposite Meg Ryan. She’ll dust off her patented Sally shriek for February, a horror flick co-starring Emma Roberts. And, in her off time, Shipka is taking college classes online (she’ll be taking French in the fall) and learning to play guitar (both acoustic and electric).
Still, there’ll never be another Sally Draper. “I totally miss her,” Shipka says. “I totally always think about Sally. I’m just so appreciative that I got to play her because the more I look back on it, the more I realize how awesome it was.”As for her next superhero gig, she has a few ideas about what powers someone should write for her. Flying, sure, “but super-intelligence would probably be a little more logical. I feel like that one’s underrated,” she laughs.