Kiernan Shipka has finally gotten around to watching what is widely considered one of the best shows of all time: Mad Men—despite, as you’ll be quick to point out—the fact that it ended over four years ago and Shipka had a starring role on the series as Sally Draper, Don Draper’s eldest child. The viewing has been a long time coming—and the good news is that Shipka liked the show just as much as everyone else. “I have now seen Mad Men,” she says. “And I can say I’m a fan. It’s a great show.” So great, in fact, that she’d be more than down for a Sally Draper spin-off, all these years later. Of course, Shipka is already plenty busy playing everyone’s favorite teenage witch, Sabrina Spellman on Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, a dark retelling of the character from the creators of Riverdale. The show, which is currently filming its third season, has introduced a new generation to the iconic character—and introduced Shipka to the world of magic. Here, the 19-year-old talks playing the role, dabbling in magic herself, and why she wants to put a love spell on Shawn Mendes.
Were you aware of the first incarnation of Sabrina the Teenage Witch?
I knew of the first Sabrina the Teenage Witch. I feel like it’s a pretty iconic television show, but I honestly didn’t have much attachment to it. I didn’t watch it growing up, so this Sabrina was kind of my first endeavor into the whole world. I was really focused on making it my own in any way that I could, and having it sort of be my one version of it in my life in a lot of ways. But I think there is sort of a certain amount of pressure and responsibility because the old show was so iconic and held such a place in people’s hearts. I mean, the second that I got the show people were coming up to me and freaking out because the old show meant so much to them. So even if our show is a 180 from the ’90s sitcom, there still is this sort of sense of you want to pay respect to what previously was the embodiment of Sabrina that everybody knew and loved. A lot.
Previous to getting this, what was your feeling about witchcraft?
I honestly didn’t know much about witchcraft before starting on Sabrina. You have ideas of maybe … I mean, I was in The Crucible. I saw a lot of horrible Crucible productions at high schools growing up and I feel like that was pretty much, my version of witchcraft in my head was pretty much the Salem witch trials. But then you realize that it’s just dudes being scared of women and their power.
Since you’ve taken on this role have you had a different impression of what’s possible with the supernatural, as it were?
Oh my gosh, yeah. I have learned a lot about witchcraft since being on the show, especially because in a lot of ways a lot of modern witchcraft and the way people practice is willing something to happen, it’s the whole idea of manifestation and whatnot. I think, to a certain extent, we all kind of do that and I’m certainly a spiritual person and I believe in that kind of stuff. I can get woo-woo if I want to. I’ve gotten much more into astrology and all that kind of stuff since I’ve been on the show. It’s really fun.
What sign are you?
I’m a Scorpio. So is Sabrina. I think I fit the Scorpio profile. We’re pretty feisty and we’re very determined. We sting but we’re also extremely loyal friends. I would say that.
Do you feel younger now than you did when you were little?
I sometimes feel the youngest I’ve ever been, to be quite honest. It really is interesting because now is the first time that I’ve actually worked with people my own age. In a lot of ways I felt like I’ve sort of just grown into my maturity. I definitely, again, spent a lot of time around adults when I was young and had a mature nature to me, but I think at the same time it’s so important to be young and to feel young, and sometimes a little stupid, and make mistakes, and live your life. I feel young in the best way possible, and I also feel grounded and hopefully a little self-possessed in a mature way. It’s all about the balance.
Last time I saw you, you had only seen a few episodes of Mad Men. Have you now watched Mad Men?
I have now seen Mad Men. And I can say I’m a fan. It’s a great show. It is a weird feeling to watch yourself.
You had a lisp then which you got rid of on your own, which is still astonishing to me.
I did have a lisp and I didn’t know I had a lisp back then until the one time I Google myself, first thing that comes up is “Kiernan Shipka lisp.” I was like, “What’s a lisp?” Then I learned exactly what it was. I’m not going to lie, I think it was pretty adorable. No, it is weird going back and watching the show because oftentimes I forget that I’m in it completely. When I’m watching a scene that I’m not in I’m completely in on these characters and this world that I actually felt like I didn’t really have a huge part of. The office space and whatnot. So all of that is kind of new to me, I don’t really have many memories attached to that in a lot of ways. But, it is fun to watch. Especially just to be proud of it and feel a part of it, because like I said, I am a really big fan.
I wish there’d be a continuation.
I’m down for a Sally spin-off. I mean, there’s still time.
Natasha Lyonne, Michelle Williams, Billy Porter, and More Stars Bringing Television To New Heights
The working title of our show was not Fosse/Verdon—it was just Fosse, but then the producers got smart. They realized that Gwen Verdon and Bob Fosse were romantic and creative partners who remained entangled until the end of his life. It was the right time, in 2019, to make a show about a partnership. It was also the first time that I’ve had pay parity with a male costar and equal space to voice my thoughts. I’d never experienced anything like it. Since I felt completely supported, I could jump higher and take more risks.
You started acting as a child. Did you find that people treated you—and continue to treat you—in a diminishing way?
Absolutely. When you’re physically small, when men hug you, they pick you up off the floor. That doesn’t happen anymore.
What’s your favorite Fosse musical?
Cabaret. When I performed the song “Maybe This Time” [on Broadway, in 2014], it never didn’t get to me. I’m sad that I’ll never sing it again. Musicals are deep in me: When I did a tap dance for Fosse/Verdon, I realized it returned me to this very primal love, before anything negative was associated with acting, work, or identity. I felt like I was a little girl. It was a genuine moment of joy.
Williams wears a Louis Vuitton turtleneck, skirt, belt, and boots.
I started out doing stand-up comedy at U.C. Davis and then moved to San Francisco, which has one of the most interesting comedy scenes in the country. In comedy, we’re all mutants and we share these different superpowers. Early on, I learned that humor is a way to break tension. It’s a very powerful tool.
Is it easier for you to be autobiographical or political?
I came from The Daily Show, where you are steeped in politics and the news. It’s your life, day in and day out. But for me, as an Indian-American Muslim, I always felt this insider/outsider relationship with America. And because of my background, at this moment in time, the personal and the political merged.
Do your parents worry when your show takes on Saudi Arabia?
Sure. That episode was banned in Saudi Arabia, and my parents said, “We don’t want you causing international outrage and controversy.” They said, “Please just tell embarrassing stories about your childhood.”
Minhaj wears a Prada jacket, pants, and belt; Jil Sander shirt; Shinola bracelet; Dior Men boots.
I honestly didn’t know much about witchcraft before starting on Sabrina, but now I realize it’s just dudes being scared of women and their power.
You were a child on Mad Men. Have you finally seen the episodes you were too young to watch?
I have now seen Mad Men. I can say I’m a fan, but it’s weird to watch your 6-year-old self. Oftentimes, while I was watching, I’d forget that I was in the show. So many things happened to Sally on Mad Men before they happened in my real life: My first kiss was onscreen; I got my TV period before my real period. I was prepared for everything because on Mad Men Sally was a little ahead of me. She taught me the ways of the world.
Shipka wears a Chloé dress; Isabel Marant belt; Cartier ring.
Tell me about kissing Chris Hemsworth.
I was on the shoot for Bad Times at the El Royale, and I still hadn’t met Chris. He played a cult leader, and I was his devoted follower. I knew he was on set, and I wanted to meet him because we had a kissing scene that day. At the last minute—we still hadn’t met—we were about to make out, and I’m like, “How many kids do you have? Oh, you have three kids,” and then—“Action!” He was really nice, but it was super-awkward, and they ended up dropping the scene from the film.
You cut your hair very short for Devs. Is androgyny part of your character?
Yes. The show has to do with a tech company. Secret stuff. My character is really smart and knows quantum physics, so that’s kind of like a superpower. I was supposed to shave my head for the part, and I was always down for that. I think I’m going to shave it all off anyway: I’m so into being bald.
Spaeny wears a Bottega Veneta sweater; Sophie Buhai earrings; Tiffany & Co. ring (right hand); Cartier ring (left hand); Manolo Blahnik shoes.
My first part was in a film called Complicity. I played a boy who gets raped and then kills his rapist. I was 11 years old. It was baptism by fire.
In your TV projects, you seem to undergo torture or get killed a lot.
I love a good death, and I’ve had a few really good demises in my time. On Game of Thrones, I was killed at the Red Wedding. That was my favorite death: full of arrows and then they cut off my head. I was covered in blood and my limbs were hanging off.
Do you have any surprising secret skills?
No. I went to drama school to learn all those skills, and then I was like, “I ain’t going to sing or dance in films, so I’m not going to singing or dancing class. And I can’t be bothered with the fencing class, because I won’t be fencing.” Cut to: I have been sword fighting for half my life and now I’ve had to sing and dance. This is why you should go to class. Kids: Stay in school.
Madden wears a Givenchy jacket; Calvin Klein Underwear tank top; Dries Van Noten pants; Shinola bracelet; Dior Men shoes.
My agent called me and said, “They’re casting a show about a women’s wrestling television program in the ’80s.” I said, “I want that job!” However, I very quickly learned that the producers didn’t think I was right.
Why? Too petite?
Yes, but I’ve secretly been strength training for years. After four auditions, I wore them down. And yes, I’ve learned how to wrestle and throw women across a ring. It’s incredibly empowering.
Do you ever practice by beating up your husband?
I don’t ever beat up my husband. I’ve been known to wrestle our cat a little bit. He doesn’t love it.
Brie wears a Givenchy sweater and skirt; Balenciaga boots.
When I was 12, I was washing dishes at home and the Tony Awards came on. It was the year Dreamgirls was up for best musical and Jennifer Holliday sang “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going.” I was in shock: all of these beautiful black people in high fashion with gowns and hair and makeup. At that time, you didn’t see a lot of people of color on television, dripping in style. And Jennifer Holliday sang like I knew how to sing in church, except she was on television! The connection of money, style, and television launched me into this space where I thought, That’s what I’m going to do. I can be that.
How did Pose come about?
They called me in to play the dance teacher. I was like, “Well, this ain’t quite the role I want, but…” I told them at the audition that I felt I’d lived through the world of Pose. I said, “Wouldn’t you need a father figure in the ballroom world?” Because one of the things that’s so powerful about Paris Is Burning [which influenced Pose] is that it’s about a marginalized group of people who had nothing in a world where people were dying of AIDS. And they chose life anyway. I wanted to tell that story.
Porter wears a Thom Browne dress and shoes; Wolford fishnets; his own jewelry.
I moved to California from London because I wanted to be happy. My very first audition was for The Good Place, and it went great: I am now on a show opposite Ted Danson, my hero. As a young girl, I always fancied Ted! Is that creepy? Am I creepy? But, my Lord, he’s still so hot.
Were you on social media before the show began? You currently have 2 million followers on Instagram.
The Good Place asked me to join Instagram, and now I use it to scream at people [laughs]. In all honesty, I think I’ve found a genuine community of people online who are tired of being erased. I understand being challenged: The bravest thing I’ve done in my life was move to Los Angeles, even though I was told I was too old, too fat, and too ethnic. I had no contacts and no friends in L.A. But I got on a plane anyway and flew to California to have an acting career. This had to work: I’m not talented at sex, so I couldn’t be a porn star. And I have no upper body strength, so pole dancing was out.
Jamil wears a Sacai coat; Prada boots.
For my sweet 16 party, my parents knew I loved The Book of Mormon so they had Andrew Rannells, who was one of the leads in the show, come and perform. It was literally the best moment of my life.
You were named after the kooky octogenarian in the film Harold and Maude.
Yes. As a joke, my dad started calling me Maude when my mom was pregnant, and it stuck. I do love that movie.
Do you ever sing any of the Cat Stevens songs from that film when you do karaoke?
No. I sing “The Confrontation” from Les Misérables. I love musical theater. The first album I really listened to was Hairspray, and the first thing I auditioned for was Grease. I was Jan, one of the Pink Ladies. I got to sing in a musical, and I had never been happier.
Apatow wears a Dior jacket, top, and pants; Cartier earrings, necklace, and ring.
I had not listened to the Dirty John podcast, but I heard friends talking about it obsessively. Two days later, my agent asked me, “Have you heard of Dirty John?” That was exciting to me: I love things that are creating conversation in the culture.
Your character, Debra, is both intriguing and infuriating.
I never judge my characters. I looked at playing Debra as almost a women’s studies project. She was self-made and had raised a family by herself, but she had this Achilles’ heel: She needed to have a man in her life. As horrible as it got for Debra, she thought she could handle and change that man. As the show goes on, she becomes more and more aware. We reflected that awakening in her clothing: In the beginning, she wears pink and light colors. And as the situation with John becomes more and more extreme, we go darker. By the end, she’s in black.
You were in a happier marriage on Friday Night Lights.
Kyle Chandler [who played Coach Taylor, her character’s husband] and I really fought for that marriage. Right from the beginning, we said to the writers, “Don’t make one of us go and have an affair.” I think the audience really appreciated that.
Growing up, who did you have a crush on?
Tom Selleck in Magnum, P.I. The short shorts. The floral shirts. He was a sexual fantasy. I actually auditioned to play his wife in something. I remember thinking, No, Tom Selleck was a grown-up when I was a little girl. So that didn’t happen.
Britton wears a Stella McCartney shirt; Loro Piana skirt; Bulgari earrings; Tiffany & Co. wrap bracelet worn as necklace; Cartier ring; Tom Ford belt; Balenciaga shoes.
In The Loudest Voice, which is about Roger Ailes and Fox News, I play Laurie Luhn, who was a booker for the shows. To play her, we worked with very orange makeup and a look that was curated by Roger Ailes: the tight, the bright, the overly revealing. And legs. Lots of legs. There were no desks at Fox News, because with a desk, I suspect, you could get up to a lot of trouble underneath.
Do you have a secret skill?
I’m good with animals. When I was young, I wanted to live among animals. I liked sloths the best: That’s the animal I aspire to be like. A sloth just owns it. There’s great power in stillness.
Wallis wears an Isabel Marant top; Hermès skirt; Dior belt; Tiffany & Co. bracelet.
I am from Omaha, Nebraska, and I wanted to move to New York since the third grade. I had never been to New York, but I knew all about the city from watching television. I just knew New York was where I belonged. Later, I learned that most of those New York City shows like Friends and Seinfeld were filmed in Los Angeles. That was a bit of a mind fuck.
Was Girls your first part outside of theater?
No. I had another job playing a headless stripper in Sex and the City 2. It was just me in a Speedo grinding with another guy. On Girls, I played the ex-boyfriend who turned out to be gay and then became Hannah’s [Lena Dunham] best friend. My first nude scene was in season two. Suddenly, I would show up to work and there would just be a pair of underwear on a hanger. I was oddly comfortable with it.
Growing up, who did you have a crush on?
Maxwell Caulfield from Grease 2. He played Michael Carrington. He also played Miles Colby on Dynasty. Every day of my life is a hair tribute to Maxwell Caulfield.
Rannells wears a Dior Men coat and pants; Brioni turtleneck; Givenchy boots.
When I first read the script for You, I was not attracted to Joe, my character. I was like, “Oof—I don’t know.” He’s a villain, and yet he’s also an antihero. He’s seductive, but he’s a murderer. It’s fascinating that people—especially women—are drawn to this guy. The greatest challenge I have is not judging him. I don’t ever think of him as a killer. To him, murder is simply a means to an end.
Did you always want to act?
At the age of eight, I was in The Music Man, and I told my parents, “I want to do this for the rest of my life.” When I was 12, my mom and I went to L.A. and I started working immediately.
Was your first kiss on camera?
No, but starting out so young, you’re always having to display sexuality before you’ve had those experiences. For You, I was tied up in bondage rope for the first and, so far, only time in my life. Look [shows his wrists], I still have rope burn. First time, and it’s on camera.
Badgley wears an Alexander McQueen coat; Boss T-shirt; Jil Sander pants; Sophie Buhai bracelet.
My big childhood claim to mediocre fame is Pee-wee’s Playhouse. I played Opal on that show when I was around 6 years old. I’d already done a bunch of commercials, and they didn’t all air. You want the ads to get on the air if you want to get your imaginary Lamborghini. Sadly, I didn’t get the Lambo.
You always had a smoky voice.
Yes, but thanks to a lifetime of smoking cigarettes—which they recently discovered are actually good for you—my voice has become thicker and deeper over the years.
In Russian Doll, you are asking existential questions.
I am curious about what it means to have a life. I imagined being at death’s door, looking back and asking, “What happened here?” I also recognize that it’s a nice thing to move from a disconnected life to a more connected one.
Who is your cinematic crush?
Recently, I watched Viggo Mortensen in Eastern Promises, and Mamma mia! My boyfriend, Fred Armisen, was there. I took screen grabs of Viggo’s nude fight scene and told Fred the stills were for research. Usually, when I play this game, I think it’s best to pick dead people—to say, like, “Isn’t Peter Falk a babe on Columbo?” I’m also very disappointed to discover that Idris Elba and I did not get married. I think many women felt the same way.
Lyonne wears a Marni dress; Tiffany & Co. wrap bracelet worn as necklace, and bracelet.
Did you have a favorite toy growing up?
I had a bear that I got at Starbucks named Mandy. One day I lost Mandy and it was really, really, really sad. I remember exactly what happened. I don’t even know what the name of this is but on the side of the streets those kind of grates that go down. I sobbed for hours crying for Mandy. Just like Barry Manilow but in a totally different way. I was shaken and so, so, so sad. I hope she’s doing well in the sewer. However she dissolved. She meant a lot to me. I had a lot of American Girl dolls too. I totally took ownership of those dolls. I cut their hair, I gave them their own lives. They lived great lives to be quite honest. I gave my American Girl dolls to my younger cousin Delia and she loves them. Their hair, she’s like, “Why is their hair all badly cut?” That was my doing.
Then I also feel like it’s not a toy, but I grew up in the age of Club Penguin, which was an online website in which you created your own penguin and socialized with other penguins. It was kind of like The Sims in a way. And my penguin was named WinterSnow55.
What was your favorite film growing up?
My favorite film growing up was The Wizard of Oz or Air Bud. I have not given Air Bud a watch in a really long time and I really feel like I should, because I could probably still say all the dialog from that movie.
Did you have posters in your room growing up?
I had a poster of Dylan and Cole Sprouse, and I know them now so it’s kind of weird. I wanted to be on Disney so badly growing up. It was the only thing I watched. Of course I’m on one of the best television shows ever and I’m like, “I want to be on Disney Channel so badly.” But I really did, and I auditioned once for Cory in the House, which is a That’s So Raven spin-off starring Kyle Massey and Madison Pettis, and I didn’t get the role and I was really upset. Like really, really upset. I remember I was at Build-A-Bear when I found out that I got the audition and so excited. On the way home in the car I’m screaming out the window to people, “I’m going to be on Cory in the House! Watch me on Cory in the House!” Never happened. It’s okay.
Did you read Archie or the Sabrina comic books that you’re a part of?
I read Betty and Veronica growing up. Sabrina was never my girl growing up for some reason. But then once I got the show I read some of the old comics and I read the most recent comic which the show is loosely based off of.
Who did you want to be, Betty or Veronica?
It was always the debate, who am I, Betty or Veronica? But I think at the end of the day I had blonde hair, I identified with Betty in that kind of way. But Veronica’s a pretty good name.
Do you ever meet other Kiernans?
I’ve still never met another Kiernan. I think I’ve met one or two people with Kiernan as their last name, but I’ve never met someone with the first name Kiernan before. I am named after practically nothing. My mom knew someone in college that she said had the last name Kiernan and she kind of liked it, and then here we go. Here I am. A lot of people call me Kiki, though. Now the Drake song’s out that goes, “Kiki, do you love me?” So it’s been the past year of getting in Ubers and they’re like, “I like your song, by the way.” It’s been the bane of my existence, but in a good way.
What is your karaoke song?
My karaoke song go-to at moment for a duet is “Shallow,” if I can get someone to be Bradley in it. But if I’m going solo “A Thousand Miles” by Vanessa Carlton, “Mr. Brightside” by The Killers, and anything Britney Spears. “Toxic” is great if you’re feeling feisty. Like if you really want to give people a run for their money.
What’s your favorite of all your Halloween costumes?
I wanted desperately to be Catwoman when I saw Halle Berry as Catwoman, and I somehow managed to get a really crazy- looking Catwoman costume. So I would say my Catwoman costume when I was probably five is still my favorite Halloween costume. I also went as St. Vincent one year. It was kind of based off of the “Now, Now” phase, like that album where she had the really curly brown hair. It was super wild and I painted my face with like, freckles, and put a wig on. It was really fun, it actually looked really, really good. I should’ve taken an electric guitar around, that would have been really good. She is truly one of the greatest guitar players, I think, of this generation.
Do you want to be a musician?
I would love to make music. I really would. I love singing.
Who are your crushes these days?
I feel like my cinematic crushes are still like a super young Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic. In the music world, I’m pretty much 100% in on the Shawn Mendes craze. I am all about it. I love him. I think I’m going to see him in Vancouver when he comes there in June or July. I love “Lost in Japan.” I love “Where Were You in the Morning?”He has a whole album of remixes of “Where Were You in the Morning?,” and they’re all so good. Then the old Shawn Mendes stuff like “Life of the Party” and “Never Be Alone,” also big fan.
So as Sabrina, because we’re going to now fix you up with Shawn Mendes, how would you put like a hex on him? What would you do?
I would say love potion. But honestly that kind of feels like cheating and I mean love potion would be very easy, go get a coffee or something. Do a little sneaky love potion action.I think hexes maybe can be positive as well, but some sort of spell. I would want to do some sort of spell that would just put that energy out there that Shawn Mendes and I are meant to be. I don’t know. Now it’s truly never going to happen.