A huge role in Mad Men at seven years old, now 19 and playing the half-witch-half-mortal star of Netflix’s The Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina, young Hollywood leader and crystals obsessive Kiernan Shipks casts her spell on GLAMOUR’s Josh Smith.
“It’s 8am and I am wearing a novelty onsie. When you start loving yourself, life gets a lot more fun,” Kiernan Shipka tells me. This could be the life of any 19-year-old on the way to – or skiving from – university, but Kiernan is not like any other late teen you’ve ever met. She did, after all, make her TV debut at five months old in ER, before outshining her adult cast mates as Sally Draper in Mad Men, from the age of seven.
The star of The Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina has called me while travelling to set for season two, where she’s been putting in 13-hour-days, up to six times a week for almost a year. Kiernan is in a reflective mood, talking about the realities of growing up in the public eye.
By 19 years old I feel I’ve been through it all…I have grown up in this crazy world, a crazy industry, so I’ve had my fair share of lonely experiences.
Kiernan continues, “By the end of Mad Men, I had been on the show for a longer period of my life than I hadn’t. When that wrapped, I was trying to figure out who I was in a lot of ways without the show… Growing up and being in the industry while trying my best to maintain a very normal life outside of it – which I’m lucky that I did. I definitely think my ‘growing up’ was in so many ways so unconventional. I didn’t go to a traditional school, I didn’t have a traditional route. I knew what I wanted to do really early on. I was lucky that I was in an environment that embraced growing up and let me figure out who I was. But there were moments when it was super hard, for sure. I was trying to figure out: what exactly does it all mean?”
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On hand to help Kiernan find out, were Mad Men’s cast of formidable, fierce feminists including January Jones, who she remains close with. “I’m lucky that I grew up on a show that really championed women and portrayed them as multidimensional characters,” she reflects. “I wasn’t seeing one-dimensional female stereotypes being portrayed around me. I was seeing women who were going through a lot, being portrayed with so much depth, emotion, flaws, insecurities, power and strength. So, I feel like I grew up in a bubble that was very feminist by nature. It wasn’t until I started getting a little bit older, that I started looking around and realising that’s not the case everywhere. That’s the thing with <Mad Men>, it actually highlighted the inequality that women were facing and still are facing today, in so many ways.”
But the internet provided Kiernan with a rather rude awakening to gender inequality. “Once I started using the internet in general, I started to see that a little bit more. I remember being in a course at school and they were highlighting the feminist movement in the 1960s and 1970s. That was when I was like, ‘Oh, women have been fighting for a <really> long time!’”
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Kiernan should be leading the feminist fightfrom the front. Does she identify as an activist? “I am still making plenty of mistakes, but I stand for what I believe in. I want to be the best possible person I can be, and I know there’s lots of young girls watching me. My goal is to always be part of things I think are important, powerful and can make an impact on other people’s lives. I definitely think something like <Sabrina> is such a cool show to be a part of, because when I was 13 years old, I didn’t really have a show that I was watching where I felt, ‘Wow there is this powerful, amazing girl!’ Sabrina is literally trying to take on the patriarchy 24/7. It’s so cool. If I’m in this position, if I’m out here, I have this platform, it makes sense to me to put out content that is inspiring to others.”
As the second season of her first lead show airs, Kiernan hasn’t just expertly navigated her way through the trappings of the ‘child star’ label, she’s thrown it off like last season’s sweater. “I never worried about it,” she says. “I think I was more eager if anything to see what roles would be there. I don’t think, ‘Oh god, what if I’m pegged as this or that?’ It was more like, ‘Is there going to be something out there that’s going to fulfil me?’ Because I’m really young and there aren’t a lot of roles for 15- or 16-year-olds that have that kind of quality. That was the concern.”
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But she need not have worried. In the hands of Riverdale’sproducers, the comedic 1990s Sabrina was refashioned into a witch with an empowering spell. This is a young girl who, like Kiernan, knows her own mind – even with the distracting appearance of two dashing AF suitors, played by Instagram’s latest crushes, Ross Lynch and Gavin Leatherwood. “Sabrina can make her own decisions and she is never ruled or controlled by men,” Kiernan says of the very 2019 love triangle which is treated as secondary to Sabrina’s own self-discovery. “The boys really champion Sabrina, too. They see her as a full human being, even though she is half witch, half mortal. They see her as a smart, interesting person and her relationship doesn’t define who she is, it’s just a lovely addition to her life – as it should be.”
Kiernan is bewitched by Sabrina’s multitasking skills, too. “The fact that Sabrina is able to maintain a relationship and go through all this witch nonsense is incredible. I mean, I forget to bring lunch sometimes, so she’s really killing it. The girl gets *actually* ready every morning. Sometimes, I’m like, ‘Can’t her hair just be wild and like, doesn’t she forget the headband one day, or you know, wear mismatched socks? But she is so put together!”
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Witching provides some real-life curiosity for Kiernan, but she needs to work on her witchcraft, it seems. “I haven’t been on my crystal game lately – I need to cleanse them,” Kiernan enthusiastically exclaims. “I just looked at them and I was like, ‘You guys are overworked!’ I cleansed them under the moon, even in the rain, which is apparently supposed to be good for that! My main goal in getting them was to ground me – I am not sure if it’s them or me actively working on that.” Her go-to crystal? “Oh my god, I love this Dalmatian Jasper crystal.”
I feel like I grew up in a bubble that was very feminist by nature on Mad Men. Once I started using the internet I realised that’s not the case everywhere.
Her ample LA-centric crystal collection is a million miles away from Chicago, where Kiernan grew up as the only child of Erin, the president of an asbestos removal firm and John, the president of a real estate company. She had a taste for drama from an early age and such was her determination, that after landing ten commercials – including a comedic turn in one for the brand Mighty Milk, a nutritional drinks for kids, (#Niche) – her parents caved in to her demands and moved from their hometown to LA. She soon landed a role in the 1960s advertising-based drama Mad Men, and the rest is the stuff of Hollywood fairy tales. After the latest season of Sabrina airs, she will next appear in Netflix’s next blockbuster horror, The Silence, with Stanley Tucci.
Her success has earned her 2.8 million Instagram followers. I wonder how she has dealt with the common teenage concerns around body image while being in the pressure cooker of the public eye? “The world is a crazy place, especially with social media and these unrealistic expectations of women and our bodies. I haven’t met one young person who hasn’t struggled to some extent. Growing up I felt pretty in touch with myself, but if you’re going to red carpet after red carpet, it takes work to love yourself and to find the best version of yourself outside of this world of ideals that are so bonkers in so many ways.”
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Clearly, when life gives Kiernan Shipka lemons, she makes the tastiest of lemonades. Even the constraints of this social media age are dealt with using a spoonful of sugar: “Social media is a wonderful thing, and then on the flipside, there are the trolls,” Kiernan says. “For me, it’s about filtering out and not looking at it. There’s no real point because negative comments are going to exist everywhere on the internet. So, I have a ‘no reading’ policy. I’ll scroll through my comments, I’ll reply to some people, but going down that trap of trying to find negative things can get really vicious. The other thing with social media is that you need to be aware that it can be a comparison trap, it’s a highlight reel. It’s nothing to be taken too seriously.”
For someone so young, Kiernan has a clear and refreshing definition of validation. “For me it was about finding things that made me feel grounded, like reading. And finding my worth in something that’s not my body because, to be quite honest, your body is not your worth. It’s just not. There are so many other aspects to a human being than your body. That’s what it’s about and that’s where I’m at. Obviously, it’s a never-ending journey, but I want to take care of myself as much as possible.”
Growing up I felt pretty in touch with myself, but if you’re going to red carpet after red carpet, it takes work to love yourself and to find the best version of yourself outside of this world of ideals, that are so bonkers in so many ways.
Kiernan practises self-care like Sabrina practices witchcraft to help her through the more testing times. “We all have moments where we think, ‘I feel horrible right now, I don’t want to do anything.’ Being really honest about your mental health helps. Finding people you can talk to in whatever capacity is available to you is so important.
Not taking life too seriously is, well, a way of life for Kiernan. To decompress on her current set, the cast dissolve into dance routines so sassy she is considering forming a pop group entitled The Spicy Sabrinas. With one of the most infectious personalities in Hollywood, for her GLAMOUR cover we gave her complete free rein for the shoot and a phone to *literally* go wild with. After “not seeing sun for 45 days in Toronto,” the shoot became a homage to her hometown of LA, with palm trees galore, Sporty-Spice-inspired hiking gear and an ice cream pit stop. All accompanied by her most loyal companions: her dog, Frankie and her mom, who also acted as photographer.
“I grew up with my mom by my side every single step of the way,” Kiernan says. “With her being an enormous champion of me, in a way that I never felt pressured. If tomorrow I were to quit acting and pursue something completely different, she would be so supportive of it. That’s really strengthened my relationship with my work. I just felt very lifted up and supported. She’s my homie, she’s my best friend. I’m lucky that we have a really close relationship and it’s definitely amazing that I can have somewhere to go to in very dark times and in great times and someone to vent to. Wherever you find that in your life – it could be any person, and for me it’s my momma – it’s amazing. I don’t know who I’d be without her.” Cute!
We’ve been talking for over an hour and while there are innumerable positive adjectives you could use to describe this extraordinary teenager, but the words “uniquely extra” spring to mind. I also can’t help but feel inspired. “I’m really hopeful for the future,” she says. “I think having hope is one of the best things we can do besides getting out there and being active in our activism! I just feel that the new generation is killing it.” Go forth and kill it, Kiernan.