Kiernan Shipka’s Time To Shine

History tells us child stardom is unforgiving, but for the Mad Men actor it’s been a chance to wise up, work hard, and win over Hollywood

Fashion Direction by KATIE MOSSMAN



In the decade since I first met Kiernan Shipka and we decorated cupcakes together at a bakery on Melrose Avenue, she has gone from child star, playing the petulant Sally Draper in Mad Men, to a charming, funny, and surprisingly (given the precedent for child stars) untroubled and self-actualized young woman — not to mention a hugely successful actor.

Sitting in Cafe Gratitude in L.A.’s Larchmont neighborhood, we’re talking about adulthood — how you know when you’re in it and what it means to have responsibility for your own life and your own happiness. “Lately I’ve been thinking about who I was when I was younger and the parts of me that I want to hold on to and bring into my life now,” she says.




It’s clear that Shipka bonds easily. She’s bright, engaging, and quick witted. I find myself laughing with her as I would with a dear friend. In fact, she tells me, comedy is the genre she currently feels most drawn to, explaining, “I lived in drama for such a long time that to be funny and to be free in that kind of way, and improvisational, right now it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot.”

This lightness and playfulness is all part of embodying her best grown-up self. Where it has gone wrong for many child stars is feeling too mature too soon, and being thrust into an adult world before being ready to deal with it.




“By 15 I had done a lot that felt very adult,” she says. “I had a job and certain levels of responsibility, but the difference in actually being an adult is experiencing the spectrum of human emotion. Getting hit with all these feelings that you’ve never felt before. Being emotionally vulnerable and real and actually forming connections with other people and my relationship to myself.”

Shipka is now 24, and after bagging the lead in four seasons of Netflix’s teen drama Sabrina (a remake of the ’90s show Sabrina the Teenage Witch), she has already shone in a number of film roles that span genres from campy horror Totally Killer to tender melodrama Wildflower. She has just wrapped a trio of films, a follow-up to the 1996 action movie Twister (which stars Glen Powell and Daisy Edgar Jones), action thriller Red One opposite Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and Gia Coppola’s third feature, The Last Showgirl, starring Pamela Anderson (as the dancer) and Jamie Lee Curtis, last year’s Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner.

“I’ve known Gia for a long time,” Shipka explains, “and we were itching to work with each other.” She calls Coppola an amazing director who is calm, impeccably organized, and so trusting of her actors. “She really knows what she wants, and she’s clear and concise and stands back and lets it all unfold.”


“I’m trying to get more adventurous”



LOUIS VUITTON jacket, $6,950, skirt, $3,900, shoes, $1,360, and tights, $435. POMELLATO rings, $1,250 and $1,485. Vintage earrings from Paumé Los Angeles.


MAX MARA dress, $1,250, and bag, $1,490. SARAH SOKEL hat from The Residency. GUCCI scarf (on hat), $240. Vintage earrings, bracelet, and gloves from Paumé Los Angeles.


Shipka has worked nonstop since she was 6 years old, but far from being jaded, the young actor seems energized by the experience. “When I shot Sabrina, those hours and demands weren’t anything I’d ever done before. That was definitely a learning curve. How do I not get burned out? How do I show up every single day the best version of myself? What can I do for self-care? But I’ve figured out how to take care of myself and what I like to do to rest and recoup.” Therapy, journaling, self-help books (The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks is a favorite), and getting back to the “essence and spirit” of her childhood have helped. She tells me there’s a particular family photograph of her at 4 or 5 that shows the “playfulness, spunkiness…just this really, sort of wild energy” that she tries to relocate in herself whenever life feels too serious or stressful.

She lives in “a guesthouse situation” in her parents’ home, which suits her perfectly. Her father, John, is a real estate developer, and she calls her mother her greatest role model.

“My parents are my friends now,” she says. “They were so wonderful with me as a kid, as I was in this situation they had no blueprint for. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to respect that and love them not just as the people who take care of me and protect me and make sure I’m OK, but that it’s a two-way street, and I’m there for them too. I feel like we’re learning from each other, and it’s really beautiful.”

Shipka turned 21 during the pandemic, when Hollywood sets were empty and there was plenty of time for introspection and a transition of sorts. “It was only when a lot of the world started to come back to life when I started to feel like I was an adult in the world,” she says. She soon fell into a new group of friends, actors, writers, and producers, a group where “the common theme is usually some sense of creativity.” She’s still in touch with John Hamm and January Jones, her on-screen parents in seven seasons of Mad Men, and they see one another for a night out a couple of times a year.


PRADA shirt, $5,100.


DIOR blouse, $2,300, pants, price upon request, tie, $300, and bracelet, $1,200.


How does she think her friends would describe her? “Fun. I would hope a good friend. I think down for an adventure always and looking to have real conversations.” Shipka has traveled the world promoting her work and attending fashion shows and events (she’s been a face of Nina Ricci fragrances). She still loves exploring new places and says, “I’m trying to get more adventurous because L.A. is such a great place to travel within your own city. Whenever I have the travel bug, I have to remind myself that I can actually exercise it here by just driving 30 minutes to be in a completely new place, experiencing a restaurant that I’ve never been to.”

She’s much more of a dinner-and-drinks kind of person than a big partier, and she loves an evening at the Sunset Tower bar. “I would rather sit at a table with my good friends and actually talk about stuff that feels real than go to a really loud place where we lose ourselves,” she says. They frequent a steady rotation of restaurants in West Hollywood, their “Central Perks,” named after the New York–based café in Friends filmed at Warner Studios over the Hollywood Hills. But she feels most at home on her couch with her dog and a nightcap cocktail she has made herself.

As for relationships, despite being linked in the past to musician John Mayer and another Coppola scion, filmmaker Christian, Shipka tells me she’s single. “The older I get and the more I get to know myself, the more exciting the prospect of having a partner in crime is. When I was younger, I felt like it was all about dating. But my recent journey has been much more inward. And the stronger I feel, the more that I’m drawn to having deeper friendships. Connecting with people has been more exciting to me lately.”


“I lived in drama so long that to be funny and improvisational right now is something I’ve been thinking about a lot”



CHANEL jacket, $9,500, skirt, $5,400, pullover, $4,900, shoes, $1,675, belt, $7,900, necklace, $875, and earrings, $875. FALKE tights, $42. On table: JACQUES MARIE MAGE sunglasses, $820. Vintage ring, glove, and bracelets from Paumé Los Angeles.


Having this anchor to herself as well as a trusted group of good friends has helped Shipka navigate a life in the spotlight. A generation has watched her grow up on TV, as Sally and then Sabrina, and viewers might feel they have some kind of claim to her personal life. She admits “seeing mean things about me online is not great, that’s for sure,” but adds, “I’m lucky I can feel the ouch and then pretty quickly have a good system of people around me to remind me that it’s not real life.”

The idea of getting older isn’t daunting for her, having learned from the likes of the “wonderful” Jean Smart of Hacks fame in Wallflower as well as Jamie Lee Curtis in The Last Showgirl. “I have so many examples of phenomenal, dynamic women doing things at all ages. To me it’s key to be excited about each stage I’m in, and not let it pass me by because I’m worried about a future one.”

“Watching [Curtis] command the set and seeing what she did — I took endless lessons away from it in such a short amount of time. These women make me want to up my game to a level of wanting to not only be at my best at a given moment but also pursue an approach to performing for the rest of my life that feels like it’s conducive to the freest, most powerful, creatively charged version of itself.”


VERSACE jacket, $6,900, skirt, $2,590, and bag, $2,825. JIMMY CHOO shoes, $975. FALKE tights, $40. SEYMOURE gloves, price upon request.


Shipka would love to follow Coppola and try her hand at writing and directing. Given her style credentials, would she ever want to do something beyond modeling in the fashion world? “I’ve been in that world for a long time and I’m very, very inspired by it,” she says. “I’m really in awe of people who are doing amazing things, such as [Californian gender-fluid designer] Harris Reed. It just feels like a great gift in others, which is probably where it stays for right now.” She pauses, then adds, “But you never know. I never want to cut myself off creatively. That idea of putting myself in a box is not appealing to me.”

I wonder where Kiernan Shipka will be in a decade. In L.A. still, she’s sure of that. But everything else — kids, relationships — is “up in the air…I have come to the realization that gripping onto expectations is just the death of the moment — and stifling creatively.”

Wise words for a 24-year-old with a whole lifetime ahead of her.


GUCCI coat, $3,600, top, $2,100, and bag, $3,590. POMELLATO rings, $1,250 and $1,485. PIERS ATKINSON hat from The Residency. Vintage earrings from Paumé Los Angeles.


Hair by TAKUYA SUGAWARA at Walter Schupfer
Makeup by MELISSA HERNANDEZ at The Wall Group
Manicure by EMI KUDO at A-Frame Agency





Feature image: CHANEL jacket, $9,500, skirt, $5,400, pullover, $4,900, shoes, $1,675, belt, $7,900, necklace, $875, and earrings, $875. FALKE tights, $42. On table: JACQUES MARIE MAGE sunglasses, $820. Vintage ring, glove, and bracelets from Paumé Los Angeles.


This story originally appeared in the Summer 2024 issue of C Magazine.

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