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Mad Men’s Kiernan Shipka on Jon Hamm, the Beatles, and Becoming Sally Draper

On the battlefield that is Don and Betty Draper’s divorce on AMC’s Mad Men, their daughter, Sally Draper, refuses to be mere collateral damage. This season, she has inspired a young neighbor to vandalize on her behalf, run away from home, upended Don’s office, and declared her independence: "I'm not going, I’m not leaving, I hate it there!" Kiernan Shipka, the talented and very poised almost-11-year-old who plays Sally Draper, spoke with us yesterday about the Beatles, how she gets into character, and the biggest question she gets from grown-ups about Jon Hamm.

So, how about those Beatles tickets?
Ooh, the Beatles tickets! Sally was really happy when she heard she was going to the Beatles concert. It was sort of like a peace offering from Don, to start fresh again with Sally.

Who would you scream like that for? Is there a band you like as much as Sally Draper seems to like the Beatles?
I don’t know if I’ve ever screamed or cried for a band. I’ll probably find one one day that I really love ... I do listen to some music, but I don’t technically have one band I’m absolutely hooked on.

Do you like the Beatles?
I do like the Beatles. I actually really do like the Beatles.

Do you have a favorite song of theirs?
“Here Comes the Sun.”

That’s a great song!
Yeah, it’s really upbeat. It’s a song you can listen to over and over and over again without ever getting tired of it. It puts you in a really good mood.

Now, that was a nice fun moment [for Sally], but a lot of her scenes have been so serious. How do you prepare for them?
I think all the props, the hair, the makeup, and the wardrobe really help define the characters. That, in general, really helps you get into that mode.

What was it like filming “The Beautiful Girls?” That was a huge episode for you when she shows up at the office.
It was. It was amazing. I loved filming that episode! It was fun, it was energetic. We had a lot of drama in it, too.

Sally was really at the center of all that drama. Was it hard to gear up for it?
For me, I prepared really becoming Sally, practically transforming into her, when I get pretty close to the scene. I think that’s how I gear up. I just kind of become her.

How did you get the role? Did you have to audition a lot?
Actually, the audition process wasn’t too bad. There were three auditions — nothing major. I didn’t know it was going to be what it turned out to be — a possible recurring.

Well, this season, you really stepped into a really big role. How did they let you know all the things that were happening down the pike for Sally?
They don’t really. Not any of the cast members know what they’re going to be doing until the table read. They don’t even let us know.

So what was it like discovering you were actually going to play a big part in all the action?
I was thrilled and I was very excited, and it’s just a great feeling knowing Matthew Weiner believes in you.

Do you think you’d be friends with Sally if you knew her?
I’d be friends with Sally if I knew her! She’s really sweet.

Are you at all like her?
Well, in season one, season two, and beginning of season three, I was like Sally. She was adventurous, free-spirited, and now she’s really ... her soul’s really beaten down. She’s in a very difficult position right now, so I don’t think I can relate to her now ... but since I know the character so well — I’ve been her, what, four years now? — that I know Sally. I know what she’s feeling.

What do you think Sally would like to do when she grows up? Advertising? Ballet?
What would Sally be when she grows up … well, with the situation she’s in now, I don’t think she’s really focusing on that, but she could go into a lot of different directions. She could do ballet, I guess she really likes that. I don’t think she’d go into advertising like her father.

Why not?
I think Sally, well, would lean more towards … You know, that’s a really hard question. I don’t really think about the future that much. I’m just focusing on her current situation.

You know how Don and Sally went for that fun half-day in "Beautiful Girls"? If you had to come up with a fun day with Sally, what would you do?
A fun day with Sally — what would that be? Probably just riding bikes, maybe swimming, have a picnic.

Do you get recognized by other kids as Sally?
I’ve never gotten recognized by a kid once as Sally. Never, ever. By adults? It’s usually not about me. It’s usually about Jon Hamm when they come up to me.

And what’s the biggest question they have about Jon Hamm?
They’ll just come up to me and go, “Is he gorgeous?” [Laughs.] Something — something like that.

Okay, so I guess I should ask you that question: Is he gorgeous?
Is he gorgeous? [Laughs.] Well, I’m 10, so … I can’t really answer that question … I suppose …

Is he nice?
He’s a really nice person. He’s a very good guy.

What’s in store for viewers?
There’s going to be lots and lots of drama! More to come.

Photo: Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images