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Mad Men’s Kiernan Shipka on Smoking, Eye Rolls, and What’s Next for Poor Sally Draper

Kiernan Shipka. Photo: AMC

So far, Sally Draper has been a pretty resilient kid. Don’s been negligent, Betty’s been cold, but Sally, as played by Kiernan Shipka, has remained a firecracker, unafraid to sneak out of her house, roll her eyes at damn near anybody, and call out her friends when they’re putting on airs. Now, disillusioned by her father’s cheating, she’s trying to escape for good. In last Sunday’s episode, Sally tested out a boarding school where she offered the cool kids money, drank, and maybe tried some pot. (Mercifully, she fended off Glen’s gropey friend.) Then Betty, in a sincere moment of trying to bond with her daughter, offered her a cigarette. Nooooo! It’s too much too soon, Mad Men. We’re not ready for drinking, smoking Sally — even while Shipka is. Vulture got ahold of the actress — who is now 13 years old! — to discuss the young Draper’s latest traumas and life after Mad Men.

Matthew Weiner recently said that Sally has inherited lots of problems. “I predict smoking. I predict alcoholism.” In Sunday’s episode, she tried both, and that freaked me out. How about you?
I don’t want to pick a favorite episode, but I had so much fun doing that one. Matt talked to me a little about it beforehand, but I got the idea that this was a big deal for Sally just from reading the script. I kind of predicted it for her, especially given what happened in the episode before. But I was also still shocked. I’ve grown up with Sally, viewers have watched her grow, so seeing her take her first drink is really shocking. It’s like a milestone for her. It’s crazy.

It’s what we’ve all been dreading since the first season.
Exactly. [Laughs.]

What was it like having to smoke on-camera?
I had fun filming that scene, too. In the first car ride, I had lots of French fries, which was great. That was the highlight of the day, to be honest. I was pretty nervous to smoke. I’ve obviously never smoked before in my entire life, so it was sort of a thing that I had no clue how to do. [Laughs.] But I caught on. We did enough takes that by the end of it, I was like, Oh, I’m a pro at this now. I can do this. Everyone was all, “No, you’re not a pro at it quite yet.”

What state do you think we’re going to find Sally in next season?
Next season I sort of see Sally in that downward spiral. There’s not much room for her to go back up. A lot of people thought through seasons past that she’d hit her bottom, but now is truly where she’s going to get herself into trouble. I hope so. It would be really fun. It’d be awesome.

Who do you think has been more damaging to her so far, Betty or Don?
I think up until the episode before last, Betty was more damaging to her because Don’s redeeming quality throughout everything was that he always tried to be a good father even if he didn’t succeed. He’s still trying. [Sally catching him with Sylvia] has affected him so much. It’s very interesting to see. But I think her father obviously triggered a much deeper sense of shame for her.

Assuming Jon Hamm and Linda Cardellini weren’t there in the moment you walked in on them, how did you prepare to shoot that scene?
Yeah, they weren’t. The whole thing about acting in general, whether other actors are there with you or not, is that it’s about your imagination. You can draw from real-life experiences, but obviously nothing, unless you’re doing some biography, is going to be exact to your life. You create things in your head. That’s what’s fun about it. It’s not real life. I have a little bit of a wild imagination, so I could imagine anything I wanted to see there even if it wasn’t really there. [Laughs.] It was cool to be in that scene, because I knew what my character was going to see, but I didn’t want myself to in the room because I felt bad for Sally! Like, I could stop it but I couldn’t.

And what were you thinking of when Sally is talking to Don through the bedroom door? You put your hand over your face — was that a direction or something you did naturally? Did it take a while to get there emotionally?
There were a couple of variations of that scene, but putting my hand on my face is something I did naturally, and it felt the best. It takes one or two takes before I get into the swing of it, especially for a scene like that. You have to warm up to it. It’s not something I can just jump into.

Are you able to shake that kind of thing off quickly?
Kind of. Most of the scenes I film, they don’t really affect me in my real life. After any kind of emotional scene, I’m the type of person who’s able to snap out of it because it’s such a different world. Sally’s crying and going through all this emotional stuff, but then they yell “cut!” and suddenly you’re on the Mad Men set and everyone’s so nice. There’s a big separation. None of it gets to me too personally.

I’m glad that Sally has had Glen over the past few seasons. He’s turned out to be a really good friend to her.
I thought Glen was awesome last week. It’s cool, because a lot of people, I guess, loved to hate the character in the beginning, if that makes any sense. So I think that seeing him now is cool, because he is really a different person. He seems to have found himself. He’s matured. And he always sticks up for Sally and I thought that was really, really sweet. I love working with Marten. He’s great and we always have a lot of fun together. Sally and Glen episodes are always special — it kind of has to be. It’s not just some little episode when they get together. Something big always happens. We’ve seen throughout the season Sally having a couple friendships and I feel like Glen is her only stable friend. [Laughs.]

Yeah, what is up with Sally’s awful girlfriends?
Right? She can always depend on Glen, but none of her other friends seem to be too good. [Laughs.]

The other traumatizing thing that happened to Sally this season was confronting an intruder in the apartment while Megan and Don were out. How do you think she handled that?
The grandma Ida thing was super cool. Sally was reading Rosemary’s Baby and then she walks out and then there’s this intruder in her home. It all felt like this nightmare.

She didn’t seem very scared.
I think she was more weirded out by the whole thing, because the lady didn’t seem super harmful. I mean, she came off nice! [Davenia McFadden] in real life was a great actress playing someone who’s a great actress, you know? So I think that Sally was more curious and didn’t quite know what was going on. That episode we find out that Sally really doesn’t know anything about her father. It exposed how, really, they know nothing about each other.

Ah, it’s so sad! Do you see any of yourself in Sally?
Not really. We’re the same age, and that’s where our similarities end. We definitely have different lives.

So you don’t roll your eyes as much?
My eyes, by the end of this season, were so rolled out. I couldn’t move them! I was afraid they were going to freeze like that some times. Literally every scene I had to do at least three eye rolls. I’m getting so good at it now.

Have you started thinking about the show ending next season? By this time next year, you’ll be done with filming Mad Men.
It’s a weird thing to think about because, I don’t know, after we wrap I always know I’ll see everyone again. Obviously, I’ll still see them after, but it won’t be the same. I feel like it will really sink in the last time I ever play Sally, and they say “cut,” and then it will be like, Oh my God, that is the last time I’ll ever speak through Sally Draper. I haven’t really been thinking about it that much, but I assume I’ll shed some tears. I like to think that I’m so happy that this all happened that I feel like it will be a good moment at the same time as it will be a sad one. We worked on this amazing thing together and it’s been such a ride, and eventually all rides have to end and you go to the next. But it’s been a fun time, and we have thirteen left together.

Where would you like for Sally to end up?
If I was a viewer only, I’d want her to end up happy. But as the actor, I feel like it would be fun if Sally went through more ups and downs next season. This season, we saw a different side of her, and I’d like to see her rebel a little more. She’s certainly going to get a lot older, maturity-wise. I hope she has some kind of wild ride. At least a little something.

Mad Men’s Kiernan Shipka on Sally’s Smoking