It’s hard to even believe the Mad Men star is 17. Joining the American period drama at just seven years old, picturing her in any other way than as the troubled pre-teen Sally Draper is near impossible. Shipka’s own childhood was the antithesis to her character’s, calling her coming-of-age on the show “loving and fun and casual” and her adolescence spent on set “an amazing environment… a special thing”.
Prior to the series, she grew up watching and practising musical theatre, evident in the way she enunciates every word over the phone, peppering our conversation with endearingly dramatic pauses and sudden exclamations of “Oh gosh!” She’s just seen Dear Evan Hansen when we speak—”just amazing”—and obsesses over a long list of more shows. “I mean, Wicked has a very special place in my heart,” she enthuses, ‘I’ve seen it six or seven times… The Lion King… All of them! I adore singing and I like dancing, so if I could do more of that combined with acting, that would be amazing.” Andrew Lloyd Webber, if you’re reading this, Shipka is waiting for the call.
Shipka appears as B.D., the daughter of Bette Davis (played by the inimitable Susan Sarandon) who went on to publish a scathing, and largely unverified, exposé on her mother in later life. “I think that B.D. lived her life as Bette Davis’ daughter,” muses Shipka, “and was struggling to find her way as B.D.”
Shipka and her fictional mother had none of the aggressions of their real life counterparts, calling working with Sarandon “a dream come true”. “She was a partner in crime,” she continues, “a sparring partner in those more intense scenes.” The show’s other lead, living legend Jessica Lange, sent her into fan girl fits, “Just making eye contact, I was like, ‘My life is made. I’m done. I’m good!’”
Brainchild of Ryan Murphy—the cult show creator who Shipka calls “the crème de la crème, the most amazing director/human/person/brilliant mind ever”— Feud goes further than highlighting the destructive horrors of Hollywood’s cut-throat competition. With Murphy’s Half foundation, an initiative sparked to secure gender equality in off-screen film roles, 60 percent of the show – runner’s directing slots go to women, in contrast to the industry average of 17 percent. “[Murphy] shows that it’s possible,” enthuses Shipka. “He doesn’t just talk the talk, he walks the walk. That set was incredibly diverse with so many voices, and it made for a warm, well rounded, amazing vibe.”
Since wrapping Feud (a second series is due, this time detailing the tumultuous relationship between Prince Charles and Diana), Shipka’s been stationed at home in Los Angeles, taking classes and hanging out with her dog. “I have a few things that might be lined up for later in the year, so we’ll see,” she says coyly. “The Blackcoat’s Daughter, a movie I did with Emma Roberts is out right now. That’s really exciting and fun, but besides that, I’m just waiting for the right thing.”
Having graduated high school (home school) at just 15 and already earning herself college credits alongside her astounding career, the teenager makes me feel like an underachiever. She’ll be 18 in September and meets my preemptive congratulations with, “Ugh! Don’t remind me!” College isn’t on the cards right now, but she’s educating herself through both literature and life in Los Angeles. “I love this city so much,” she effuses. “I’m really into food and art and culture. LA provides this giant landscape to explore all of that and the city and understand everyone living in it, it’s boundless. A beautiful experience.”
On her current path, by the time September and adulthood roll around, the leading-lady-in-waiting might just be ruling the land she loves so much.
Taken from the Summer 17 Issue of Wonderland; out now and available to buy here.