After having achieved acclaim and fame from a young age playing Sally Draper in the iconic series Mad Men and more recently as the titular character in Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Kiernan Shipka now leads the powerful coming-of-age drama, Wildflower.
The series centers around teenager Bea [Shipka] as she navigates life with two neurodivergent parents and an extended family that can’t quite agree on the best way to help.
LA Magazine: Wildflower is a unique and uplifting movie—as an actor, what excited you about this role?
Kiernan Shipka: I really loved the way that Bea was written with such complexity. I enjoyed that in certain moments she felt like a true teenager falling in love for the first time, fighting with her friends, not knowing what the hell she wants to do and at other times had an immense level of maturity and responsibility at that age. I thought that duality was really interesting. At large the story I thought was so moving and beautiful and this chaotic loving family story made me cry, and it moved me in all kinds of ways and it made me laugh and it made me feel good at the end. So I responded to not only the character and the way she was written but also the script at large, I thought it was just extremely compelling. It wasn’t something that I questioned “Do I want to do it?, do I not?” It was a pretty sure thing.
The issue around neurodivergent parents and raising a child was something that I never really considered or was aware of. What was your knowledge of this issue before reading the script?
I didn’t have nearly as much knowledge as I feel like I do now, and it’s so lovely to be part of a film that represents the community in a really beautiful way. So I think beyond this movie being a great watch and fellow great performances, it’s really important too for people to see.
There are lots of heavy themes in the movie, was this a hard one to shake off afterwards?
It’s interesting, things stay with me in different kinds of ways. I think because the overarching theme of this film feels to me like love is so powerful and that your uniqueness makes you beautiful and who you are and that you’re irreplaceable in this world like, I didn’t leave feeling too much heaviness because I think there is a genuine like lightness to the film.
But there are some scenes, especially when Bea explodes on her parents in that one scene, where it was really intense. To get there and stay in that space is like, why do I do this to myself? But it’s really rewarding and powerful when you’re there. I have to say in that particular scene it was emotionally intense and I remember after the first take, just going up to Dash [Mihok] and just needing to hug him and feel that amount of love to almost like tap back into the pain, it just made me more emotional again. Even the darker, more intense, emotional and hurtful scenes felt like they had this fuel of love that I didn’t leave feeling like I needed to shake everything off, It just felt like this very real beautiful story.
As an actor you take wisdom and lessons from each project but what was the main thing you took away from Wildflower?
I loved that at the beginning of the movie, Bea is a bit more nihilistic and resigned to a story that she has told herself and by the end of the movie she comes around and wants to write a new story and be the best version of herself. I think that arc of being set in your ways and set in the way you think things will go to then softening and realizing that maybe things can change. That to me is so powerful and it’s scary to do that. It’s really scary to do that. So I think I took with me her shifted perspective and bravery by the end of the movie.
Due to circumstances beyond her control, your character is forced to grow up quickly. Do you feel that as a child actor working on sets for shows like Mad Men you had to grow up quickly too?
Yeah, what I related to the most was in some ways Bea is incredibly wise beyond her years and mature and has a responsibility that not many people her age or people in her peer group have but on the other hand, she’s like her age. I felt that growing up too because I had a job at six! [Laughs] I went to work and did this thing that was not really normal for a kid so, on one hand, I was doing a grown-up thing but I didn’t feel rushed into adulthood in other ways. Things were coming at a normal pace and all of a sudden I would go from feeling like someone who has a job and is pretty mature and has everything sorted together to feeling like, “Oh my God, I’m 16! What is this feeling? What am I doing?” It’s sort of funny, when I was a bit younger, my age would kind of surprise me, almost like a sneak attack on me.
It’s hard to single out one actor from this incredible cast but what was it like to work with Jean Smart?
It was amazing! I mean, I was in a coma for most of Jean and Jacki [Weaver] being there and dueling it out. I was faking being asleep and it was kind of the ultimate show because I had the best seat in the house. I was laying there and almost couldn’t believe myself because I was in a room full of actors who I think are the coolest, most talented people ever and I got to watch them act over me and that to me was a masterclass… I had my eyes open when the camera wasn’t on me, peeking and making sure I could take everything in that they were doing.
Your latest series, White House Plumbers, is coming soon, what can people expect from this?
Oh my God, it’s so fun! It’s Woody Harrelson and Justin Theroux doing their thing being absolutely incredible. The supporting cast is just like heaven, it’s such a dreamy cast and it’s really funny. I play Woody’s daughter in this, Kevan Hunt, and it’s obviously about Watergate but it’s a comedy and it’s heightened and fun and I think people are gonna really dig it, I’m excited about it!
What was it like to play Woody’s daughter?
Incredible! I love him so much and working with him was… I feel like I get to learn so much from these incredible performers and to watch them work was amazing and we had some great scenes together that I’ll never forget doing. Yeah, he’s a dream!
When your character in Wildflower wants to get away from things she goes for runs…what do you do in LA when you just want some escapism?
I’m trying to be a tourist in my own city again because I grew up here, and this goes for almost any city but we get into a routine of going to three or five places that we always go. L.A. is such an incredible city to explore so lately I’ve been trying to go to new restaurants and explore new parts of town and expand my L.A. because I love my small little L.A. but it’s such a big beautiful place. So I escape by finding a fun restaurant, eating with friends, laughing with friends and maybe ending up at a karaoke. A proper fun night is my real escape at the moment. I’d love to say pottery or something like that, but really, it’s just laughing a lot.
Do you have any restaurant recommendations?
Oh my God, there are so many! In LA right now I feel like Here’s Looking at You is one of my go-tos. I just tried a restaurant called Pijja Palace which was delicious and so fun. Jitlada is also one of my favorite Thai food places, it’s so unbelievably good!
Wildflower will be in theaters on March 17, and on demand March 21.
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