“Oh, it’s crazy,” says Kiernan Shipka, looking very much like an average teenager in her skinny jeans, boots and oversize jacket — that is, if every average teen also went about in the full face of makeup required for doing a day of press meetings.
Shipka is the star of one of fall’s biggest TV debuts, “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina,” which reinvents “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” for Gen Z (the show was created by “Riverdale” showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa). She’ll be on a flight later in the day back to Vancouver, where filming for season two is already underway (season one drops today on Netflix) and plans to spend the weekend sifting through the hordes of messages on social media from the series’ already passionate fans. So yes, things are a bit crazy.
Shipka, now 18, has effectively never known a life without stardom on a hit TV show. She was just 6 years old when she first appeared on “Mad Men,” which catapulted her onto red carpets — dressed by mega brands at that — and to the top of who-to-watch lists across Hollywood. It also set her up for some pressure for her first significant follow-up. Though she’s appeared in plenty of projects since then, “Sabrina” is her first major lead role.
“I was all frustrated actor, just feeling like, ‘I don’t know what I want to do and nothing seems to be panning out,’” says Shipka of where she was late last fall, before booking “Sabrina.” “It was just sort of the unknown. It was that ‘oh, my god, what is next?’ There is a lot of uncertainty in this industry and you can create your own opportunities and take control of that, but that also takes a lot of time. So I was sort of in the middle of figuring out what I wanted to do.”
Shipka describes the reboot as a “no-brainer” for her; the character, writing and trust in Aguirre-Sacasa were all there, “and I just kind of felt it in my gut that it was the right thing.”
After a string of film roles, she was ready to get back to television, where she very much grew up.
“I kind of always had a gut feeling that I was going to go back to it at some point, because it feels like home, to a certain extent,” she says. “But at the end of the day it’s all about material, and the material right now, I feel like, is largely in TV. I mean, Meryl [Streep] has gone to our side, so come on! If Meryl is there, then literally no one is left.”
“Sabrina” is being billed as a feminist, empowering show featuring a headstrong teenage girl at its center, which Shipka says absolutely drew her to take on the role.
“I can remember back to when I was 12, 13, and any show that I watched I wanted to be the main character and embody them, and I think the fact that Sabrina is, in so many ways, such a positive role model for young girls, is really cool,” she says. “I’m really excited for young girls growing up to see the show and feel like their stories are being told and like they’re being represented. Teens are being portrayed with depth because they are multidimensional and they deserve to be portrayed as such. I’m just excited because I feel like this show has a lot of good behind it.”
It also introduces her to a new fanbase: those of her own age bracket.
“To be quite honest, my fans growing up were my friends’ parents. Like 30-plus was like ‘Mad Men’ age group,” she says. “I feel like I haven’t had young fans before this, so it’s kind of funny.”
Most of those fans will never have seen an episode of the original “Sabrina the Teenage Witch,” which starred Melissa Joan Hart and went off the air in 2003 (perhaps for the better; rebooting the series is not without critique from its original fans).
“I never watched it, but I knew about it because it’s so iconic,” Shipka says. “And then as I took on this project and started telling people about it, I realized how many people have a very strong attachment to the original show. Like, very strong attachment.”
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