The Chicago native on filming ‘Flowers in the Attic’ and moving on from ‘Mad Men.’
Fourteen-year-old Kiernan Shipka offers a surprisingly nuanced take on the appeal of her latest project, a buzzed-about Lifetime adaptation of the 1979 novel Flowers in the Attic: “It’s a gothic tale … the story itself is terribly sad, and it’s just really awful, but in a good way.” Fans of V.C. Andrews’ cult classic — which sold nearly 40 million copies worldwide and spawned a 1987 film of the same name — would likely agree with Shipka’s apt analysis of its sordid, perhaps inadvertently campy plot, which follows four children locked in an attic for several years by their malevolent grandmother (Ellen Burstyn) and greedy mother (Heather Graham).
While the original movie glossed over some of the thriller’s controversial themes — particularly the romantic relationship that develops between siblings Cathy (Shipka) and Chris (Mason Dye) — Shipka confirms that Lifetime’s version is “definitely faithful to the book.” But rather than blanch at the film’s more scandalous scenes, the preternaturally mature actress says she looked forward to the challenge. “It’s just acting,” she says. “It’s not my real life. I like working with dramatic, interesting material, so I thought it’d be really fun.”
The Chicago native has spent the past six years sinking her teeth into such material as the angst-ridden Sally Draper on AMC’s “Mad Men.” Filming the series’s final season, which begins airing in spring 2014, is “the very definition of bittersweet,” Shipka says. “It’s letting go of something that’s been a part of my life for more than it hasn’t.” She pauses, then adds a typically sophisticated disclaimer: “When it nears the finale, I’m sure I’ll have a whole different set of emotions.”
Role call: “A lot of the scenes are really intense. There’s some where Cathy is so ashamed and sad, and ones where she’s truly terrified. … I was most nervous to film the scene where [Burstyn puts] tar in my hair. I didn’t know how that would all play out, since there wasn’t any dialogue. But I did have a wig on [laughs]. They weren’t going to cover my hair in tar.”
What would she do? “If I was locked in an attic? It would depend. Do I have my phone? Are there books? You gotta describe this attic. Am I with other people? I could read. If there was paper, I could write. Get some rest. I’d eat so much food. As long as the doughnuts didn’t have rat poison on them [like in the movie]. Those doughnuts looked so good on set [laughs].”
On the ‘Mad Men’ set: “There are a lot of funny moments. We’re really into board games. We’re really competitive about Words with Friends, and we play this game called Catch Phrase and people get really into it. It’s a really fun bunch.”
Chicago connection: “I wasn’t in Chicago for the holidays — I wish I were. I wish I could see the snow. My dad’s there right now, sending me all these crazy photos. It looks super cold. I’m based mostly out of LA, and I always wish we had colder weather because I like dressing for colder weather better than warm. … Every year I’ve been [in Chicago] for the Fourth of July, and I hope that never changes.”
Watch “Flowers in the Attic” Jan. 18 at 7 p.m. on Lifetime.