Kiernan Shipka has a reputation for being a fashion plate. She’s a regular at New York Fashion Week, a fave of the Fug Girls and she once blogged about her chic wardrobe for Lucky magazine (when she was 11).
The actress who began her impressive turn as Sally Draper at the age of 6 lived up to that reputation Friday night at part two of the Mad Men Tribute at Film Independent at LACMA, when she held her own as she took the stage alongside the fabulously attired costume designer Janie Bryant (rocking a pantsuit that would have made Megan Draper green with envy.)
The two women joined Film Independent at LACMA Curator Elvis Mitchell for a Q&A following a screening of At the Codfish Ball, [the season five episode in which Don, Megan, Sally, Megan’s parents and Roger get dolled up for a swanky awards banquet honoring Don. Chaos ensues.] “It was such a fun Sally Draper moment. I got to keep the back up go-go boots,” Shipka happily reported. (Bryant said that she had a vintage women’s dress cut down and retailored for Sally.)
“That episode was so complex because there were so many different scenes, Megan’s parents are coming to town and with balls there’s always a huge amount of people. I love that episode because when Sally comes in she’s been shopping with Megan and I love seeing the three generations of women. You can see how the mom is more classic and more elegant, Megan is super mod and modern and I love the idea that Megan would have a big influence on Sally in her dressing. The whole scene is about time moving on and Sally growing up–maybe too fast for Don. [He makes her change the boots and wipe off her make-up.] There are all these stories and vignettes that the costumes helped tell.”
In Codfish Ball, Sally makes a few secret phone calls to commiserate with her former neighbor Glen [played by Matthew Weiner’s son Marten], who’s been shipped off to boarding school, leading Mitchell to ask Shipka about Sally and Glen’s relationship. “Often times Sally has really lost her trust in adults,” Shipka said. “She thought they were liars and disgusting.”
“Well, they were,” Mitchell interjected.
“Glen was only her solid friend and person to confide in most of the time so their relationship is really special,” Shipka continued. “I love that friendship.”
Mitchell complimented a quip Sally makes to Glen during one of the calls and Shipka’s delivery of the line. “Sally has always been a little bit sassy. I always admired that and loved that. So much of it is the writing and directing and a lot of it is on the page,” Shipka said. “It’s so brilliant and so fun to act out.”
“What’s your favorite thing about Sally?” Mitchell asked Shipka.
“I like the fact that she’s evolved and changed into this really strong girl,” Shipka said. “She’s gone through a lot of rocky times and how she’s handled it with the amount of grace she has, she’s kind of remarkable in that regard. She’s smart. She’s perceptive and witty and sassy all at the same time. I love her.”
Mitchell noted how much Sally has grown up and changed over the years. “It’s really rare to get to play someone for as long as I’ve played Sally. When I was first cast, I was so excited to be there and truly that excitement was never lost every time I went on set. To grow up as myself and also grow up with this character, was this super special experience to me, and as she got older, her relationship with her parents was evolving. It was a very interesting thing to play out. And her relationship with Don has gone through so many different stages, from being this ‘daddy’s little girl’ to feeling so betrayed and disgusted by him which I think led to her knowing him more and reaching this point of understanding and seeing him as this flawed person instead of this perfect figure.”
Mitchell asked Bryant about how she approached the style for Don and the male characters. “As a costume designer it always starts with the script and that’s always the inspiration. I can learn so much about the character by what they say to each other. Also by having my creative conversations with Matthew Weiner. He’s known these characters longer than all of us. I start to do research on the period by watching old movies, going through catalogs, researching magazines, looking at old photos… I love to look at old newspapers,… just getting into the worlds of these characters.”
“And for Don I always saw him as this character who was very secretive, not only to the audience but to himself, to his family, to the women he had affairs with… It’s all about the secrecy of the uniform of the suit. I’ve always felt Don Draper’s suit was his armor. I always loved the idea of having different shades of grey. I always felt that it protected him from the world.”
Bryant admitted a particular fondness for the style of Cary Grant. She said, “North by Northwest was one of the first movies I saw to inspire me. It was actually released in 1969. It was the world of advertising. Cary Grant, I love him so much. He has amazing style and taste and he’s gorgeous. He really inspired me for Don Draper and also David Ogilvy.”
Don did made a break from his suits of armor when he went to California, Mitchell pointed out. “[Weiner] really did want to express that in Don’s character that California was a place of freedom for him.”
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