“Anne Boleyn,” Kiernan Shipka announces. “Tituba, Mary Bradbury, Baab spelled with two As.”
Shipka is sitting in front of two bright lights and a camera, listing famous historical witches. The 5’2” actress is wearing a shimmery silver turtleneck, a shoulder-grazing blonde bob, and so many coats of mascara that from behind the camera, her eyelashes look like twin black widows. We’re here talking metaphysical women because Shipka is the star of Netflix’s newest cult teen series, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, which premieres apropos of the spooky season on October 26. The supernatural drama charts the story of spunky 15-year-old Sabrina Spellman, who was born half-witch, half-mortal.
On the eve of her 16th birthday, Sabrina is forced to make a high-stakes decision whether to stay with her fleshly friends or transfer to a school for the dark arts, giving herself over to the twisted mystical world forever.
Chilling Adventures is a macabre take on Sabrina the Teenage Witch, the sitcom some of its audience will remember from 20 years ago. One person who does not remember, however, is Shipka—you have to remind yourself as you sit across from her that she is only 18 years old. In between looks at today’s photo shoot, we film a video in which Shipka has to guess fictional witches from modern history with the help of a few simple clues. Everyone backstage squirms as she struggles to recognize Teen Witch, Halloweentown, or Practical Magic, somehow failing to remember, though we’re all fully familiar with her bio and wrinkle-free complexion, that these movies came out 10 years before Shipka was even alive.
(To end the challenge, the Chilling Adventures actress flexes her objectively more impressive knowledge of real-life witches—Anne Boleyn, etc.—redeeming her lack of ’90s pop culture.)
Shipka may be the youngest person on this set by almost a decade, but her relaxed sense of poise and professionalism—“Thanks, girl. So lovely to see you!” she says to every photographer and makeup assistant as they leave—make it clear this is not her first rodeo (or broom ride, as it were). The performer’s highest-profile role until now was little Sally Draper, the daughter of the main anti-hero on AMC’s period drama Mad Men. That series premiered when Shipka was only six years old and ended eight years later.
Shipka didn’t spring into another project right away. She took a few a years to step back from Hollywood, and she owes much of her current self-security and -awareness to that choice. “Right when Mad Men wrapped, I was sort of figuring out my life,” she tells me in her dressing room as a stylist snips a few inches off her bob, “and I got a lot of time—from 15 to 18, when I started working on Sabrina—just to sort myself out, learn to practice self-love and self-compassion, and make a lot of mistakes.” Shipka says that going into Chilling Adventures, she felt armed with a well-developed self-care routine.
“One that I liked and that worked for me because it’s not going to look the same for every person,” she explains.
Though she tries to keep her hopes low, Shipka knows this groundedness will help her after Chilling Adventures hits the web to the nail-biting reception of millions of young fans. With a similar target audience to the smash hit Riverdale, whose cast became overnight teen icons, Chilling Adventures will no doubt elevate Shipka to a level of fame much rowdier than the 30- and 40-something Mad Men viewership could ever create. Internet-obsessed teens, after all, are the most zealous breed of fan. (The Chilling Adventures trailer amassed almost four million Youtube views in less than two weeks.) “I’m ready for it,” Shipka says with an anchored disposition.
Our intimate dressing room exchange is mostly dedicated to what exactly the young star is doing to mentally and physically prepare for such an explosive life change. It is perhaps no coincidence that some of this self-care routine involves practices rooted in witchcraft. Here, in her own words, Shipka’s views on alternative wellness, perfectionism, skincare, and staying mortal on the precipice of otherworldly fame.
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina seems to be coming at the perfect time because witchy practices are having such a huge resurgence in American culture. Do you engage with any witchy rituals yourself?
I approach everything with a little bit of skepticism, and I’m not going to call myself a witch by any means because I know that there are practicing witches out there. But I definitely do believe in and vibe with that kind of stuff. The last time I was in L.A., I saw a medium for the first time. It was something I’d always wanted to do. And I love looking at astrology. Whenever I need some advice, I’m just like, okay, what are they telling the Scorpios to do today? Sabrina is a Scorpio, I’m a Scorpio, our showrunner is a Scorpio—it’s a very Scorpio-heavy show.
I’ve got some crystals, too, and I’ve been using them as of late, mostly for healing purposes. I cleansed them under the moon; I did the whole damn thing. I mostly use my hematoid quartz. I have bad hips, so I’ve noticed that if I’m achy and I lie down and place the stones there, it really does help. But you have to set a clear intention for it. You can’t just expect a crystal to work; you have to really vibe with it and manifest. I also have a Dalmatian Jasper that I’m really into. It’s supposed to be a stone that’s really good for adjusting to change in your life.
And since this show has been such a massive change, I think I’m gonna start leaning on that stone a little more.
The drink I make myself in the morning is pretty witchy, too. It’s a matcha latte that’s got ashwagandha and Cordyceps and all sorts of mushroomy powders and superpower-y things. I’m just getting into this stuff. I’m not super versed or anything. Just dabbling. But I definitely am into witches and all the different interpretations of them that there have been through time. They’re just cool, interesting women. There’s a reason they’ve been a fixture for such a long time. Bring on the witches.
Speaking of adjusting to change: With these new teen cult shows, like Stranger Things and Riverdale, the stars’ lives change overnight. Are you nervous your life is going to become totally different after Chilling Adventures comes out?
I wouldn’t say I’m nervous. I’m just going day by day, which is how I try to live my life, in general. It hasn’t really registered that that’s a thing that’s going to happen. Especially since I’m working five days a week, 14 hours a day, I haven’t had any time to think about it, or I just haven’t let those thoughts in. I just don’t want to have expectations, you know? But as far as it being a crazy, life-changing experience, I’d say I’m ready. I’ve been doing this since I was 5 or 6 years old. I’ve kind of grown up in it, but not in a way where I ever felt inundated.
I feel very armed and ready for whatever comes because [fame] has just been this slightly normal thing in my life. So it doesn’t feel like it’s going to be some kind of crazy shock or like going from one extreme to the other.
Do you have any grounding practices that you do in times of stress or when you’re feeling overwhelmed by so much attention?
A hundred percent. Getting some good movement in is really important to clear my brain when I can. I love yoga; I love going on walks. If I’m feeling fun and wild, maybe a SoulCycle class. I love journaling. That’s been a huge part of my life for about a year now. It’s amazing. I actually just looked back the other day at a bunch of old journals. That’s why you do it, you know? To look back on them. I love playing music; I play the guitar. I also really like cooking for myself and eating foods that feel nourishing.
Did you notice any changes from reading those past journals between yourself a year ago and now?
At this point in my life, I feel more myself than I ever have, if that makes sense. The whole idea of being okay with not being okay 100% of the time is something that I’ve learned. I used to get sort of like, “Okay, everything isn’t perfect. Let’s freak out.” Now it’s kind of the opposite, and I love that.
Do you think you’re a natural-born perfectionist?
Yeah, I definitely have some type A qualities. I like things to be right. I might not quite say perfectionist, but maybe? I don’t know. Maybe I’m the type of person who says, “No, no, no, I’m not a perfectionist,” and then literally every other person around me is like, “Yeah, you are.”
So tell me about your beauty vibe these days. Do you have a regular skincare routine?
I’m all about the skin self-care. I was having a lot of skin troubles when I moved up to Vancouver because A) I found out I was allergic to the cat on the show, so there were a lot of hive breakouts happening, and B) just adjusting to the new pollens. Plus, I think lack of sleep and the physical and mental stress of taking on this giant job made my skin angry. I’d always futzed around with different skincare regimens but never found something to land on because I was really into natural beauty, but I never found anything that felt powerful enough or worked.
But then I landed on a brand called Marie Veronique, and I swear my skin has never been clearer. I think they make it here in L.A., and it’s freaking amazing. Their cleanser, their face oil, and their retinol serum are so good. I also love me some face masks. I like the Beautycounter charcoal face mask. I like the Tata Harper clarifying one. That’s the green one—very witchy and fun. And then Marie Veronique has a probiotic exfoliating mask that I love, too.
What about food? You mentioned cooking. Favorite dishes to make?
I cook vegetables and meat, and that’s pretty much where it ends. I’m so into vegetables. I could go so far as to say that I go to the farmers market and let the vegetables speak to me.
You’re hearing vegetables talk? Pretty sure you really are a witch.
Oh yeah, in all my dishes, the veggies are talking. They’re the stars of the show.
What kind of magical veggies are we dealing with here?
A lot of root vegetables and warm foods during the fall and winter. We could get into the sort of Ayurvedic aspect of it—like grounding foods. Top-favorite vegetable is cauliflower, for sure. And have you ever done roasted celery? It’ll change how you look at celery. Because right now you look at it like ants on a log, and that only goes so far. But if you toss it with some good-quality oil, salt, pepper, even get some oregano and thyme up in there, and then roast it at 400º for like 45 minutes, you’re gonna love celery all of a sudden.
You come alive when you talk about vegetables, so I’m hesitant to change the subject, but I suppose I just want to end by asking what you see for the future of your career. Beyond Chilling Adventures, what are your dream projects and goals?
Well, I’ve realized that you can’t really plan anything too specific in this industry, because it’s all so unpredictable. But on the other hand, you can create your own opportunities and develop your own projects. That is definitely something I’m interested in doing because I am so into that aspect of having control. I have a writing partner, and who knows when it will all work out where we’re in the same place and headspace to sit down and actually finish something? But that’s definitely on the books for the future, for sure.
What are your favorite TV shows on right now?
Ugh, I’m just thinking of all the things I haven’t seen.
Same. It’s a hard question because there’s so much to watch right now.
Yeah, like Ozark I haven’t seen. I haven’t seen anything. Working five days a week on a really emotional role, I just want to watch something casual on the weekends. I just watch Queer Eye and Nailed It. That’s all I have the mental capacity for.
Photographer: Paley Fairman
Photography Assistants: Anthony Espino and Mark Underwood
Stylist: Sue Choi
Stylist Assistant: Cara Catabay
Hairstylist: Ashley Streicher
Makeup Artist: Holly Silius
AD: Brenden Bonney