Kiernan Shipka has every reason to be half asleep. The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina actor has been doing non-stop press since arriving in New York City a few days earlier. And as soon as our interview ends, she’s on a red-eye back to the Netflix series’ set in Vancouver. “If I’m not filming the show, I’m talking about the show,” she jokes. (But also, it’s totally true.)
But the (almost) 19-year-old is happy to live and breathe the life of 16-year-old half-witch, half-human Sabrina Spellman. After all, it’s this close to becoming a hit. The series, from Riverdale creator Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and the Archie Comics team, has yet to premiere—that comes October 26—but it’s already halfway through filming season two. “We’re almost done with episode five,” she says. “It’s crazy!”
Shipka wasn’t even born when the ABC sitcom Sabrina the Teenage Witch first premiered in 1996, but she was familiar with the character long before this new incarnation came her way. “I was a Betty and Veronica [comic] reader growing up, so I knew of the [Archie] universe. I knew of Sabrina,” she says. “I know this show means a lot to people right off the bat.”
She was so ready to dive into the role of Sabrina, in fact, that she changed her look to prove to producers she was the one. “I had long, dark brown hair during my first audition and was really just living my best life,” she says. “I’ve always been blonde, so it was like, ‘I’m free from the blonde hair!’ I figured if I got the role, I’d probably have to dye it, which was fine, but after my audition they were like, ‘We gotta have you audition again, and we think you need blonde hair for it.'” So, Shipka dyed her hair. She thought, “You know, if I don’t get it, I’ll have blonde hair for a bit and that’s fine.”
Of course, she got the role. The transformation wasn’t done, though: She also had to cut her long hair into a bob. “This is one of those industries where you never have full control of your hair,” she says. “But the bob is 100% my jam. I love it. It’s so low-maintenance. It takes two seconds to do my hair.”
Blonde, brunette, bob, no bob—Shipka is just thrilled to work on a series with a built-in audience eager to follow the adventures of a spirited, smart young woman. “It gives me actual chills, and I’m so proud to be part of a show that feels so inclusive,” she says. “I’m such a firm believer that everyone should see themselves in a character and everyone should feel represented. I couldn’t have dreamt this up.”
And after years of supporting roles, Shipka is more than ready to step into this new light. Here, she tells Glamour.com all about it.
Glamour: You’ve mentioned in interviews that your body has never been under more stress than it is now. How so?
Kiernan Shipka: Yeah, it’s a crazy undertaking. The workload is really crazy. I will keep repeating that it’s so gratifying and the thing I want most—I would not want to be exhausted by anything else but this show—but with the amount of hours, physically, it can get stressful. Sabrina is running away from demons and all these things; plus, it’s emotional. I’m scared, I’m screaming, I’m crying [as Sabrina]. I put myself in that emotional state to an extent. There’s one scene at the end of the season that was so emotional that after, half of my face was in hives. I’m actually tired on the weekends, so it’s amazing to stay in and not go out. [Laughs]
Did you talk to any of the Riverdale cast about keeping this kind of schedule?
KS: I didn’t ask. I just went into this like, I’m going to do it. If I have to fake it until I make it, I will. To be quite honest, my body has adjusted well to the schedule. There are a lot of night shoots, too, so you’re wrapping your week around Saturday at 6 A.M. But we do bond over [our schedules]. One day I was 17 hours into my day, and I was in a bathtub in the woods, [and we joke], “You’ve been there before, right?!” It’s funny to sort of bond over similarly weird jobs that we have, but it’s nice to have a sister show that’s [nearby]. They are all so nice and fun.
How do you most relate to Sabrina?
KS: I really love playing a character that’s a little younger than me, to be honest. Because even if it’s just three years, I can bring perspective into it. I think Sabrina’s intuition is really strong. I bring up the age thing because over time I’ve strengthened my intuition and knowing myself and what feels inherently right. I feel like Sabrina really has that, even more so than when I was 16. She questions what she doesn’t think is right, and she doesn’t do anything that doesn’t feel right. That’s a big thing in my life: going with your gut. If something isn’t lighting the fire and making you excited, or if something feels wrong or doesn’t agree with you, it should be questioned. It should be talked about. I really admire that Sabrina does that even in circumstances that are pushing her one way. She’s all about the resistance.
Sabrina has to choose between two worlds, but you’ve known what you wanted to do your entire life. Has there ever been a time where you questioned whether this was the right path for you?
KS: I feel really lucky that I’ve always been in this position where I feel like I could take a break or stop acting if I wanted to. I’ve never had anyone in my life that was pushing me to do it. I remember hearing that so much growing up: “If you don’t want to do this, it’s totally your choice.” There are definitely times growing up where I was more into it or less into it, but for the most part I was pretty excited by it. As you get older you naturally question things, like, “Oh, is this what I want to do forever?” The thought was scary for a little bit, but if I don’t want to do it forever then I don’t feel like I have to. Right now, I don’t see myself doing anything else. It brings me a lot of joy. I love it. I certainly see myself expanding into writing and directing hopefully.
A lot has happened in Hollywood since you got this role. In the year since, does it feel like there’s been a shift in the industry because of Time’s Up and #MeToo?
KS: I’ve definitely noticed a shift as far as conversations go. I personally feel so lucky to never have had those truly horrible, traumatic experiences. But I think what’s so great about the movement is that it’s given me a lot of confidence and strength. It’s made me feel protected in a certain way by all these strong women sticking together and fighting for something to make sure things change. I’ve definitely felt it. Especially at events and on social media, I just feel like it’s truly made such a splash. That’s such an amazing thing.
You’re now the lead on your own show. Does this feel like a new chapter for you?
KS: I kind of feel that way. I totally vibe with that. It definitely feels a bit full circle. I started on TV, and now I’m back. It feels like the right moment for it. It feels very right and also nostalgic in a certain way.
Speaking of nostalgia, if you could bring one character or actor from Mad Men to Sabrina, who would it be and why?
KS: Oh, Peggy, totally! She would totally join the coven! Yeah, stick it to the man, right? She’d be down!
What have you learned about yourself since taking on this role?
KS: That I’m allergic to cats. [Laughs] That has probably been the most important takeaway. I’ve also learned to not take Benadryl on the job! I took it because of Salem. That’s probably an even more important takeaway.
KS: I just don’t remember the night. [Laughs] I really don’t. I just remember my leg was getting really weird and shaky and itchy. I felt like I was completely drugged, which I kind of was. I don’t recommend taking Benadryl if you have hours of work ahead of you. I still watch the first episode and see this one scene where I’m like, that’s my Benadryl acting!
Wait, what scene?
KS: I can’t tell anyone, but it’s there! There’s one scene, maybe two scenes, in the first episode that are sponsored by Benadryl. [Laughs] It’s funny now. Now we can laugh.