In her 15 years, eight of which were spent giving “Mad Men” a soul as the central ad exec’s daughter Sally Draper, Kiernan Shipka has demonstrated a preternatural poise well beyond her age, a quality that no doubt came in handy when she had a flying rooster surge past her head during a playful scene in her latest film “One & Two”
“I was definitely curious as to how that was going to go, but it went smoothly,” Shipka was happy to report. “The chicken was lovely. That was actually pretty fun to film.”
The only reason Shipka wasn’t quite ready for “One & Two” – at least, initially – was her age. When director Andrew Droz Palermo first conceived of the story of a brother and sister yearning to get out from under the thumb of a strict religious household set far apart from the rest of society a few years ago, the actress was just a bit too young for the role of a rebellious teen. Thankfully, Palermo’s busy career as a cinematographer kept him from making the film until last year when Shipka was not only ready for the part as a 14-year-old who develops the power to teleport, but also on the verge of leaving the TV series on which she spent much of her youth, making the small screen’s loss, the big screen’s gain. (As Palermo notes, “She’s just so wise beyond her years.”)
In fact, within the next 12 months, Shipka will be featured in no less than three features including “Fan Girl” and the fright flick “February,” soon to debut at the Toronto Film Festival, and in the midst of a busy schedule, she carved out some time to talk about this turning point in her career and spending time on a farm to make “One & Two.”
How did you get interested in this?
I was just really drawn to the project from the start. The script originally got me really excited and intrigued, then after I talked to Andrew over Skype about his whole vision, I just trusted him so much. I knew it was going to be something magical and spectacular. After talking with the people involved and seeing all the creative forces that were going to be behind it, I was totally sold.
Is it true Andrew had given you some references for the character?
He didn’t give me any specific references for the actual character, but he did give me a bunch of references for the inspiration of what he wanted the film to embody, a lot of which came from music. He gave me a great playlist to listen to for the vibe and then he showed me [the film], “Let the Right One In.” He was also inspired by Andrew Wyeth paintings. Just a bunch of stuff from a lot of different angles.
Was there something that helped you unlock this character?
A lot of it was reminding myself that Eva’s mind was a whole lot different than mine and her environment was also a whole lot different — she’d never really seen the outside world and she’s a product of that environment, which is a huge difference. It was also great to actually work on a farm. It was a totally new experience for me since I’m very much a city girl. So it was channeling in that and really grasping the magnitude of that gap between us and going from there.
Was there a particularly crazy day of shooting on this?
There were a few. It was maybe the first day I was working with Timothée [Chalamet] that we did a bunch of the scenes [set at the] lake. The light was really good, so we ended up filming maybe three more scenes than expected. There were quite a few days that relied on lighting, so sometimes we were rushing and there was some fast-paced stuff, but that made it all exciting and fun.
That’s what you get when you have a director who’s been a cinematographer!
Honestly, everyone was such a delight and working with Andrew is great because I really think that he’s such a visionary. Working with Autumn [Durald, the cinematographer] was amazing too because she’s just so cool and they both have such an eye for beauty. It was just a really nice experience to just watch them work because they’re both really special and onto great things.
You get to teleport a little bit in the film. Because it’s fairly lo-fi, did you have to do much to create that effect on set or did they do most of it in post-production?
For all the teleportation stuff, there was a lovely guy named Josh who was on set the entire time and did all of the effects. With those scenes, there would just be a couple extra shots that they do [on set] and then work the magic after. It was really, really cool [to see after] because in the moment you film a shot and then you step out of frame and they have this wind blower to give the gush of wind. It was just really funny [at the time] to see it, but I’d gotten some sneak peeks [of the film in general] sitting behind the camera, just to see how it was all turning out and to see the full film was indeed very, very cool.
You’ve got a film premiering soon in Toronto called “February.” Are you looking forward to getting that into the world?
I’m excited for people to see that one as well. “February” is really cool because it was so fun to film. It’s a bit of a horror film. Oz Perkins is a really amazing director and I love Emma Roberts. Lucy Boynton is in it. It’s going to be really, really neat.
Is this an exciting time to get more control over the choices about the projects you work on?
It is an exciting time. I love acting so much. I hope that I can work on many, many projects in the future and play lots of different characters. Just that thought is very exciting. I like a lot of different genres. To me, it all comes down to the material at the end of the day, whether it’s comedy or drama or what have you. It’s just all about the substance.