Kiernan Shipka Is the Reason the CAOS Set Is More "Chill" Than "Chilling"
If Sabrina the teenage witch was your original '90s girl crush, you're not alone. Even today, the character (played by Melissa Joan Hart from 1996-2003) continues to inspire people, including Kiernan Shipka, the young actress who took the reins from Hart as the titular witch in Netflix’s modern retelling, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, or CAOS, as it’s affectionately known to fans.
But long before Hart and Shipka came along, Sabrina the Teen-Age Witch was a '70s comic book series in the Archie Comics universe. While the new show is a much darker take than both the comics and the TGIF comedy many millennials grew up loving, the one constant is the bold, bright, 16-year-old Sabrina.
Recently, Instyle had a chance to visit the CAOS set inVancouver and speak with some of the actors. Shipka, 20, is now past the teen years Sabrina is still navigating, but she shared with us that she is still learning from the character she brings to life. “Sabrina has inspired me to be a lot more bold,” she says. “She speaks her mind in any situation, and is never willing to back down, and that has inspired me to be a lot more forceful about things I want or feel I deserve in my own life.”
Michelle Gomez, who plays Sabrina’s teacher Ms. Wardwell, as well as Madam Satan, says Shipka is “a phenomenal actor and human being, and I maintain I want to be her when I grow up. We’re very lucky to have her set the tone as number one on the show.” Miranda Otto, who plays Sabrina’s Aunt Zelda Spellman (and who also starred alongside Shipka in last year’s Netflix film, The Silence), agrees. “Kiernan is just masterful at everything that she takes on,” Otto told us. “She really is a powerhouse.”
The tone Shipka sets is light, which may come as a surprise considering the rather serious (albeit fantastical) subject matter. Season 3 newbie Skye P. Marshall shares, “Everyone is so goofy and playful, and there are moments where we’re like, ‘say cut, say cut, say cut,’ because we are supposed to be serious, but someone is doing something ridiculous. And then the moment we cut, we fall out laughing. Sometimes I can’t even look at Luke Cook in the eyes, or Chance [Perdomo], or Kiernan. Or Lucy [Davis]? Forget about it.”
“I like my practical jokes,” admits Davis, who plays Sabrina’s aunt Hilda Spellman. “During a read-through the other day, I got a hold of Gavin [Leatherwood]’s script and I blacked out some of his words, but he didn’t want to say [what I did], so he was just making things up.”
The Spellman house of the '90s was one-dimensional sitcom fare (though it did make me wish I had stained glass windows in my room), but this is not the case for the new Spellman home. Up close, the CAOS set is nothing if not lavish and intricately detailed. Everything is thoughtfully designed and genuinely beautiful — but with a dark twist. There are Tiffany lamps and luxe antique furniture and vintage-inspired wallpaper depicting pastoral scenes, as well as goat heads, Satanic markings, and reptile skins. Hanging on the walls in Sabrina’s room are posters of David Bowie and The Beatles, snapshots of her friends, and drawings depicting human sacrifice. Keen viewers have also likely noticed the abundance of rabbits throughout the set — a symbol of the occult. And while it's no surprise that the embalming room in the Spellman sisters’ mortuary is eerie, the attention to detail takes it to another level: Cabinets aren’t just filled with random bottles — the bottles are labeled: sperm, baby fat, eyeballs (you know, the norm). Even Gomez and Otto, who gave us the tour, were amazed at what they discovered. “It’s always so dark in here when we’re filming that I’ve never seen all of this!” Gomez laughed.
Even though she still plays a teen, Shipka is far away from her breakout role as Sally Draper, who she played for eight years on Mad Men. But since the show’s 2015 finale, she has gone on to be both a respected actress as well as a fashion icon in her own right. Her red carpet choices are applauded by fashion critics, and designers clamor to dress her; she starred in Rodarte’s Spring Summer 2020 collection lookbook (alongside her Mad Men mom, actress January Jones), which was released last September.
She may have moved past the role, but Shipka does credit those years growing up on the Mad Men set for preparing her for her current leading gig. “It really is a huge responsibility,” she says of her titular role. “But I think growing up on a TV show really helped. And I watched Jon Hamm over the years do a really good job being number one on the call sheet, and he knew how to command the set and be an amazing leader.” Her years as a child actor also take some of the pressure off. “I know it’s a big deal to be leading a show at my age, but to be quite honest, this is my normal, and I haven’t known much different, so this just feels like the best job ever.”
That said, Shipka adds that the ‘90s version of the show has one leg up on her own: “If I had my way, my cat would definitely talk,” she laughs.
CAOS's third season was released on Jan. 24.