Erin doesn’t want Kiernan to know about some of these things yet. Erin usually meets with Matthew Weiner, Mad Men’s auteur, before the table read of a new season, and he fills her in on any upcoming “adult content.” Kiernan is shielded from some of this material. Erin usually watches Mad Men on her own on Sunday night and videotapes it for Kiernan to watch with her on Monday night, when she knows which parts to fast-forward through. Kiernan is fine with this agreement, for now. “When I’m 16, I’m going to sit down and watch all of the episodes the whole way through myself,” she declares.
Nevertheless, Kiernan has a good understanding of Sally’s situation. “If I was in Sally’s place right now, it would be hard, because I wouldn’t know what to do,” she says quietly. “There’s really nothing she can do. She can run away, she can do some crazy things, but really, it’s probably best to stay calm.” As far as her TV mom, Betty Draper, is concerned, Kiernan doesn’t have many kind words. “I think Betty’s not where she wants to be in life: She didn’t want to have kids, and now maybe the divorce isn’t the perfect life that she really imagined,” says Kiernan. “Also, Betty is definitely not a nice person in general. I think she just has a mean soul.”
On the other hand, the mention of Don Draper makes Kiernan, like the rest of womankind, go a little weak. “Don is always trying to be a good father,” she says. Then she reconsiders, perhaps thinking of his habitual philandering, if those parts didn’t get fast-forwarded. “Maybe he’s not the best person, but he always tries to be a good father—he may not succeed, but he always tries.” Jon Hamm, who plays Don, returns the favor. “Well, I think Don has a relationship with Sally, and like most of the relationships in his life, it’s very loaded and changes varying on the circumstances,” says Hamm. “Don loves Sally. I think one of his difficulties is in expressing that love unconditionally, or at least finding a way to have that love and that relationship exist outside the damaged relationship he has with her mother. This is one of the things Don finds refreshing and inspiring about Megan—the possibility, the excitement of unconditional love.”
Shipka is shielded from some of the show’s adult content. She’ll get to watch them all “when I’m 16,” she says.
So what does Kiernan think about Megan, Don’s wife-to-be and her new stepmother? “Well …” says Kiernan, her eyes widening as she considers the right way to answer. “If Megan and Don were to get married, I guess she would be a good stepmother.” (If?) Kiernan also loves the neighbor boy, Glen. “He is not creepy!” she says. “Back then, a lot of kids didn’t have divorced parents, and Glen was just showing her the ropes. I think he’s just a true friend of Sally’s. But now she’s moving. So it’s a true good-bye between them, not even like a modern-day good-bye.” She hangs her head. “They won’t be able to Skype each other or text or anything.”
A fter the bagels, Kiernan shows off her tae kwon do forms—“Hike up your skirt and go for it,” says her mom, encouragingly—and kicks a punching bag in the middle of her huge living room with resounding firmness. “My mom kept telling my dad that we needed a kind of sculptural centerpiece,” she says, smiling adorably, “and I figured that the punch-bag worked.”
She then moves to another room to begin her near-daily piano practice. “I’ve been playing since I was 5, but I wouldn’t say that I’m serious about the piano,” she says, before completing a flawless rendition of “On My Own,” Eponine’s lament from Les Misérables. “Someday, I’d like to write my own musical,” she says. What would it be about? She scrunches up her face. “I think that I’d like it to have the set from Annie, combined with the era of Les Misérables, with all the music from Chicago.” Okay!
Kiernan started doing commercial print work as a baby, and she hasn’t been in school since first grade. The actors on set are her friends, and though she says she understands they’re adults, so they’re not quite her peers, she says she feels close to Elisabeth Moss. Moss likes her a lot, too. “We consider Sally the fourth Mad Men woman,” says Moss. “And that’s largely because Kiernan portrays a full portrait of a person. She doesn’t seem like a child actor to me.”
To make friends her own age, Kiernan tries to perform in a lot of kids’ plays and musicals at a theater nearby. “I make most of my friends through my extracurricular activities,” she says. “A lot of them are just regular kids. I certainly know quite a few kid actors, but I’m not really friends with them. They’re all very nice people, but I just don’t run in the same circles. I’m more friends with people from my activities.” (“My favorite conversations with Kiernan are the ones we have right when we come back to start the new season,” says Hamm. “I’m constantly mind-boggled by how much that kid does when she’s not ‘working.’ Makes me feel lazy.”)