“That vibe that she might be possessed intrigued me,” Shipka says. It was also fun to “try to find little nuances that are creepy and a little off, but you don’t want them to be too crazy, because it’s a very (grounded) movie.”
Writer-director Osgood Perkins cast Shipka at the suggestion of her Blackcoat‘s co-star Emma Roberts, and was struck by the fearlessness she brought to Kat.
“That recipe of one part vulnerability, one part pure destructive power is something fascinating to watch,” Perkins says. “What Kiernan was able to bring with her eyes alone was that quality of sadness, but you know there’s a lot going on back there.”
In Feud (Sundays, 10 ET/PT), she trades exorcisms for eye-rolls as Barbara “B.D.” Merrill, a teenager in the late 1960s who lived in the shadow of her Oscar-winning mother, Bette Davis (Susan Sarandon). Their emotional shouting matches and B.D.’s laughably stilted performance in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? gave Shipka plenty to chew on in Ryan Murphy’s soapy limited series — her second ’60s drama playing the daughter of a domineering matriarch with that name (after Mad’s Betty Draper, played by January Jones).
“The interesting thing about both those relationships between Sally and Betty and B.D. and Bette, is that obviously there’s some turbulence, there’s fights, but at the core there’s love,” Shipka says. While she sees B.D. and Sally as entirely different (the latter is fictional, for starters), “both have a lot of depth and complexity, and maybe feel a little bit lost and robbed of a childhood.”
Shipka is currently scoping out her next projects. Having briefly sang and played piano onscreen in Blackcoat’s Daughter, she’s open to doing a musical in the vein of Pitch Perfect or La La Land, or a comedy: Her favorite series include Netflix’s Master of None and HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm.
Aside from a guest spot in Tina Fey’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, “I tend to be associated with more dramatic roles or super-creepy roles, but I love comedy,” says Shipka, a member of a teen improv troupe at Second City. Intentionally acting badly in her most recent Feud episode, “I got to be a little funnier, and that was so much fun to do.”
When she’s not working, Shipka is occupied with college-credit classes and taking care of her new dog, a four-month-old German Shepherd named Frankie. “I can’t wait to bring her everywhere when she’s a little older,” she says. “The world is not ready for Frankie.”
And what might her Mad character might be up to in 2017?
“I don’t know what Sally would’ve done,” Shipka says. “I just wanted to see her go to Woodstock, (but) that didn’t happen. That was my big bummer.”