With Chilling Adventures of Sabrina now streaming on Netflix, I recently got to sit down with Kiernan Shipka to talk about the making of the show. During the exclusive interview, she revealed how she landed the lead role and the audition process, what it was like working with a cat when you’re allergic, her thoughts on a Sabrina/Riverdale crossover and how they might pull it off, how she prepared to play the role, what it’s like shooting the second season before the first one has even premiered, the mythology of the show, and so much more.
If you haven’t yet seen the show, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina imagines the origin and adventures of Sabrina the Teenage Witch as a dark coming-of-age story that traffics in horror, the occult and, of course, witchcraft. The adaptation finds Sabrina wrestling to reconcile her dual nature — half-witch, half-mortal — while standing against the evil forces that threaten her, her family and the daylight world humans inhabit. The show also stars Miranda Otto, Lucy Davis, Ross Lynch, Michelle Gomez, and Chance Perdomo. Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, wrote the script for Chilling Adventures and executive-produces alongside CW kingpin Greg Berlanti.
Check out what Kiernan Shipka had to say below.
Collider: I’ve always heard from people that you’re not supposed to work with animals. Animals can be very difficult, but I love cats so … let’s talk about working with a cat.
SHIPKA: Let’s talk about the fact that I am allergic to cats.
Are you really?
SHIPKA: And found out on the show the very hard way.
You’d never been around a cat in your life?
SHIPKA: No. You know, I am only … It’s not a respiratory thing. I break out in really bad hives. Fun, right? It’s really only when I touch the cat. It’s not like if I go in a house where a cat lives I’m going to stop breathing all of a sudden or something like that. My uncle is like that and my dad is allergic to cats. I’ve just never grew up in a family of cats. I just didn’t know.
How does that change the writing of the show? I’m curious if the script had you doing a lot more with the cats and then all of a sudden they’re like, “Oh, yeah. That’s not going to work.”
SHIPKA: You know what? It’s so funny because Salem still is a pretty prevalent part of the show but there is not as much touching and holding. It kind of works because he’s Sabrina’s protector in a certain way. Since he’s not the sassy cat that talks and he’s more of the grounded, chill cat that comes in and saves the day, it’s workable. Honestly, I cannot say nicer things about the three cats that play Salem. They are wonderful, prepared, kind.
They work for tuna.
SHIPKA: They show up on time. Exactly. They do indeed work for tuna and little toys and snaps. They are great.
There’s a scene where the cat is going outside and I’m sitting there watching the show and I’m like, “How does the production grab the cat when it’s done?” Isn’t it just going to run off?
SHIPKA: It was tied to me.
Oh, was it?
SHIPKA: Oh, yes. The cat has been strapped onto me several times, to follow me.
Movie magic revealed.
SHIPKA: Movie magic.
That’s great. So talk about the audition process for the show. Is it one of these things where you’re like, “Oh, I want this”? How did it come to you?
SHIPKA: Yeah. I think it was sort of a no-brainer sort of situation, especially after I read the script because I knew from the second that I read it that it was material that I liked and I knew it was good quality. Obviously it was all really appealing. I got sort of a call that people were interested […] Met with Roberto [Aguirre-Sacasa] and we ended up having a pretty long meeting in which we talked about the show for probably all of two minutes because we just get along. We’re just very similar people.
Then I did a work session with Lee [Toland Krieger] and with Roberto on tape. That was sort of my audition. I had long brown hair. I did the audition. They said it was amazing but, “You’ve got to come back and do it as a blonde” because that’s the only way that we’re going to really sell you as Sabrina. I dyed my hair blonde and did the thing all over again and then waited.
When you go back after you dye your hair are you in pins and needles the night before? Like, “This is a really big deal”?
SHIPKA: Yeah. To a certain extent I think I’ve tried to train myself to not dive too deep into things, or get my hopes too way up, because the fear of disappointment and whatnot is only natural. At the same time, sometimes you can’t resist. I just became so obsessed with the project and so just hellbent on doing it. I was pretty confident throughout the process, but then the second that my audition ended I went into straight denial I think as a coping mechanism for all the stress. It was like, “Oh, yeah. That was fun. I’m not getting it or anything. That’s completely over. I’ll never play that character again in my entire life. Fine. Whatever. It was a good time.” Then two days later …
That’s what I wanted to know. You only had to wait two days to find out?
SHIPKA: I think I did it on a Tuesday and I got it on a Friday. Yeah.
That has to be the greatest phone call.
SHIPKA: I was at the orthopedist and I was in the waiting room. It definitely made my hip flexor feel a lot better.
How long did you have to keep the secret before it got out?
SHIPKA: A good month.
SHIPKA: Yeah. It was right before Christmas. We went away for the holidays, and everyone’s like, “How are you doing?” I’m like, “I’m great. How are you?” They’re like, “Oh, really? Anything in particular?” “No, no, no. Just, you know, living the dream.” It was fun.
How much are you begging people for a Sabrina/Riverdale crossover?
SHIPKA: You know what? It’s so funny because I would be so down. I’m a big Riverdale geek myself so I think it would just be super fun. I don’t know as a fan of both the shows how exactly a crossover would work in a logical way that feels right and natural, but oh my God, I would kill to see Archie and Sabrina just have a random run-in. I just think little things like that can be really funny and satisfying.