Teyonah Parris is nothing like Dawn Chambers, the shy, quiet administrative assistant she plays on AMC’s “Mad Men.” We first met Dawn — Don Draper’s newest secretary — in the episode “Tea Leaves,” but her character was fleshed out and given more of a chance to dazzle viewers in Sunday’s (April 8) episode, “Mystery Date.”
The Juillard-trained actress’ role may be small so far, but she’s playing a huge role in the story’s arc — single-handedly integrating the offices of Sterling Cooper Draper Price. But, she tells Zap2it, she’s a big fan of period acting pieces so she jumped at the chance to be a part of “Mad Men” and try on the 1960s.
“I talked to my grandmother,” Parris says of her preparation for the Civil Rights-era setting. “She was actually working in an office back then. She didn’t really want to talk about it, but I did get some things from her that I was able to use and take with me.”
She continues: “The thing she mainly said was like it wasn’t as bad. It wasn’t as awkward going into work. It was [already] integrated — it’s not like she was down south; she was in Manhattan. She said, ‘We worked with these people, they worked with us, we talked, it wasn’t anything weird.’ You imagine it would be very dramatic … She said had she been down south it would’ve been a very different world.”
Parris says she had a harder time getting into her Dawn’s ’60s trappings than she did getting into character.
“Those pointy bras, I had to get used to them,” she says.
“I tried on so many wigs and they were so funny,” she adds. “They were bigger, more swooped over, smaller, closer to my face. It was a lot of fun to learn about this character with them. Though pinning my hair down — I have a lot — to get that little wig on top; now that was not the most fun. But it was cute afterwards.”
Still, she says any discomfort was worth it.
“I didn’t know a lot about this character,” she says. “I had to take clues from things about my clothes or my hair or my outfit. My character comes in the first episode and has a skirt below her knees that is wool fully covered with ruffles. That says a lot to me about who she is.”
Parris previously guest-starred on “The Good Wife” and appeared in the Reese Witherspoon movie “How Do You Know” in addition to doing stage work in New York.
“Mad Men” airs Sundays on AMC at 10 p.m. ET.