[EXCLUSIVE] Teyonah Parris: The Black Woman Among 'Mad Men'

[EXCLUSIVE] Teyonah Parris: The Black Woman Among 'Mad Men'

AMC's hit dramatic series casts the first African-American in the all-white Sterling Cooper Draper Price agency. Parris speaks exclusively with EBONY on Hollywood, race, and her new place in it all

by Darren Sands, April 13, 2012

[EXCLUSIVE] Teyonah Parris: The Black Woman Among 'Mad Men'

also has her own issues. When the purse thing happens, I think maybe Dawn realizes she let her guard down a little too much. And then it’s, like, “Oooooh, right. I thought I had somebody here, but maybe I have to reinvestigate that.”

EBONY.com: Do you think she’s more aware of her race or her gender at SCDP?

Teyonah Parris: I think for Dawn, it’s her race. And then that she’s a woman on top of that. It’s not necessarily because she’s thinking about it, but more so because everyone else is thinking. Like when Harry Crane came to her desk and says that it’s kind of hard to tell who’s who (phonetically: Dawn/Don) around the office. He’s saying that it’s awkward because Don’s White and you’re Black, that kind of thing. Dawn’s thinking, “Well y’all keep reminding me that I’m Black!” So I definitely think it’s race first and then gender.

EBONY.com: When Peggy asks her if she wants to be a copywriter, do you think Dawn is being genuine with her answer? (“No, I like my job.”)

Teyonah Parris: I have an answer for that, but I would rather people form their own opinion at this point —as to whether she’s being genuine or not.

EBONY.com: “Mad Men” is known for its fashion. Do you have a favorite outfit that you’ve worn on the show so far?

Teyonah Parris: The first episode I wore this plaid skirt with this beige ruffled shirt. I really liked that skirt —even though it’s all the way down to my ankles [Laughs]—I just love that skirt. It’s this heavy, almost wool-ish skirt. I don’t even know that people can see it, but I know I have it on.

EBONY.com: If you could pick one person’s wardrobe from the show who would it be?

Teyonah Parris: Well the first person that comes to mind is Christina Hendricks, but that’s probably more so because she rocks the hell out of what she actually wears. Give me those curves, too [Laughs]! But her clothes aren’t going to look the same on me.

EBONY.com: You went to the prestigious Juilliard School in Manhattan, do you remember your audition?

Teyonah Parris: This is asking me to go waaaay back. My dad— bless his soul — drove me all the way up there from South Carolina. He said, “If that’s what you want to do, baby, we’re gonna go do it.” So we took that trip. It really was a madhouse. I got there at 8 a.m. and I didn’t leave until probably 2 a.m. It was a good thing because I kept making it to the next round, and I was exhausted by the end. I had my whole family in the lobby waiting for me. But we got it done. I was happy when I left the audition; maybe two months later I got the acceptance.

EBONY.com: You were featured alongside Reese Witherspoon in your first feature How Do You Know. It didn’t do as well as projected but what did you learn in that process?

Teyonah Parris: I had just gotten out of Juilliard and was terribly nervous about being on a set. I had never done a professional film or television gig…ever. So, to this day I'm so grateful that James L. Brooks trusted me enough with the role having no film credits to my name at the time to play opposite an Academy Award Winning actress. I was such a technical/logistics sponge on this set. I was and still am curious about everything. And I'm never too shy to ask questions so I did a lot of that! This was also my first experience of what it means to "get left on the cutting room floor" and how the finished product can morph, evolve, and change after editing. So, what I took away from this project is that all I really can do is try my best to tell this character's story and what happens after that I really have no control over. I always make sure I've done my best to share their story.

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