Vixen Chat: Teyonah Parris Talks ‘Mad Men,’ Embarrassing First Impression and Natural Hair


VIBE VIXEN: Were you nervous when you got the gig or when you started to go on set?
TEYONAH PARRIS: There’s always that first day of school kind of jitters. For me, it usually manifests itself in some type of clumsiness, so I was very excited or giddy, that kind of thing. My first second on set, they’re like, ‘Okay Dawn come see your desk,’ [and] I go to the desk–which you guys see me at all the time–and I sit in the chair, but I miss the chair and the chair flips behind me. I was like, Ugh. [Laughs]

Wow! That’s a great first impression.
Yeah, everybody had a good laugh and were like, ‘It’s ok.’

Now outside of talking to your grandmother, how else did you prepare for the role of Dawn?
It was [listening to] more music definitely, but moreso than that, I wanted to get into the world of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, so it was marathon weekends of Mad Men. I had seen a few episodes but not all of them.

So you weren’t with the Mad Men mania prior to your role?
I had watched the show and enjoyed it but I wasn’t.

What were some of the things that stood out while you were watching all of  Mad Men?
This man (Don Draper) gets around. He definitely has a lot going on in the romantic area. He surely goes through a lot of secretaries, and I really found myself drawn to the story [and how] it’s just so settled. I was really drawn to that aspect of the show. It just seems so perfect and normal on the outside, but they all have this undercurrent rumbling in there.

You’re really drawn to the complexity of each character.
I think that’s what draws a lot of people to Mad Men mania, I would say.

When you were cast, where did you see your character going?
The breakdown for this character said African American, early 20s co-star. I thought I would be there maybe a day, maybe two and I had no clue in what capacity I was gonna be used. I didn’t know I was his secretary or anything, so once I got hired and I found out I was his secretary, I was like, Oh, okay.

Now, you’ve seen how the secretaries are with Draper…
Right, but I have no clue how long I’ll be here, so I don’t have any crazy expectations.

What were some of the top three lessons you learned from the other actors and working with everyone?
The other new actor Ben Feldman, we started on the same episode. He does a lot of television, so he and I would kinda talk and he just helped me learn very technical things.

You know, I come from a background of theatre, and in theatre, you got that one time when you’re up there. If you mess up or anything goes wrong, you have to find your way back to the scene and everything without skipping a beat. While filming Mad Men, it’s very rare that they’ll even use one whole take of anything. And I knew that before doing this, but it really hit home for me in doing this.

Which do you love better: the stage or the TV?
I love theatre. I like the immediate gratification or the you suck-ification of it [laughs]. With film, it’s just this whole waiting thing. I mean, it’s like you wait to get to set, once you’re on set, you’re waiting and you finish the project then you gotta wait some more. But at the same time, I love that cause it’s so different for me. It’s so different.