7:47 pm - 04/21/2014

‘Mad Men’s’ Teyonah Parris on Dawn’s Roller-Coaster Episode

In last night’s episode of Mad Men, a swift turn of events placed Don Draper’s African-American secretary in a power position few (especially Bert Cooper!) could have predicted: Dawn Chambers is now SC&P’s office manager, effectively becoming Joan Harris in a smart blazer and hoop earrings, with a tart tongue to match. While Joan moved into an account management role more suited for her partnership status, Dawn’s ability to seamlessly juggle Don’s secrets and new boss Lou Avery’s nonstop belittling was finally rewarded at the end of the episode when she took her seat in Joan’s old office.

For Teyonah Parris, who has played Dawn since the start of Season 5, this episode was an actor’s dream come true, filled with meaty scenes and opportunities to show off Dawn’s strong side. Flavorwire got on the phone with her first thing this morning to chat about this major turn of events for her character.

Flavorwire: Congratulations! Dawn is now the office manager at Sterling Cooper & Partners! That is awesome!

Teyonah Parris: YES! It is, it is!

What went through your mind when you first got this script? Dawn has had some juicy scenes before, but nothing like this.

Well, while I was reading it, I went through just as many emotions as the audience when they’re watching it. Because you just don’t know what happens, so first of all, I speak badly to Lou – I was like, “Oh, OK.” This is who she is, this is who she’s grown into. She’s become comfortable enough to do something like that. OK. She’s standing up for herself. And then [laughs] I get demoted to the front desk – I said, “Oh, God! All right, Dawn, good seeing you, we’ll never see you again!” Then when Bert comes in and says to Joan, “She can’t be up there,” I was like, “OK, she’s really going to get fired.” And to see her actually get a promotion after all of what she just went through, that was pretty awesome. And very emotionally draining. All those ups and downs. But it was so much fun to do, though!

I’m sure. Can you even pick a favorite scene of yours from this episode? You mouthed off to Lou, you had a hilarious interaction with the idiotic receptionist Meredith, you were playing office spy for Don…

Stephanie Drake, the actor who plays Meredith, she’s hilarious. She is so good as Meredith. We would be filming, and that was our first time getting to film together, and it was so hard to keep a straight face every time because she plays that kind of brainless, or, mind-of-a-child-type character so well. And I remember just busting out laughing while we were trying to do that scene because it was just so funny.

But I would say one of my favorite scenes, because I had many this episode, was the one in the kitchen with Shirley (Sola Bamis). That was fun – it felt like just a little peek into what we talk about, like [each of us] always being mistaken as the other one, and just making light of it, and you really get to see Dawn and Shirley both without having to have that filter of a smile.

On Twitter, I saw plenty of buzz for a Dawn-and-Shirley spin-off. Are you game?

Yes, I am all for that!

Now that Shirley is Lou’s secretary and Dawn has been promoted, do you think there’s going to be some friction between Dawn and Shirley?

I really don’t know. It’s always interesting when you go from being peers to someone’s superior, so it’s possible the relationship between Dawn and all the secretaries could change, and it’s possible that it could work to Dawn’s favor in knowing everything that the secretaries go through and maybe being able to handle it differently than Joan has in the past. I think what’s exciting is seeing, if they decide to address things like that, how they’ll handle it.

How would Dawn handle things differently than Joan?

I think it’s a little difficult to answer because I haven’t had the power that Joan has had. But even in the office where we’re addressing Lou, you see Joan as very much, “Let’s sit on this – let’s put everything through that filter of a smile. This is not the appropriate time.” And Dawn just kind of goes for it. And I think it was just so much happening – she’s working for two people and she’s doing a great job at both: she’s at Don’s house at all hours of the night just to give him information, to keep him abreast, and doing her entire job at the office, and buying perfume for her other boss’ wife. It’s just so much, and for Lou to flip out at Dawn for not being there [when Sally showed up] when she was out doing stuff for him, I don’t even think she thought about it. It was just that gut reaction [that] came out. That’s how Joan and Dawn are different.

Well, I think it worked in her favor. I think Joan saw something in her in that moment, and that’s what helped push her toward that promotion.

I think you’re right! I would agree with that! [Laughs.]

How has Dawn changed throughout the seasons?

I think when we first met Dawn she was a bit timid, and really, really you could almost physically see her keeping her head down, just trying to stay out of the way and do what was needed. And I think in the last three seasons now, we’ve watched her grow and she’s become a bit more comfortable in her skin as well as in this office. Now, since she first started, there are more black people there, so I think it’s been cool to see her, with the help of time and getting to know the people and the job, just ease into this role and be really good at it in an effortless way. I think she continues to excel at everything she does and juggle multiple balls, so to speak, and she does well with it. And it’s been fun to see her grow – now she’s able to go into her superior’s office and actually stick up for herself in a way that we haven’t really seen her do before. When she got in trouble with Joan last season, you just kind of see her tuck her tail and run to her girlfriend and spill everything to her. And now, here, this season, we see her actually standing up for herself. I think it’s really cool.

How do you think Bert Cooper is going to react to this new arrangement?

Well, people can’t see me from the other offices, so hopefully he’ll be OK with it [laughs].

shalmako 21st-Apr-2014 06:58 pm (UTC)
Finally something good happens. Happy for Joan too.
keepitcrispy 21st-Apr-2014 09:35 pm (UTC)
OT Where did you get your Ilana icon?
shalmako 21st-Apr-2014 10:01 pm (UTC)
beesknees7 made it for me in an old post. I don't have it linked and I don't remember what the post was for. :\
beesknees7 22nd-Apr-2014 12:19 am (UTC)
hey, i just got a notif for this thread. link to icons. same offer as i made to everyone else, if you have anything else you want iconed, i'm happy to do it. :)
flawedinsomniac 21st-Apr-2014 07:00 pm (UTC)
She's so cute and I really enjoyed the scenes with Dawn (and Shirley and Joan) last night. I wasn't a huge fan of the episode overall, but those were the shining moments for me!
miwa201 21st-Apr-2014 07:02 pm (UTC)
ugh wtf at cooper's comment. you could see joan was mad too (although now i'm just reminded of joan's awkward hug with dawn when mlk died).
i'm happy for dawn, at first i thought they were going to fire her. and shirley is great.
funk2funky 21st-Apr-2014 07:06 pm (UTC)
It's funny how his prejudiced view led to Dawn's career advancement though. Joan is the best kind of asshole when it comes to stuff like this.
spankmypirate 21st-Apr-2014 07:14 pm (UTC)
Especially when he said "people can actually see her from the elevator", omggg, I cringed. So awful.
siwpes 21st-Apr-2014 07:25 pm (UTC)
Cooper is such a fucking asshole, his aryan-rand-loving-weaboo ass needs to go away

Edited at 2014-04-21 07:26 pm (UTC)
caravels 21st-Apr-2014 07:05 pm (UTC)
she is a knockout irl. hate that frumpy mrs. brady wig she has on the show.
onyxobsidian 21st-Apr-2014 07:08 pm (UTC)
I need to catch up on this show.

violetsapphire 21st-Apr-2014 07:26 pm (UTC)
LMAO one of my favorite Joan moments.
ilouboutin 21st-Apr-2014 07:49 pm (UTC)
Image and video hosting by TinyPic
headcaseheidi 21st-Apr-2014 07:10 pm (UTC)
she was on FIRE last night and i'm so happy that she is finally office manager


koushiba 21st-Apr-2014 07:13 pm (UTC)
This was my favorite moment of all last night, that smile!
loveloy 21st-Apr-2014 08:25 pm (UTC)
Amazing <3
spankmypirate 21st-Apr-2014 07:11 pm (UTC)
LOL. I just made a Mad Men post about the treatment of race/gender and Mad Men.

Dawn and Shirley were about the only likeable characters in yesterday's ep, apart from Stan and Ginso. I was sooo happy for Dawn, about time imo!!!!

I have no idea wtf they are doing with Peggy, but I wanted to fucking shake her. GET THE FUCK OVER TED, JESUS CHRIST.

Edited at 2014-04-21 07:11 pm (UTC)
yummyhead2toe 21st-Apr-2014 07:13 pm (UTC)

tusiaczek87 21st-Apr-2014 07:13 pm (UTC)
Dawn <33333333333 and i am happy we also have Shirley now she is also great <3
spankmypirate 21st-Apr-2014 07:15 pm (UTC)
Also I would actively support Dawn and Shirley minisodes on Youtube or something, with scenes of the two just shit talking their bosses in the kitchen.

If I were Shirley, omg, I would be bitching out Peggy so hard.
siwpes 21st-Apr-2014 07:22 pm (UTC)
I demand a spin-off

Edited at 2014-04-21 07:22 pm (UTC)
eatincake 21st-Apr-2014 08:18 pm (UTC)
"I'm gettin her coffee, and i am takin my TIME"

backtoblack 21st-Apr-2014 07:17 pm (UTC)
This episode really made up for last week's meh fest. I enjoyed the victories, the cringeyness, and am hoping that Peggy's cranky stubbornness this episode means she gets refocused for next and hopefully even less Ted. Ted is the definitive basic bitch.
yonasmic 21st-Apr-2014 07:19 pm (UTC)
She is so so so so so good in DEAR WHITE PEOPLE.

God, I love that movie.
violetsapphire 21st-Apr-2014 07:27 pm (UTC)
OMG how do they fit all that hair under a wig?
ilouboutin 21st-Apr-2014 07:40 pm (UTC)
i think she wears a lot of pieces. her hair is BEAUTIFUL though.
treebraids 21st-Apr-2014 08:05 pm (UTC)
I think she wear hair pieces to achieve some styles. But, not a lot.
fauxkaren 21st-Apr-2014 07:27 pm (UTC)
Season 7 has already been such a marked improvement over season 6 that I felt inspired to do a rewatch of the show so I watched the pilot last night and it's so crazy how much things have changed since then.
ilouboutin 21st-Apr-2014 07:31 pm (UTC)
her wig just reminds me of a shirley chisolm. LMAO. but i love dawn and joan scenes. hopefully, she'll get a real storyline this scene.
britty_stitches 21st-Apr-2014 07:37 pm (UTC)
Haven't watched in awhile,but it's nice to see her character is beginning to have a positive storyline,albeit Im sure there's still a lot of negativity in how the other characters react to her.
palmsread 21st-Apr-2014 07:44 pm (UTC)
her in that first pic is absolutely stunning
rlmoonyk 21st-Apr-2014 07:56 pm (UTC)
wow she's pretty. that mad men wig does her no justicet
treebraids 21st-Apr-2014 07:58 pm (UTC)
I just read this over at THR: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/live-feed/mad-men-teyonah-parris-dawns-697892

Apparently, Matt said she is the new Joan! (At least for this episode)...... so many feelings! Hope we get to see more of her kicking ass around the office especially since she still had dealings with Don. I thought she was rather joan-ish at the start of the episode in the way she was dealing with Don.
liddlebins 21st-Apr-2014 08:00 pm (UTC)
i want my hair to look like hers in the first photo, god it's gorgeous
flyingpigs_live 21st-Apr-2014 08:09 pm (UTC)
i love herrr
xcollsangelx 21st-Apr-2014 08:21 pm (UTC)
I always thought Joan kinda looked at Dawn as her protegee.

treebraids 21st-Apr-2014 08:30 pm (UTC)
IA - her becoming the new joan has been brewing since Joan made her in charge of the time cards.
ellesmereisland 21st-Apr-2014 08:38 pm (UTC)
I echo the sentiment that the Dawn/Shirley/Joan storyline was the best part of last episode. And I actually think Shirley will have a much easier time with the new art director guy b/c I think they both want something more formal and sort of perfunctory from a working relationship (although he's obviously a racist dickhole, hopefully his shame/fear will keep him in check). I hope this isn't the last substantial story we get from Shirley and Dawn though. I need to see Office Manager Dawn in action! And Accounts Woman Joan!

Oh and the only weird things I noticed last night were that when Pete and his realtor ladyfriend were snooping in that office, their darkened silhouettes were extremely reminiscent of early Don and Betty. Is that supposed to be a weird parallel? And then, all this office in-fighting reminds me of when SCDP was breaking away from their evil British overlords. Are we going to actually see another permutation of this ad agency (which, boring)? Or are the individuals all just going to go their separate ways? I don't really want that either.
je_ne_sais_twat 21st-Apr-2014 09:41 pm (UTC)
dawn and shirley's posture change when that white secretary walked into the break area was too real. i can not understand peggy's meltdown over chowguhguh of all people. i mean, she had pete's child and saw him daily for years and never had anything close to this spin out. although i'm not rooting for her for several reasons, i want this ted hang up to go away.
prophecypro 21st-Apr-2014 10:01 pm (UTC)
The office manager that's gonna have to kick shit cause no one will listen to her initially. Make that change ma
canuckgirl33 21st-Apr-2014 11:47 pm (UTC)
Looks like I need to watch the show again
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