Meet Teyonah Parris

The Mad Men actress on playing Don Draper’s secretary, Dawn Chambers, and her proud lineage of executive assistant work

PHOTOGRAPH BY JEFF MINTON FOR BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEK

What’s it like being the first black employee at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce?

I got the audition for an “African American co-star” on Mad Men, which I figured meant someone with one or two lines. That’s it. After I got the job, I realized I was Don Draper’s new secretary and that I’d be integrating their office, which was really exciting. But I still didn’t know how long she’d last — Don cycles through his secretaries pretty quickly.

How much research about the era did you do?

My grandmother was a secretary in the ’60s in New York City, and she was the only black woman in her office. She told me, “We showed up to work, we did what we had to do, and we went home. We didn’t think about it too much.” To have that to inform my character was amazing.

Did you have to learn how to type?

My mother is a secretary, so I’d been around secretarial work my whole life. I honestly don’t think it’s much different now than it was then — you organize, you call people, you keep the schedule. Sure, they had rotary phones, and I did have to learn how to load the typewriter with paper.

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