Things Are Changing: Mad Men Welcomes Its First Black Character

April 13, 2012  |  

After a 17-month hiatus, the show with a cult following is back and and has introduced its first non-white character. Meet Dawn Chambers, protagonist Don Draper’s new secretary and the fictional Sterling Cooper’s first black employee.

As the show is set in the 1960’s during race riots and protests, the fictional advertising company jokingly broadcasted itself as an equal opportunity employer. The result was the hiring of Dawn Chambers, played by Teyonnah Parris. The LA Times sat down with Parris to find out how she felt about her role on the show and what’s in store for the fifth season

“I realize a lot of responsibility comes with this role. It’s the first time the show has had an African American in the office, but I try not to let it overwhelm me,” Parris said to the LA Times.

Parris relayed that even in the audition, not much was released about her character. Creative director and executive producer Matt Weiner is so secretive about the script, Parris barely knows anything about the character she portrays.

“I didn’t come in expecting to change everything over night. I was OK with whatever they were giving me because I really had no clue. I wasn’t expecting much because they weren’t giving me much,” she said.

Parris first had to do a bit of catch up. As she says she is already familiar with the time period of the show, researching for the role focused more on catching up on Mad Man episodes. She admits that she was not up-to-date on all four seasons, and now as a member of the Mad Men cast, she is slowly becoming acquainted with its characters, including her own.

“You know, I didn’t even know how I got there. So when I watched the first episode of the season, I was watching with everybody else and I was like, ‘Oh, this is how Dawn gets into the office.’ I had no clue. I find things out with everyone too,” she said.

Viewers of the show can expect Dawn to have a bit of a rough transition into a majority white world, and Don Draper doesn’t immediately embrace his new African American assistant. But behind the scenes, Parris discloses that she is adjusting just fine.

You don’t see it on camera, but I felt like it happened off-camera as far as him welcoming me into this world,” Parris tells the LA Times of her introduction with the main character, played by actor Jon Hamm. “That experience happened with the real us, more than maybe it did between Don and Dawn.”

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