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Teyonah Parris says she really didn’t know what she was getting into when she auditioned for WandaVision. But the Marvel drama, part spoof of classic sitcom formulas and part heart-wrenching coda to the Avengers movies, may be an auspicious beginning to something much greater for the 33-year-old actress, who broke out with a recurring role on Mad Men and a starring role in the feature Dear White People. She’s taking the WandaVision part of Monica Rambeau, an agent who acquires mysterious powers during the course of the show, to the big screen in The Marvels — the sequel to the $1.1 billion-grossing Captain Marvel being directed by Nia DaCosta. But first, she’ll star for DaCosta in the spiritual sequel to the 1990s horror classic Candyman. She spoke with THR about her awkward introduction to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and what DaCosta will contribute to the franchise.
Tell me about your audition for WandaVision. I read you weren’t given much information about the part.
I knew it was Marvel, but that’s about it. I didn’t know the context, just the sides for what I now know was the scene between Monica, as Geraldine, and Wanda [Elizabeth Olsen], when Wanda’s water breaks and that stork was walking around, and the scene where Monica wakes up from the blip. Imagine being given those two scenes and told it’s the same character! I had no clue. So, I had to play broad sitcom and drama.
You’re reprising the character of Monica in The Marvels. Was the movie on the table when you auditioned?
From the jump, they were very clear that the projects they’re bringing to Disney+ would be seamlessly integrated into the feature world. Now, they did not say that my character would necessarily be going along with it. But I knew it wasn’t a stand-alone project.
For all of your TV work, your only comedy is Survivor’s Remorse. Did the sitcom scenes in WandaVision scratch that itch at all?
Yeah, Survivor’s Remorse was kind of dark for a comedy. I definitely got a taste of the sitcom world here, which was a first. I imagined it as a little closer to theater — which is the background I come from. For the ’50s episode of WandaVision, I was in the audience watching Paul [Bettany] and Lizzie [Olsen], and [in between scenes] they were talking about having butterflies and nerves. It seems exciting.
Did you ever audition for a sitcom?
Oh, I’m sure I did. (Laughs.) I can’t remember, but I’ve been in this game for a while, and it always popped off every pilot season.
Would you say you were a Marvel fan coming into this?
I hadn’t had any real experience with comic books, but as far as the MCU, I was definitely watching and enjoying. But I’m a casual viewer. I’m here to see things blow up and watch people fly. I’m not tracking the arcs and all of the history, nuh uh, that’s not me. (Laughs.)
Nia DaCosta, whom you worked with on Candyman, is directing The Marvels. What do you think she’ll bring to the project?
She has a very particular point of view. It’s young, it’s very fresh, and it’s very sure of itself. The type of filmmaker she is is very visually beautiful, and I’m excited to see how she integrates that into this very established universe.
You appeared on 22 episodes of Mad Men as Dawn Chambers, but I saw recently you said that you were never classified as recurring. Is that true?
Now, I was the recurring — because I recurred. (Laughs.) I never knew I was going to keep her recurring, though. That’s what I was saying.
So you just tried to keep the dance card empty for when Mad Men called?
Pretty much. It was my first time on a TV show, recurring, so I was so excited — but I just never knew what was in store for her or me. Am I coming back? Did she die? Was she fired?
What’s next for you?
I’d really like to get back to the theater. Also, I love just smart, independent stories — stuff that’s off the beaten path of what’s generally considered commercial.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
This story first appeared in a June stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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