Sola Bamis of ‘Mad Men’: Former pre-med student followed her dreams

Suffering racist secretary-draughts … Shirley (Sola Bamis) and Dawn (Teyonah Parris).

Actress Sola Bamis debuted on AMC’s critically-acclaimed drama series “Mad Men” last season, and the beautiful Nigerian-American actress has seen her star rise over the last few months. As Peggy Olson’s patient secretary Shirley, Bamis has become a part of one of the most revered ensembles on television. She shared her journey with rolling out and revealed just how many twists her path included.

“I actually didn’t watch ‘Mad Men’ before I auditioned for the show,” Bamis admits. “But I knew it was a big deal.

“I left the room thinking it was a fun experience but I [didn’t] know if I’d gotten it,” she recalls about her audition for the part. “This was ‘I don’t know. I have no idea [if I got the part] but that was fun.’ Sure enough, I got a call the next day from agent [saying] they liked me a lot.”

Bamis grew up in Florida and attended the University of Miami, where she was named Miss University of Miami in 2007. Acting was always her passion, but initially Bamis pursued a pre-med track at the behest of her family.

“I wanted to be a lawyer, actually, after high school,” Bamis shares. “[My sister] said ‘Just to cover your bases, since there are no prerequisites for law school but there are for medical school, prepare for medicine just in case you change your mind. Be pre-med and you can always go to law school if you want to.'”

She pursued that path for as long as she could, but eventually her passion for acting took over and she decided to drop the bomb on her family that she wasn’t going to be a doctor or a lawyer–she was going to Hollywood.

“My senior year, I was like ‘I can’t do this anymore!'” she recalls. “I told my parents that I didn’t want to go to medical school anymore. I took a year off and [went] to graduate school for acting. At first they were like ‘You’ve got to be kidding,’ but they acquiesced.”

“My parents are Nigerian immigrants — and as many people know with Nigerian parents in the U.S., you’re going to become a doctor or an engineer or a business person,” she adds with a laugh. “It was a difficult conversation, but they came around and they support me in every single way. I couldn’t be blessed with better parents.”

Upon arriving in Hollywood, the starlet learned quickly just how demanding Tinseltown can be for a young, aspiring actress.

“Anything can be stressful, but I think there’s an added something to it in the industry because [an opportunity] can be based on anything and nothing,” she says. “You can be chosen because you walked in with a certain shoe on a certain day! It’s not a meritocracy.”

But as she committed herself to her career, doors began to open. She’s starred in a production of “In the Blood,” and in the indie film Women Killers, but landing the role of Shirley on “Mad Men,” was the big leap forward for Bamis.

“It’s been a very fun experience, but also very professional,” says Bamis of her time on “Mad Men.” “They’re very focused on the work and such attention to detail — which [executive producer] Matt Weiner is all about and I love that. And [the clothes] are the best thing ever! If I could go back to any time, that would be it. I’ve always wanted to wear the big Afro!”

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