She left Orange is the New Black fans clutching their crucifixes at the end of Season One, but this pint-sized powerhouse’s real strength lies in her ability to encapsulate every role she encounters.
Remember when Britney Spears took a stab at acting in 2002? Chances are film executives didn’t predict either of her Crossroads co-stars climbing to the A-list years later. While Zoe Saldana continues to make bank in Hollywood blockbusters, Taryn Manning has built one of the most colorful, daring and unpredictable resumes in the entertainment industry. Anchored by a knack for the unconventional and commitment to every character she portrays, the West Coast native has always used her universal appeal to her advantage. Whether it be a micro-braided prostitute (Hustle and Flow), rapper’s ex-girlfriend (8 Mile) or free-spirited romantic (Jack and Jill vs. the World), Manning’s past roles practically honed her for a scary good turn as Tiffany “Pennsatucky” Doggett on Orange is the New Black.
Bible-totin’, God-fearing and downright frightening, there is nothing nice about this inmate, including her teeth. Alongside her fellow cross-bearing allies, Pennsatucky’s demeanor frequently straddles the line between humorous and offensive, a testament to both the Orange writers and Manning’s nearly flawless execution. While many of the OITNB stars’ roles are clearly defined, Taryn has the fortune of experimenting with a woman whose backstory is as erratic as her daily encounters with Taylor Schilling’s Piper Chapman.
Naturally, we assume actors that take on “odd” roles are just that behind-the-scenes. With moccasins on her feet, heels in hand and larger-than-life shades masking her face, normalcy is the first thing that comes to mind when Taryn casually arrives for our interview. Cool as a menthol, she lights up gushing about her love for animals, fashion and even Buddhist chanting. A self-proclaimed “girly girl” and family fanatic, Manning is probably one of the most misread actresses in Hollywood. Amongst her OITNB co-stars weeks later she’s soft-spoken, ethereal—the first to hand out hugs.
You think you know, but you have no idea. Prepare to fall in love with the real Taryn.
This has to be one of your most successful gigs to date.
It’s a different type of format of a show. I think the platform is super unique and I think that lends to why it’s having a different type of success because it’s more accessible to people in their household.
How crazy does Pennsatucky look on paper?
When I first read it, my immediate reaction to my manager was that it would be so much fun because she’s so crazy. But as time went on and some of the content they were writing, I really had some moments of moral conflict between the character and my real beliefs. As Taryn, I’m not racist or anti-gay. She’s a total walking contradiction because she’s religious, but doesn’t like anybody. She’s so radical in her beliefs, so I’ve just committed my heart and self to that fact that it’s just a role.
How do you effectively play a meth addict without actually doing drugs?
They’re some actors out there are stupid. They’re so method that they’ll go try a drug to really feel the feeling and I don’t know if I have time to perhaps overdose or put powder up my nose. There’s actually a lot of documentaries about meth and meth users. There was one I saw recently that went into all the ingredients and that helped me shape sort of why my character’s so crazy because if she’s been using this drug for as long as she has…I have the list in my phone. I’ll read it to people just to trip them out. It’s everything from Drano to ammonia and brake cleaner.
Photo Credit: Jasmine L. Gonzalez
Religion is a big part of Pennsatucky’s life. What are your beliefs?
One very cool thing about playing this role is because of all the research that I did like going to church. I’d been to church my whole life, but I’m not a Christian. But, in doing this, I’ve gotten more connected to God, so there’s been a source that speaks to me. I’ve always been very spiritual and even with my friends I can get kind of preachy and on one about whatever it is I believe in, so it’s funny that I ended up with this role.
Have you seen any of the memes floating around?
I see them everywhere. I think it’s hilarious. I saw a Miley Cyrus one before I knew about all the [VMA] controversy. But, I give it up to her. I respect people who have courage and whether the world agrees with it or not, I still love that she’s committed to the ratchet pop thing she’s doing.
Do you relate in any way to your character?
I do. I feel one way I relate to her is that she’s kind of ostracized and left out in a way and I can relate to being around a big group of women. Even junior high, I can remember having a lot of friends, but there was always somebody wanting to bully somebody. This role has shown me so much and inspired me to want to go speak to youth about feeling that way. I mean, she brings it on herself because she’s such an asshole (laughs), but at the same time, I feel like I’ve found the compassion in her and there’s something deeper going on with her. Slowly she gets broken down and realizes she’s not as tough as she thinks she is.
Photo Credit: Jasmine L. Gonzalez
You’re also a successful DJ and musician. What kind of music would be on Pennsatucky’s playlist?
Have you seen the one meme that’s like “up all night to get tucky?” (laughs). That one kills me. That’s a good question. She’s been in jail for a long time, so I’m sure it’d be a little dated. It’d be stuff people would not assume like really bad Shania Twain or Celine Dion.
If you could have any musician guest star, who would it be?
Actually, I think we have someone coming.
Really? Who is it?
I don’t think I can say! I can’t say for sure if it’s a musician, but there are definitely new characters. But, girl wise, it’d be funny to have Lil Kim on there or it would be awesome if Iggy Azalea cruised in and joined my team.
How do you balance music and acting? Do you prefer one over the other?
I am very serious about music, but acting is a big part of my life, so I work my music around that. Sometimes it gets tricky and I have to pass up on a lot of DJ gigs because of filming, but it’s still a fun life to be able to do all of this. Right now, I love this role so much because I finally feel like I’m being challenged. I don’t prefer one over the other. I just prefer the one that’s stimulating me the most at the time.
Photo Credit: Nicholas Nichols
You’re often described as being a victim of typecasting. Do you think that’s why people assume so much about your personal life?
I think the misconceptions come from the roles I play. Typecasting is a real deal thing and I don’t mind it. Sometimes I’ve been frustrated, but honestly I think people would trip out if they knew how different I was from the roles I play. I’ve been told I’m pretty intelligent and well read and spoken and a really hard worker. I love animals and family’s number one to me. And I’m actually really mellow and into chanting and meditating in Buddhism. Some of the girls on the show, their friends ask them, “So that one chick on the show, is she just nuts in real life.” That’s interesting to me because I’m shy in real life, but grateful that when the camera goes on and someone yells “action,” something comes out of me. All egos and fear are put aside.
Is there such thing as a good typecast?
I think there is such thing as a good typecast. I remember there was a time in my career where I became very frustrated. I was in my mid twenties and I started to turn roles down, but then there was no work. And I ended up doing a role where I was the girl next door and it was kind of boring and I wanted those colorful, layered characters back. So now I embrace it.
Photo Credit: Jasmine L. Gonzalez
Will you ever do another romantic comedy?
Definitely. Deep down, I’m a total girl. I love love and to fall in love. My heart’s been broken several times and I think I could tap into that side of me and do a really good job.
I see you have your heels with you. What is your personal style?
I don’t care what label it is; it’s cute and I like it (laughs). Anything from like an H&M or lower price point. Obviously, sometimes I put on dresses that are very high end and I get the whole thing just because of the way they fit your body- they’re sensational. I’m so impressed by so many designers. It’s such a hard industry and I had a line for six years, so I have a lot of respect for designers.
It leans toward the casual side. I’m told I’m pretty rock and roll with my style; maybe a little grungy. But, if you put me in a dress and do my hair and make-up- I love it. I’m just lazy sometimes (laughs).
So you’re ok with not wearing a lot of makeup on the OITNB set?
I don’t get any makeup. I get teeth (laughs). I can’t even look in the mirror. I’m “Ok, yup. She looks great.” All of the girls have called it a life changing experience not having makeup or having to worry about a wardrobe. And because of it, everyone’s really dove in, even to the point where I’ve heard little things like “I haven’t shaved my armpits in two months” or “I haven’t gotten a waxing. (laughs)” It’s been liberating.