Meet Taryn Manning
Actress/musician Taryn Manning has steadily created a screen presence that has rightfully turned her into one of Hollywood’s most respected stars. These days Netflix’s Orange Is The New Black has been home for Manning, playing the dark, yet lovable Pennsatucky. The popular series addresses all of the taboo topics one could possibly think of…and that’s just one episode!
Taryn’s rise to fame began with her stunning critically acclaimed debut performance in the film Crazy/Beautiful. The actress followed with powerful roles in 8 Mile, Hustle and Flow, Cold Mountain, White Oleander, and the TV series Sons of Anarchy, just to name a few.
Besides remarkable acting skills, this multi-talented dynamo is an electronic-pop recording artist, a fashion designer for her label Born Uniqorn, and an athlete who holds the Arizona State Championship title in karate.
Orange Is The New Black has its funny moments, but for the most part, it’s pretty dark and really sad.
It definitely has some hard content, and sad content too. It’s very eye opening with how differently people deal with these kinds of things. I do believe the real Pennsatucky is actually a real sweetheart; she’s just been in jail and is hardened. It was surprising to see all of the different colors of her. She’s really funny, and maybe after spending a considerate amount of time sober, that’s where this new person is coming from. She’s no longer using and her new friend Big Boo has sort of made her deal with things differently.
In one episode we see Pennsatucky experience two traumatic sexual attacks at different times in her life, both played out in one episode. How did you approach those scenes?
Yeah, I guess you’re right. I didn’t think about [there being two rape scenes in one episode]. I approached them in a way that comes from her upbringing. If you notice, the way her mother taught her about sex and having her period, sometimes what we teach our kids is maybe things that we went through. And it just goes down and down and down the line – somewhere along the way, someone’s gotta break the cycle. So you have this girl that’s been on meth – which is a pretty heavy, serious drug – and I think there’s a two-part thing going on here: (1) You see her fall into the pattern of how she was dealt with as a kid, and (2) you also see a girl that’s kind of disappointed. I got the sense that she really started to form a crush on him [Officer Coates]. I don’t even know if it was a crush, but I think she was really enjoying him and was then just hurt by this. It was sad, and I just feel like sometimes less is more. For me, you don’t need to see the kicking and the screaming, I think that’s shown by [her] checking out [while being raped]. It’s a mechanism for people who are abused.
I think a big part of Pennsatucky’s purpose in jail is to finally find someone who genuinely loves her and who treats her the way she deserves to be treated, like her ex-boyfriend – whom we meet in a flashback – once did. Is that why she even tries to start a relationship with Coates?
I think she found herself over time having a crush on him because they take these van rides together and they have this funny banter. It just happened, and she very quickly tried to put up a boundary because I think she really revered her job as a van driver and has gotten out of trouble. She had a bit of a purpose there and did a really good job of showing the new girls around the facility. She felt so good about her job. She even goes to apologize to him and is like, “I’m sorry I acted like that” [after she gives him the cold shoulder]. There’s some remorse there and it’s genuine. I think it just comes from being knocked down, literally, being beat up and all these types of things. It kind of got her good. She’s come a long way.
Yeah, I think the Pennsatucky of season one may have gone through with Big Boo’s revenge plot to sodomize Coates after they drugged him. But we see her really come to terms with who she is as a person and what she wants her life to become. Were you surprised she didn’t stoop to his level of violence?
No, because I think she really liked this guy. She’s still processing it too. What she does now – I don’t know if she’s gonna get revenge. I personally don’t see it, but you never know with this show what the heck they’re gonna do.
Well, after Pennsatucky fakes a seizure to get relieved of van duty and away from Coates, both she and Big Boo see that Maritza has been picked as the new driver. We have to assume that she’s now in danger too. Do you think Pennsatucky will report Coates next season?
I don’t think she’s a snitch anymore. Or, at least, I don’t want her to be.
Even if it’s to protect another inmate from that kind of pain?
I don’t really know where her moral compass is right now. I think she might still have feelings [for Coates], I’m not gonna lie. I don’t think she totally understands that that was completely wrong. I’m not saying that she’s stupid, I just think that sometimes we make excuses for people when we like them. And we’ll take abuse or do things that we wouldn’t normally do because of, I don’t know, the way we were raised. We hear ourselves thinking, “Oh, he didn’t mean it like that.” I expect to see a little more conflict in her heart. But I think out of jealousy, maybe, she might rat on him because she doesn’t want him to be with anybody else. I don’t really think she’s that mad, though. She’s still sad, but I hope she does the right thing. I just don’t know if he’s gonna do that to anybody else.
One scene that was particularly uncomfortable to watch was when we begin to realize that something’s off with Coates. They’re at the lake, and things start off so innocent and playful, but then it escalates to him treating Pennsatucky like a dog in a bit of role-playing, and then him forcing himself on her for the first time. How did you read that scene?
At first she thought it was fun, until the second time around, when it wasn’t so funny. At the van, she’s a little standoffish, but she apologizes for it because I think she was having a good time. When he makes her go on her hands and knees, though, that’s when it got weird. And, you know, everybody has weird fetishes – so do girls – so maybe that’s just something in him that he’s always wanted to do with a girl. People are weird.
Pennsatucky and Big Boo have a very strong bond. They’re basically each other’s only friend in prison. What’s it like doing those scenes with Lea DeLaria?
Oh, I love it. We’re actually really good friends in real life, so we have a great onscreen chemistry. I really have a lot of fun working with her.
You seem to be the kind of actor who doesn’t go for the money, but rather the quality of the work. Would that be fair to say? Much of what you do is edgy roles.
I’ve attempted to be in bigger studio films and I’ve done a handful of them, but I definitely gravitate towards quirkier, first-time director type roles. In the indie world, it’s like it’s our film: everyone has a piece of themselves in it. It’s very collaborative, whereas when you do a studio film there’s a lot of studio people involved and you can just see them all stressing out. The artistry of it is taken away because there are such big budgets and everything is riding on it. It’s hard to work under those conditions sometimes.
I read that your dream role would be a “Moulin Rouge” type of role where it’s a big production musical and you’re the star. True?
Oh yeah! Then I can really show people what I’ve trained to do for so long in one picture. I love musicals and I love dancing so much.
You had success with your group Boomkat. Does the group still record?
We actually have a whole record we’re ready to finish recording. We just have to get into the studio and lay down the vocals and it’s done. It’s really awesome!
You have a history of being in the Top 100 sexy list of men’s magazines. Do you care about those titles?
I don’t care about that at all. That’s all flattering, but that’s not anything I care about. If anything I’m trying to move away from those kind of men’s magazine. I just feel I’m a little beyond that. I would rather do quality features in smaller magazines.
How do you feel about reality TV and the overnight stars it spawns?
I’m happy for them. I’m happy for anyone who becomes successful, but what saddens me is that there’s so much reality TV that it has cut down on the shows that actors can be on. Also, when a reality star gets a big film it’s a little frustrating because are they really trained actors? I mean, there are so many people who want it so bad and are so passionate about the craft of acting, but then you have these people who become an overnight sensation. It’s like I said, I’m happy for them. It’s obviously in their stars to become known, but it’s definitely frustrating because it’s taking away a lot of opportunities for us actors.
Is music therapy for you?
Yeah, it really is. When Aaliyah died when I was really young I wrote a song about her. What’s crazy about it is that it can happen to you. Life is so super fragile. I guess it’s a reminder to enjoy it as much as we can.
Is it true you were a state champion in karate?
Can you still kick ass?
(Laughs) Not so much anymore. I could when I was a preteen. I still know the scales and my disciplines. I’m just not up to speed. However, I know my kicks and my punches.
Any guilty pleasures?
Ummm, Haagen Daz coffee ice cream. Is that a good one? I love it!
Finally, if there was one person you could star opposite of in a film, who would it be?
There’s one person I’ve always wanted to work with and that’s Jim Carrey. I want to do some comedy and be around that level of comedian. He’s such a riot. He puts me in a good mood when I’m down. I’ll just pop in one of his films and I feel great. He’s such a fool but in the best way. Just thinking about his faces makes me laugh.
I think it’s weird when he gets all serious.
That’s like Ben Stiller in “Permanent Midnight” when he started to get all serious. I agree, it throws you off. I’m like, “Jim, no, come back!” But he’s the best. I’ve also been a Sean Penn fan for years.
He’s too serious for me.
Yeah, but I feel like I could hold my own.