Not Your Typical Taryn Manning

Taryn Manning is the queen of the long, drawn-out pause. When you watch her chomp on her gum and stare back at Terrence Howard with lazy eyes in Hustle and Flow, you can almost see the gears turning underneath her cornrows. When she fights with co-star Eminem in the film 8 Mile, behind her eyes the insults are forming before they spill out of her mouth. Now, in Orange is the New Black, Taryn speaks before she thinks as Pennsatucky, a holier-than-thou-or-anybody-else prison inmate who sees an opportunity and runs with it… all the way behind bars.

Taryn arrives to Milk wearing sunglasses as big as television sets while her dog "Penguin" scurries to lead her into the room. In real life, Taryn is short and sweet at 5’2". She’s polite when she introduces herself and when she talks to me she puts her hand on my shoulder like we’ve been friends for years. She may be nothing like her character Pennsatucky, but Taryn plays the part of the troubled girl from the trailer park so well that you’d almost think that she must be pulling from memory, but the actress denies it.

"I don’t know where it comes from really," she says. "I grew up with a loving mom and an awesome brother and feel like I am a pretty well-traveled and well-read person, so for a long time I hated always getting auditions for these same types of roles."

Taryn may have fought against being typecast as a trailer born, salt-of-the-earth kind of girl, but in the end she realized coming to terms with her ability to bring to life that type of character would make her happier in the long run.

"I dunno… It seemed like for a long time that I was only getting offered to play hookers and I was like ‘Why? I already did that. Don’t these directors want to be creative and discover a new talent?’ So I started to go really against it and turn down a bunch of stuff ’cause I was so angry about being type cast. I mean… I’m actually very smart and grew up with a great and loving mother. I felt like people must think I’m some kind of drug addict or something. I wanted to play the girl next door for a while. I wanted to play the good girl – and to be honest, I played those parts and I got bored. I actually get to play cool characters and I finally embraced that."

In Orange is the New Black, Taryn plays the unlikely vessel for the word of God, Pennsatucky, whose dental hygiene reeks of a meth addiction. She makes jail a living hell for main character Piper Chapman while reciting verses from the Bible. Her role in the Netflix Original Series gleams with both comedy and tragedy.

"Playing Pennsatucky has been such an awesome experience," she says. "Jenji [show creator Jenji Kohan] came to set one day and told me she had wrote the character to just be mean… just plain mean, but I really wanted to give her more dimension than that. I just felt like it would be boring to play a Bible thumping, one-dimensional girl. You know, when I got to set and they put my makeup on and I had my fake teeth in, I saw myself in the mirror and thought ‘Alright… okay… If we’re going all the way than I am going to go all the way. I’m going to take this character and just keep going with it, you know?"

Outside of acting, Taryn has also been involved in music from an early age and has recently made it high in the dance charts with her song "Send Me Your Love," and she continues to DJ large venues.

"I started DJing when I was 19 and then my brother Kellin and I got a record deal with our band Boomkat. It was always my brother teaching me and influencing me and my taste in music. So we got signed and I learned guitar and worked on my voice. I stopped acting for a bit and was like ‘I’m a rockstar!’ [laughs] and did that until we just couldn’t keep going. I love DJing and everything but I could take it or leave it. I don’t have to do it. What I do have to do is write music. I have to get stuff out."

The stark difference between who Taryn plays on screen and who Taryn is in real life was even better seen at Milk when I watched her walk out of hair and makeup. She wore a nude-colored dress with bright red lips and a ponytail hanging to one side. She’s beautiful. A fact that is easily overlooked when she is wearing a camel-colored jump suit on the show. Taryn’s outward beauty is only enhanced by the fact that she’s such a cool human being. When she talks of the success she’s had, she speaks with humility and gratitude. She takes time on social media to speak with her fans and answer their questions and does her best to inspire people to fulfill their dreams.

"It sounds so corny but I could tear up thinking about how grateful I am to be where I am at and have the opportunities I have," Taryn says. "To be honest, I should really just happy to be alive at this point [laughs]. But you know, the truth is I’ve earned this. I’ve earned this moment in my life and really, all it really is is a moment. It could be gone tomorrow and so I am grateful and I just want to express that to everyone. I feel like this same moment should belong to everyone and it can belong to anyone that goes after it, and I support that. I’m not a hater. I support a winning spirit. You know, I have been at the bottom of the fucking pit and I had to climb back up. So I just want everyone to know that they could do that too. It’s not that far away."

It may sometimes feel just like a moment for Taryn, but with the success of Orange is the New Black (the show was picked up for a second season prior to it even being released on Netflix), I don’t think we need to start the countdown on her fifteen minutes of fame just yet.

Photos By: Koury Angelo

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