Taryn Manning: A Triple Threat Talent

For the last three decades, actress, producer, music artist, and songwriter, Taryn Manning, has been captivating audiences on screen and on stage.

She has appeared in such hit films as “Crossroads,” “8 Mile,” “Hustle and Flow,” and “Crazy/Beautiful,” as well as a myriad of TV shows. But it’s her scene-stealing role as Tiffany “Pennsatucky” Doggett in the wildly popular Netflix series, “Orange Is the New Black” (OITNB) that Taryn may be most recognized for.

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Within many of the projects she’s been a part of, the versatile actress has taken the complex characters she portrays to the next level, but admits at times it can wear her down. “I put so much of my heart and soul into a character, I wind up feeling bad after for a little bit,” she explains.

Two of her latest films, released this September, are perfect examples. “Karen” is a thriller about a racist woman who makes it her personal mission to displace the new Black family that has moved into the neighborhood. The second crime-thriller, “The Gateway,” delves into issues regarding community, racial harmony, drug trafficking, and families in crisis. Both films tap into a variety of deep social issues, allowing the actress to portray two different characters and deliver powerful performances in the process.

Underneath those multi-faceted roles lies a whole other side to the actress that may surprise even some of her most dedicated followers.

Growing up in a family of entertainers, Taryn was destined to find her way into the spotlight. As a kid, she was heavily involved in martial arts, a sport she says taught her discipline at a young age and stayed with her throughout her life.

What comes as a surprise to many is that she eventually made her way to the stage as a dancer, having trained at the Orange County Educational School of the Arts. “A lot of people don’t know I was a professional ballerina, and I’m pretty proud of that,” says Taryn.

Her creative side runs deep and her longevity in the entertainment industry is not just as an actor but as a successful singer, songwriter, and DJ. With multiple chart-topping hits on her resume, Taryn’s talents truly know no limit.

She currently has a list of films ready to hit the big screen, among them “Karen,” “The Gateway,” and “Every Last One of Them.” BELLA caught up with the actress to talk about all of her new projects along with the way in which music has influenced her life.

How did your passion for music develop?

My father and brother are both musicians. My dad was in about 15 different bands so I grew up around a ton of music. I’m also a younger sister to a brother and everything that he did was cool. He was all hip-hop, two turntables, and a microphone, so I grew up around a bunch of hip-hop and break dancing.

My brother and I formed a band, and I learned how to play guitar. We still mess around with stuff here and there; he’s amazing and so talented. My band, Boomkat, was signed to Dreamworks and had a good run. It was a lot of fun—we traveled the world touring. That was awesome.

What type of artists influenced you?

I grew up going to the roller-skating rink; I had a lot of energy. There was so much music—R&B, hip-hop, pop…everything from Michael Jackson, to Prince, Whitney Houston, and Cyndi Lauper. Then when I got older I was into Alanis Morissette, Fiona Apple, Hole, Oasis, and The Cure. I grew up around a lot of Motown, The Rolling Stones, and Janis Joplin. I kind of listen to everything. I just love music.

Are you currently working on some new stuff ?

Yes. I put out music independently now, and I have a bunch of songs I’m going to start releasing.

What’s your favorite style of music to create?

It’s a mixture. I’ll write some stuff on the guitar and then work with a producer that takes it and puts it in a whole different direction. That’s what’s awesome about songwriting. The fundamentals is a guitar or piano, then anything can happen from there.

I’m partial to dance music—I was a raver growing up. Dance music and EDM is very uplifting and positive. Even being somewhere like Coachella—you look around and everyone looks so happy, their hands are up—it’s spiritual to me.

When I started DJ’ing, and I did that heavily for years, I was contributing to that feeling, and it was rewarding. I prefer to play dance music; I just spin it the best.

You’ve said music was your gateway into acting. How so?

My brother and I started our band when I was 17, and I would do that after school and after dance class. I had moved to Hollywood to be a dancer, but all the while I was taking acting classes. I wasn’t totally into the dance scene up there, and I had this other thing I loved to do—acting—and I had my band. I was kind of doing everything.

Over the years you’ve portrayed a variety of different characters, some heavier than others. When stepping into a new role, how do you prepare?

As I’ve evolved, I’ve found new and different ways of doing things. Preparing is all different though. I’ll do everything from reading to studying. Acting has been great because I’ve learned so much stuff I would have never known.

I definitely do play complicated characters. I tend to get those roles easier, which can be challenging, like, can I just play a happy person?! I made a conscious effort to not take so many heavy roles because it does wear on me. There have been certain roles my friends and those close to me will see, and they’ll say, “You’re having a tough time shaking that.”

As I get older, I’m tired of dying, tired of killing myself, or seeing a fake drug. I don’t want to take myself too far out of what people are used to, but rather than play the patient in rehab, I’d rather play the counselor in the rehab facility, the one who helps people get better.

For seven seasons you were part of the insanely popular show, “Orange Is the New Black.” What was it like portraying Pennsatucky?

When we first saw her, she was a very one-dimensional, crappy person. We didn’t know what to think of this tyrant, and we learned over time what she had been through and why she acted the way she did. But she was still awful.

Over time, Jenji Kohan [OITNB’s writer/producer] started writing similar to who we are as people—not spot-on—but there were similarities that started to integrate through our characters. The writing was spectacular, and the writers were so generous with me. Slowly, Pennsatucky started changing and the real humanity came out; she realized she was mortal. I think she could have done great out of prison. She had an amazing arc, and it taught me so much.

Away from the camera, you are a huge animal advocate, especially for the rescue community. What message would you like to share?

I support a couple of charities that spay and neuter animals. My whole thing is getting to the source of the problem. We can have adoptions and hope that these animals don’t get euthanized, but the amount of animals in the shelters is staggering, and it is so sad.

I think people have a misconception about how much it costs to get your animal spayed or neutered, so I try and educate people on that.

I also support senior dog rescue. I have two senior poodles, they’re called a bonded pair. They came together because one is blind. It’s sad because a lot of animals are neglected or abandoned when they get older and the vet bills kick in. I’ve done a lot of programs where we match up elderly humans with elderly pets, which is so rewarding. Matching them together is so precious.

I also have a cat, Thunderbird, who I rescued when I was working on OITNB. She was at a rescue and every time I went to get dog food I’d see her. I thought, I’ll get her out of there and figure out the next move; now cut to 10 years later. She just recently survived a coyote attack. People have to be aware because they jump higher than you realize, and they’re hungry right now. It happens quickly. Thankfully I got her to the ER in time and she made it.

You have a couple of new films in the works. One in particular, “Karen,” is a crime-thriller that tackles the issue of racism. How did you prepare for this particular role?

I think at this point we’ve all seen this in real life. Even in OITNB, a “Karen” is also known as a snitch. Those types of people don’t go over well in prison, so I knew what the prototype was. It wasn’t hard to study and research this one, unfortunately.

A lot of people have issues with this role, and I completely understand and empathize with all sides of the spectrum. It’s always hard to play something that is relevant to society— it’s so sensitive. But I don’t take on characters irresponsibly.

What did you take away from making the film? What do you hope others will take away?

One thing I took away form the experience—and not even just about the movie, but what we’ve been going through—is white privilege: It is real. My aunt married a Black man in the 1960s, which was very controversial at the time, and had kids. They are my immediate family and I am not prejudiced nor do I have a racist bone in my body, but I can see now so clearly privileges we’ve had as white people. It’s alarming and unfair. I stand with them, and they stand with me. Our hope is to make people more aware of the truth.

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