New Beginnings: Interview With Actress Taryn Manning

The Netflix hit, Orange Is The New Black bad girl Taryn Manning is, in fact, remarkably lovely and big-hearted! She was kind enough to take some time to chat with us recently about the show, her musical background and the ups and downs of life in general. One of the most candid and authentic celebrities we’ve had the pleasure of connecting with, she truly is the epitome of a star with versatility. One may not even recognize her from role to role and we wanted to showcase her inner “Crazy Unicorn”.

Taryn Manning: But it’s beautiful. I’m super grateful, I’m super disappointed a lot… It’s a challenging business full of daily obstacles.

Andrea Bell: No that’s the reality of promotion. Because when you are branding, if you are selling yourself as a brand, you want to be who you are. People will respond to that more. You don’t want to be generic.

Taryn Manning: Yeah, and that’s the beauty, the million dollar question…”What is the winning recipe?”… is true to just be who you are. Not acting like a fool or hurting people or anything. But I’ve had my share of difficulty. And at this point, it’s not like that. I’m feeling it’s my responsibility, being out there and being… not outspoken, not like Kanye style or anything, but I’ve been through it. We’ve been through it. So how about women just coming together, talking and not being so hateful, first and foremost, you know? How about being real in who we are.

Andrea Bell: Definitely.

(Writer/producer) Craig Brewer said, “There are some people who can put on trashy like a wardrobe, and Taryn can play those roles with dignity and earnestness.” How do you feel about that?

Taryn Manning: I think that what he was trying to say, and I hear that often, is that we are so judgemental as human beings. Even if it’s not coming out of our mouths, we can’t help but be, like, “you know that skirt would have looked better on…” You know, in our minds. We’re not saying it, but it’s an innate sort of thing. So I think what he is trying to say, is that if you get someone, who on the exterior, might appear in a way, or are living in a way that you don’t necessarily agree with, you don’t just go chopping them off as though they are no one’s daughter, no one’s sister… That’s the way I play my roles. They are not one dimensional. Sure, you see what’s on the exterior, but what’s on the interior? Maybe they are so full of abundance, curiosity. Maybe they want to learn, you know? I think it’s a little piece of me in there too. Even though with time I’ve been able to buy nicer clothes. What do you think he meant by that?

Andrea Bell: Well the thing that I had read just prior to that was about your childhood, and about you growing up in a “trailer park” and I thought, how much of… you know you hear actors all the time talking about being typecast or breaking out of a perspective, and I wondered how much of that was what you put into it and how much of it is what the industry is putting into it.

Taryn Manning: Well, the deal is, to be honest, is that I grew up in a mobile home park, and my dad was a beautiful man but wasn’t paying child support, and so my mom was a single mother. The complex wasn’t healthy, my brother’s bike was always being stolen, it was always about fighting financial hardship.  So there was another park down the way, not a trashy one. It was like a neighborhood. There was a pool, it was never a stereotypical “white trash” type thing. My mother really took care of it. It didn’t have the stigma attached to it. And I wouldn’t change living there. My mom made us a great home there.

Andrea Bell: That’s why I’m asking because being poor is hard, but not just because of the lack of money, it’s exhausting because of having to fight that stigma all the time.

Taryn Manning: Yeah, it makes you work harder. My rich friends, God bless them, we all moved out here at eighteen to become actors.  I find that my observation is that those who had money from a young age, they don’t have that urgency. That hunger. Not all of them… some are all about making their own money. But I think that that is something that drove me. As far as being able to… well, first of all, I can put on any costume, but I can pull from the depth or pain, no matter what I’m wearing, it’s not coming from that at all. It’s coming from training, and a genuine ability to listen.

Taryn Manning: So I can play both sides. I’m not going to judge. You know, my father, or my brother… the trials and tribulations… and being in this business for twenty years… the amount of rejection and just being told shitty things. But then, the most beautiful things too. My grandmother would say it’s like having the skin of a rhinoceros. She’d say that when I was young. She’s so cute.

Andrea Bell: Even in a career setting like this, they won’t see me for roles that I know I could do. You know when people see these photos, they will see something ethereal. That’s not what I usually play, so thank you. I’m thirty years old now. I’ve played a mother twice, I’m a good person, I want to be a mother, but I’m not the roles I play. I’m a very loving and kind person. I’ve made mistakes but I’m also there to say “tomorrow’s a new day” and be there for people.

Andrea Bell: I went through a reel of your “best OITNB moments” and when you put the scenes back to back like that you see how really intense your character is. Have you ever had to do something with that character that was too uncomfortable? Or had to go to a place that’s hard for you?

Taryn Manning: Yes. The very first season, I showed up in Episode 6. So the girls have already formed a bond, and in a sense, it’s like walking into school the first day. You have all the pretty girls. And I didn’t look anything like anyone would recognize me from. Which is fine, because I was meant to be really damaged and one dimensionally bad. And you know, I’m not racist or anything… and I’m just blurting out the most horrendous things. And my soul… as Taryn… was just saying “I’m so sorry guys”. It was trying on my soul. But then, I do kind of go through a pretty big arc. I do start someplace as that character and we’re not done. I do feel really pleased that they’ve given me that arc.

They’ve told the director when they’ve come in, I guess they call me “the Crazy Unicorn”. So some girls they just stay to the book for the writing, but they’ve said, you know if Taryn veers off it’s OK. Get her back on track, but if she does something, it’s because she’s “in it”. So I’ve always really appreciated that (with the director), she understands improvisational skills and that sometimes there is a little more to give to round out that certain thought.

Yeah, that character has been a lot of fun. I do go through some… it can be depressing. That rape situation was thrown onto me. I’ve never been assaulted in that way. I mean I’ve been, as all women, or most women have been approached or handled in a way that isn’t comfortable, but nothing that made me feel that I had to do anything about it. I became after that, speaking about that topic off the show, I’ve never been put up against something like that. And this is where the challenge comes in, and shame on me, I’ve never taken the time and never really understood the amount of work somebody like Mariska Hargitay (Law & Order / Joyful Heart Foundation) does. I was appalled.

I think the choice I made to check out during that scene… I feel like if (the character) grew up the way she did, it would be sort of arrested development in a way. She would just sort of think “Oh yeah, this is what Mom said happens.” And I wasn’t allowed to cry. The director said no tears. But one single tear went down my face because as the character I thought “he was my friend”. So there was a little more to her than the empty vessel of bullshit knowledge that her mother gave to her.

Honestly, I don’t know why this show is in the comedy section. It’s a lot. I find that often you are laughing but the tears are in your throat. It’s a ride!. But I’ve been having a great time.

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Andrea Bell


Having over twenty years in the fashion and PR industries, Andrea has covered positions as an author, editor, stylist, art director, consultant, marketing director, social media director and in various media stations in publishing. Green longer than she can remember. Updo in the clouds and feet firmly planted in a fabulously structured garden.

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