Taryn Manning: Sanity Isn't 'Black' or White


There's a lot of crazy contained within the walls of Litchfield Prison. Some of the inmates arrived insane, and were so dubbed, while others have been slowly transformed by their experiences inside. For me, the most interesting illustration of the latter on Netflix's incredible Orange Is The New Black is through Tiffany 'Pennsatucky' Doggett, played with a wild-eyed zeal by Taryn Manning.

A former meth addict who became a religious zealot after her anger towards a rude abortion clinic technician was misconstrued by a Christian advocacy group, Tiffany's devotion to God may have temporarily wavered but her belief that Piper Chapman (played by Taylor Schilling) is in need of salvation or smiting never faltered. This led to a shocking confrontation in the closing moments of the first season; one that set up countless questions for the now-filming second season.

ETonline recently caught up with Taryn Manning to talk about creating this unique creature, find out if she's playing Tiffany as crazy and how that Christmas-time courtyard smackdown will play into season two!

ETonline: What do you remember about the first time you read a script?

Taryn Manning: The writing was amazing. For an actor, it all starts there and I just knew there would be such a sense of freedom with the character. Although I had no idea, even when I read it, that it would turn into what it is.

ETonline: Coming in, how much did you know about Tiffany? Were you getting scripts in advance or one at a time, like an actor normally would with television?

Manning: One at a time. I did not know where she was going, I did not know where she'd come from. All I had at the start was the present day information. I heard my character had a past, which I was slightly briefed on, but nothing was set in stone. So I used that bit of knowledge to design this wacky, religious character. The interesting thing is they were trying to cast this part for a while, so I got hired and two days later, I was on set. It happened very quickly. But mind you, in those two days, I did a lot of research. I wanted to play up the Christian idea of justice, because she's kind of mixed up -- but that was so fun for me. And very enlightening. And very disturbing at times.

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ETonline: Tiffany's biggest struggle on the show has been the perception that she's crazy because of her beliefs. What's your take?

Manning: Where I'm coming from when I play her is that it's not normal to have six abortions. She's very extreme. I don't feel she was raised properly and because of that, her choices have been skewed. She's ignorant but clever and resourceful. I feel like she's smart enough to know that if she follows these instructions that have been given to her by this group, she can get through this situation. But at the same time, you add in the way she was raised and a former meth addiction, which would mess up anyone's brain chemistry. So, to me, she's not totally sane. And then you add in the element of God, and her radical extremism, and you have this weird sense of elitism. She has so many dimensions, which is why she's so questionable. We'll really get to see what makes her tick in season two.

ETonline: So you are a part of season two? I wasn't sure how far Piper took that beating.

Manning: Yes. I'm in season two. Normally I wouldn't spoil anything because I love surprises -- I don't even shake my presents at Christmas, but there have been so many stories about next season already, so, yes. I am in season two.

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ETonline: You said that Tiffany has a sense of elitism, so why does she call Piper "college?" Is she projecting?

Manning: Yeah. Totally. I think she's ignorant in the sense that she didn't go to school and made poor choices, but I think if she had, her brain is the type of brain that would have soaked up school. So when she calls her that, it's totally jealousy. I think that's where we're going this season. Tiffany doesn't necessarily think she sh*t doesn't stink any more. She's like, "I guess I'm not as tough as I thought because she kicked my ass."

ETonline: What was your reaction to reading that final scene? Not only that Tiffany was ready to kill Piper, but that Mr. Healy gave her the green light!

Manning: [laughs] It's funny you mention that. That is a huge, ginormous plot point in season two. I'm back in New York right now and [today] we're filming a big scene about that very thing. It's one of my bigger scenes in that it has a ton of dialogue -- back and forth back and forth -- which I love. The reason I love acting is because I feel like acting is all about listening, and this is an amazing conversation piece that tells you so much about that entire scenario.

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ETonline: This show was filmed in a vacuum, so what's it been like reuniting with the cast after all the critical acclaim?

Manning: I've been doing this for a long time. It's been a rough road. I've had ups and downs but always maintained I was a working actor, which is a beautiful thing. This is such a hard business any way you look at it, so I'm thrilled and proud and supportive of the women that, I don't want to say scored because they all earned their roles, but I do feel like we all scored with this show. I'm so proud of everybody; but that's just me. My whole thing is I like to hang around winners, I like winning spirits, I have zero tolerance for jealousy. I think we are very different and very unique, and that's what makes this show so special and why there's such a good energy on set. "You're you, I'm me, I could never be you, you could never be me," so there's no reason for there to be any cattiness or bullsh*t, which can easily happen when you get a group of women together. I've seen it on so many films and TV shows I worked on. I don't know if it's the environment we're in -- women in prison have no choice to either gang up or find common ground -- or the atmosphere we've created, but it's truly a very positive, supportive set and it's genuine.

ETonline: Did the Laura Prepon news affect that dynamic at all?

Manning: Well, there's a book and that character goes to another facility in that book. I'm not sure what’s going on, I definitely feel a bit of a loss, but to be totally honest with you, no one is really talking about it. This cast is so noble. I wish her the best and hope everything is OK with her. I hear she's directing her own film, which she passionately talked about on set, so maybe she's off doing that. I think she's amazing, so it'll be interesting without her around, but I don't know the facts -- although I hear she will be filming some of this season.

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ETonline: Lastly, what are you hoping to explore with Tiffany in season two you haven't gotten to yet?

Manning: I'd like to see the genesis of her mindset. I hate the term "white trash" because I feel it slumps those people together and allows you to write them off like they're not worth getting to know or it's not worth finding out why they are the way they are. I grew up in a mobile home, but it wasn't like white trash -- it was a beautiful mobile home park, I had a loving mother, there were kids everywhere, there was a playground in the center, I just grew up in poverty. But I ended up doing amazing things with my life; I'm well-read, educated and sophisticated -- and I'm not the stereotype everyone makes me out to be. I want to keep Tiffany "out there" because I feel the craziest people are sometimes the most intelligent. Look at Einstein or Picasso -- maybe if we dive into her left brain we'll see she's doing crazy elaborate math equations that are just manifesting in some truly weird ways. Who knows! She could be a total genius and it's just shrouded by her anger and resentment.

Orange is the New Black
is currently available on Netflix.