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Taryn Manning’s shocking ‘Orange’ scene brings out Pennsatucky’s vulnerability

Taryn Manning stars in “Orange Is the new Black.”
As reformed meth head Tiffany “Pennsatucky” Doggett, Taryn Manning has been earning acclaim on “Orange Is the New Black.”
(For the Los Angeles Times)

“Orange Is the New Black” has made stars of lead actress Taylor Schilling and frequent Emmy nominee Uzo Aduba, who plays the slightly off balance Crazy Eyes. And now for 37-year-old Taryn Manning, who has been working steadily in film and television for the last 15 years, the Netflix series set in a women’s prison has also brought a new level of visibility -- and acclaim.  As reformed meth head Tiffany “Pennsatucky” Doggett, she was once the show’s snaggletoothed villain but has become one of its most strangely endearing characters, particularly after enduring a traumatic rape in Season 3. 

Pennsatucky has really evolved, hasn’t she? 

It was tough at first morally because I’m not anti-gay, I have black cousins in my family. She’s racist and anti-gay and all over the place religiously. But I have to say it was really fun to be so extreme. She’s nice now and a lot of fans come up to me and say, “Where’s Pennsatucky? We want mean Pennsatucky back.” I like to think she’s getting to be a better person inside jail.

Did [series creator] Jenji Kohan talk to you about the rape story line? 

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Never. I don’t think she really does that for us. It’s designed to throw us off-guard. In that sense, it’s genius. [In real life] we can’t really plan, “So you’re going to get hit by a car and lose both your legs.” I just read the episode and I was like, wow. It was sort of shocking. Even one of the producers was like, “Are you sure you want to take it in that direction? They have such chemistry.” And she was like, “Even better.” You don’t see it coming; it makes it kinda sad. 

Was it difficult for you to film that scene? 

Everyone’s different. I’m pretty open to “going there.” I’m like, for lack of a better word, don’t pussyfoot around. Just throw me in. I don’t need shin pads, knee pads. In real life you’re not going to get them. I guess there is that Method part of me. Rather than fight it and scream and all that, I made a choice to check out. There’s someone I know very closely. She has this obsession with Madonna and finally over time I’ve unraveled why. Basically she was raped her entire life by a family member and she’d just stare at Madonna’s picture while it was going on. I was like, that’s a different mechanism of how to cope. 

Pennsatucky is surprisingly endearing and vulnerable, isn’t she?

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I think she grew up in a very abusive atmosphere. She hasn’t really been exposed to a lot of intelligent people around her but I think she’s smart. She has common sense but she has been a little bit off her tree on drugs. She’s kind of evening out and it turns out there’s probably a really good person in there. People that are bullied become bullies. It’s about breaking that cycle. 

People that are bullied become bullies. It’s about breaking that cycle.
Taryn Manning

There’s been quite a response to the story line.

I guess “Game of Thrones,” they [portray rape] a lot. They were comparing us, saying on our show we do rape the right way. It’s like, how do you do rape the right way? It was a little overwhelming. I’ve ended up speaking on rape and I just did not see that one coming. I don’t want to offend anybody, and I also just don’t want to speak on something I’ve never been through. 

Does it feel like this show has changed your career?  

Life ebbs and flows and this is like a peak. There’s also the downside that comes with a little bit more visibility. It can be tough to go outside and walk my dog and I don’t want to take a selfie. In real life I’ve always worn my hood up. Sometimes there will be someone who will turn my day around with a sincere compliment. That really moves me. Sometimes I feel like people must think, “Oh, she must be this character.” And I couldn’t be further from that. That’s the downside.

Are you a binge-watcher?

No. I have a lot of patience. I never shook my presents as a kid.

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meredith.blake @latimes.com


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