taryn manning is done killing herself on camera

We spent five minutes with the Orange is the New Black actress and star of Dan Bush’s chilling new horror movie The Vault, to talk typecasts and triumphant hookers.

by Tish Weinstock
08 September 2017, 12:04pm

Taryn Manning in The Vault

"I'm not killing myself in another movie," announces Taryn Manning, her voice sounding even more gravelly down the phone than it does on camera. "I've done that too many times." Twelve times to be precise. But even when the Virginia-born, California-raised actress isn't dying on screen, things never seem to go well for any of her characters: a teen pregnancy in Britney Spears's Crossroads (2002), getting kicked to the curb by Eminem in 8 Mile (2002), prostitution in Hustle and Flow (2005), and a pretty hefty heroin habit in Low Down (2014). Come to think of it, drugs and prostitution have featured heavily in her two-decade long career.

"In my 20s I was so mad about it," she scoffs, "I swear I got offered to do four prostitutes! I was like, 'Why would a director want me to do something I've already done, and nailed?' Give me the hooker, fine, but don't give me the hooker who kills herself. I want to be the hooker with a heart who triumphs. It really upset me, but I wasn't going to downgrade. I ended up turning down all these roles, which probably wasn't the best idea, but whatever."

Fast-forward to her 30s and things are looking up for Taryn in terms of character arc -- her time as Tiffany Doggett in the award-winning series, Orange is the New Black, being the most obvious example. Sure, Tiffany starts out as a rotten-toothed, Jesus freak turned meth head, and, yeah, she did shoot an orderly that time, but over the course of five successive seasons Doggett undergoes one of the greatest transformations on the show. She gets new teeth, drops the bigotry, befriends butch-dyke-with-a-heart-of-gold Big Boo, falls in love and basically finds within herself a sense of self awareness, a conscious... a heart.

"You know, I like to play the character with the funny scratchy voice," she laughs. "I like to give the main character stuff to work off of. With acting you're telling a story, and that's why every character matters."

The same sort thing happens in her latest movie, The Vault. Directed by Dan Bush, and starring James Franco, The Vault is one of those genre-defying movies that will chill you to your core. It starts off with a typical bank heist and somehow descends into a supernatural zombie massacre. Taryn plays Vee, a trigger-happy, ex-convict fresh out of jail and on a mission to rob a bank along with four others. She's rough around the edges, dressed in scruffy oversized clothes and hardened by her slicked back hair, overgrown roots, OTT eyeliner and facial tattoo. It's pretty hardcore. But over the course of the film, we learn that despite her tough façade, Vee is someone whose family loyalty runs deep. We learn that the reason she's robbing the bank is to save her rather wet brother (Scott Haze) from a bunch of unspecified bad guys to whom he owes a lot of money. Though she's clearly estranged from her brother, one of the robbers on the heist, and more so her sister Leah (Francesca Eastwood) who's in charge of the whole operation, she'd risk her life to protect them. Once again, she's the convict with a heart.

"I liked her because she was troubled, but she also had love in her heart," Taryn explains. "No matter how hardened she's become, she loves her family. She doesn't necessarily like them, but at the core she cares, she's a decent woman. Probably more so than her sister."

Aside from her character's emotional complexity, there were many physical demands to contend with, from shoving a gun in the bank manager's face and roughing up hostages to ducking and diving from zombies/ghosts/whatever those things were. "I've always enjoyed action," she says excitedly, "I want to do more action. What's great about the film is that it's a little different from what's out there. I thought it was pretty cool how it started off a certain way and then it takes a turn. I mean, you've probably seen the trailer, so you're expecting there's some kind of supernatural twist, but you don't really see it coming." She's not wrong there.

Born in Falls Church, Virginia, Taryn's parents separated when she was two months old, and she moved with her mother and brother to Tucson, Arizona, where she was raised in a trailer park. Her mother would cobble together whatever she had to pay for various dance classes and karate. "I was very dedicated," she laughs. "My mom was very dedicated to me being dedicated. There was lots of dedication. You can tell there's some subtext there." It was through dance that Taryn discovered acting. "At dance class, these girls were always talking about their acting classes. I'd be there stretching and kind of eavesdropping, being totally nosey. Then my mom would come pick me up in the car and I'd be like, 'I wanna go to acting class.' I was that child, I was a brat." It did the trick -- she quickly got herself an agent and started auditioning for parts until finally she landed one on the 90s kid comedy sketch show, All That.

When it comes to talking about her craft, Taryn is like a kid in a candy shop -- she can't help but be excited about it. "My favourite thing is getting into costume," she gushes, "I like changing my look as much as they'll allow me to... I just like to really become another character. I also love working with my fellow actors. When you have an actor across from you that's really good, there's nothing more exciting. It's rare too, to be honest."

But what about the limelight that comes with it? Though well respected in the industry, Taryn's only become a household name since the OITNB. How has that affected her? "I honestly feel like it happened a while ago," she ponders. "It kind of happened in doses. There was 8 Mile, Crossroads, Crazy Beautiful. Then there was a bit of a dry period. And then I got OITNB, which was another notch up. If it happened like this all in one go I might have run for my life, because with success comes a obstacles, but that's ok, that's how things work. It's been a lot of fun ultimately."

Despite her tough appearance, the 38-year-old actress has an air of vulnerability to her -- an intoxicating combination of strength and fragility, which is what lends itself so well to the more emotionally raw, troubled characters she finds herself playing so often. How does it feel for her to be cast in more sinister roles? "I don't need to keep doing it," she says resolutely, "it's just not who I am. I want to do roles that mean something to me. I want to go for roles that the director isn't even thinking about me for. I want to go in the room and hopefully nail it." We have no doubt she will.

THE VAULT is in cinemas and on iTunes & digital HD from 8th September #TheVaultMovie

Taryn Manning
The Vault