TARYN MANNING: Pixie Dust
There are two types of people: those that talk the talk and those that walk the walk. For Singer, Actress, DJ and Clothing designer Taryn Manning, she’s just getting started.
Words: Amy Andrieux
Taryn Manning has a way with words. Or maybe there’s something else about her that makes you want to believe that she really is just like the roles she’s chosen to play over the years. Hard. Defeated. Troubled. Needy. Lost… But whether it’s 8 Mile, Crazy Beautiful, Hustle and Flow or her latest film, The Perfect Age of Rock’n'Roll—which delves into the world of music, like a few of her other films—Taryn’s characters couldn’t be any more different from the real thing.
For sure, Taryn Manning, a former Arizona Karate champ who spent most of her teenage and adult years growing up in southern California, is tough as brass. And perhaps what makes up part of her charm is that she’s also just like the rest of us, making her way through an environment laden with pitfalls and many avenues that lead to broken dreams…the truth is, Ms. Manning is bigger than what Hollywood has made her out to be. She’s a natural born hustler and now that she’s in charge, there’s just no stopping her.
You seem to often play characters who are erratic, and end on the verge of finding their strength or identity. Is there something that drives you to these particular themes?
No, really they find me, to be honest. I don’t go out, like seeking these types of parts. I’ve heard from directors and casting directors that I’ve sat with and asked, “What is it about me that you guys always see me in these types of roles?” and I’ve had several people tell me that, it’s just the way I am. I guess it’s my spirit. I just sort of like—not really that I wear it on my face, but I guess I just carry an air of experience, like I’ve seen it all. And it’s really hard for them to not cast me as someone that doesn’t have a lot of depth and different layers.
For a long time, I was like, “No, but I want to play the girl next door.” And I still do. I want to play more light-hearted roles because I am light-hearted and serious. And I used to resist it a lot, like I’ve said no to a lot of really cool stuff because I was like, “No, no more.” Then it turns out that these types of roles that I get to play, people would kill to play them. There are girls on the other end that would kill to play my roles, and I would kill to play their roles. So it’s like the grass is always greener. But yes, I think it’s just that I carry a lot of experience of all types of diversity, and they [directors and casting directors] have the faith in me that I can tap into all that.
I read somewhere where you said, “I’m much more sophisticated than I get credit for and I’m much more well read and educated.”
Yeah, where did you read that?
I can’t remember exactly which article it was, but it definitely had something to do with the upcoming film project, the Manson Girls…
Well, the director sat with me one day and she’s a lovely woman, and you know, she admitted to me that she wasn’t going to see me for any of the roles at one point. And I really fought my way in there, like “I’m getting in there, this is ridiculous,” you know. And then I finally got her to sit down with me. It was to play a cameo of Janis Joplin because I play the guitar and I sing. Which is cool, too, but if I wanna play Janis Joplin, I want to play her in a full-length feature. I don’t want to just play her in a cameo cause then I’ve shot my wad. Like, I’m just putting my stuff out there that I dream of, I’m not saying I’m going to play Janis Joplin, but I am just saying that this is the type of role that one day would be amazing to play.
So anyway, she was seeing me for a cameo with Janis and when I sat with her, I was like, you know, “I could definitely do that. I love Janis Joplin; I always have. I know so much about her. I know her music. I have that kind of raspy quality to my own singing tone, but I gotta be honest with you, I don’t want to play a cameo. I want a leading role in your film.” [Laughs] I just came straight out and said it.
After we sat together for a while, she warmed up to me. Then later on as we spent more time together, she said, ‘You know, Taryn, you’re much more sophisticated than I ever gave you credit for and that I think the industry gives you credit for. I’m very shocked by you, and I think it sucks that you’ve been so pigeonholed the way you have and stereotyped.” And it does suck, because I have traveled the world like three times. I’ve seen so much and been around so many different cultures, languages and different people. And I’m constantly reading books…I’m just not this person that people see me as and it can be frustrating, but at the same time, I’ve accepted it and I’ll just sort of like, chip away at it, one person at a time, you know, until they figure it out.
So have you nabbed the role of Susan “Sadie” Atkins in Manson Girls yet?
Yeah, I got the role. It’s awesome because Sadie was very educated—the most educated out of all the women that became a part of the family, the cult [of Charles Manson]. You know, she’s different for me to play, but it’s hard to talk about that particular film at this time because it’s not like totally ready to be made. So I’m always a little weary to put too much out there because the film is still trying to realize some of its casting and some of its financing. But everybody is getting so curious about that film…
Yeah because there’s so much potential for the Oscar nomination with this film. And I agree with others, that you should’ve gotten it for Hustle and Flow, but that’s another story…
That’s funny because some journalist sat with me in New York and looked me dead in the eye, saying ‘You know, you got robbed of the Oscar?’ And I was like, “Thank you, I agree.” And then [the journalist] took that [and ran it in a story]—I’m not saying I got robbed of a damn Oscar, but I feel like my performance could have been up there with being nominated, you know. But that comment has now been taken completely out of context. Like, “Taryn feels that she’s been snubbed…”
Talking about the press and how things can be taken out of context, was that last December that you were on Twitter and it kind of just went in the wrong direction.
Which incident? [Laughs]
[Laughs] The one about Hawaii 5-0 [the CBS remake of the classic, where Manning plays Mary Ann McGarrett]. I was saying that it kind of went off in the wrong direction, but you were just having a moment it seems. Everyone has a moment… [Laughs]
[Laughs] Oh yeah, I was absolutely having a moment, exactly. I was frustrated because in the scene, I was totally beaten up. And I was having a little bit of a moment with the hair and makeup, like we were sort of arguing where the bandage should go and—I don’t know. Look, it was a learning lesson. I voiced for one second that I was unhappy in the moment, mind you. And within a moment, I erased it. But it was a moment, like off to the races. Yeah it wasn’t very fun, a learning experience. Yeah, [being on] Twitter, you have to be very [careful]. It’s up to you, if you want to censor yourself or be that kind of person, but I never meant to cause the show any harm. I was just having a moment as me and the fans just latched on and went bizerk. I mean it ended pretty quickly…
Yeah and you’re in the second season of the show. So it doesn’t matter anyway.
Yeah, I play the sister and she’s sort of edgy and she’s kinda going through it. So it’s like, it wasn’t the smartest move on my part, I see, in retrospect. [Laughs], but it happened. It was silly and it was not meant to go down the way that it did. But again, that shows you the power of Twitter.
Let’s talk about music. Can you describe the moment you realized that both music and film were careers that you wanted to pursue? Did it happen at the same time?
I grew up doing music and my dad, he was a musician. He was always making me sing. I’d go to all of his performances in the summertime and actually be sitting in the bars and in the clubs on a barstool, waiting for him to get done off work. I was very much surrounded by music, no acting. I watched films, but my upbringing was totally music-oriented. And my brother [Kellin, who is one-half of the group Boomkat with Taryn] too, he was just all about music and he was just my hero. So anything he did, I wanted to do.
I guess when the two worlds collided…well, this is what happened in a nutshell as far as music goes, when I moved to LA, I was doing music: I was playing guitar; I was singing/writing songs. I started auditioning [for films] and I started pretty quickly getting roles. But simultaneously, at home with my brother, I was writing songs and playing my guitar. So I got a role, and it was like the role of a lifetime for me, where I was going to play a dancer. You know, I grew up doing Ballet and Jazz [dance]. I grew up as a dancer, that’s what’s crazy. So I moved to Hollywood. I have my acting training. I nab the role where I’m playing a full blown ballerina, so I was like, going to be working with Marguerite Derricks, the biggest choreographer in Hollywood. I mean, huge deal. I was like, “Oh my god, this is unreal!” I was even going to shave my head for the role.
I was totally committed, in it to win it. But because in the film there are like two best friends and their both ballerinas, and one gets cancer. As her best friend, she shaves her head to support her when all her hair falls out… So yeah, I get this role. I start doing rehearsals, fittings, blah blah blah—I’m in it. This is my role. And then one night, I get a call that I’m being released from the film. No explanation. None. Just fired. My whole world collapsed. I was 19. I never felt that much high and that much low. It hurt so bad. I can’t even, to this day, put words onto the pain. Now I’ve felt that several times, I’m like I got a dose of that at a pretty early age. Not to say that it jaded me, but just definitely at a very young age and right from the jump showed me that oh, this is a ruthless business.
The way I coped with that pain is that I started writing poetry and playing my guitar all the time and I was just like, “You know what? Screw this acting thing. I’ll show them. I don’t need movies. I’m the best singer/songwriter—you know you’re real cocky with it when you’re young. [Laughs] And like one of the very first songs I wrote when I was very fragile. I was like, “Kellin, look at what I wrote…” This was like in the midst of my pain, and it’s called “Wasting My Time.” That song ended up on the 8 Mile soundtrack. That’s when music really kicked in for me. The best song that I feel to this day I’ve ever written and Eminem validated that by putting it on the soundtrack four years later.
So is Boomkat, your band with your brother just on hiatus right now, so that you can pursue your career as a solo artist?
My brother and I are so close. We have a whole other record in the works, we just work at it at a slower pace. Like if you noticed, our records are like spaced six years apart. This one won’t be that long, but we don’t write to write hits. We write to write music. So however that flows out of us in the time frame that it does—we don’t try to rush or put pressure on ourselves. But me, I’m in a rush. I’m like, “Alright, Kellin, you can write at your pace and I’m going to write at mine. I’m going to go ahead and write a record while you’re just like, you know, twirling around…” That’s just how it goes in our world.
Going back to the world of Hollywood, for what it’s worth, even just by how you’re answering these questions I can tell that you’re hella smart. Plus you’re gorgeous. But at the same time, I don’t even know if it’s cool to fit the status quo of Hollywood anymore…Where are you now?
In like my early 20s, I was really trying to fight against it. Just confused, young 20s, you know? Like, “What’s happening to me? Why can’t I get these other roles?” And then as you do, as you get older and wiser, I’ve just gotten comfortable with the fact that there isn’t another Taryn Manning. I’ve really carved out my own niche and that’s like amazing. You know, you can’t really replicate me and that’s kind of a good place to be.
See Taryn Manning in The Perfect Age of Rock’n'Roll , which is now On-Demand and playing in limited theaters.