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OITNB’s Taryn Manning on Being Typecast As a Crackhead, Playing a Meth Addict, and Those God-Awful Teeth

Photo: Jill Greenberg for Netflix

Taryn Manning is no stranger to broken-down characters. And if you’ve seen Orange Is the New Black (and if you haven’t, hurry up!), you know exactly who she plays. Manning fully embodies Tiffany Doggett (known as “Pennsatucky” by her prisonmates), a Christ-fearing former meth head who preaches from the prison’s makeshift pulpit and performs God’s miracles in the cafeteria. Manning’s own miracle is being able to convincingly pull off Pennsatucky’s teeth — truly a Montana Meth Project dream. We talked to Manning about Doggett’s perfect smile, her own attempt to sneak in some (flattering) makeup, and what it’s like to be typecast.

This isn’t the first time you’ve played a character who has looked … downtrodden. There’s 8 Mile, Hustle and Flow, Crazy/Beautiful, and A Lot Like Love, in which you play Ashton Kutcher’s sister — who wears a midriff-baring wedding dress. Basically, you’ve played some messed-up characters.
You know, I tend to get cast as the more troubled — I like to call them colorful or layered — characters. In my twenties, I fought that for so long. I was so upset by what I thought was me getting terribly typecast. I was like, Wow, I’ve fallen. You know what the breakdowns are? At least ten times in my career an agent has called me and been like, “Hey, in the breakdowns today they’re looking for a Taryn Manning type.” I’m like, Is that a compliment or is that …? And I ended up sort of just accepting it, and I find it to be a compliment. I find that I’ve carved kind of my own, like, niche.

And it’s led you to this character, Pennsatucky, who is at first seen as a typical kind of “crackhead character,” though she becomes more complex as the show goes on.
I can honestly tell you this character for me is super different from what I’ve played before. She’s probably one of the most outrageous and over-the-top — in the religious factor, the way she pushes it on people. That’s not me at all. I have so many friends who are actors who are like, “I’d kill to play what you play.” And I’m like, “I’d kill to play what you play!” It’s like, the grass is always greener.

Did you do any other research for her?
Oh, my goodness. I watched several YouTubes of faith healing. A lot of evangelistic ceremonies. I mean, night after night after night I would have to look up Southern Baptist [videos] but I had to dig deep to find the the white southern — anti-gay, racist — stuff. There’s so many moral conflicts in her character. She’s so religious and yet she goes against everything Jesus said.

Using her religion to be what she wants it to be …
She’s designed it to work for her, and yet it works so against her in prison.

Luckily there’s a lot out there, plenty of documentaries. I immediately thought of Jesus Camp. Have you seen that one?
Oh, yeah, I watched Jesus Camp. I watched Wonderful Whites of West Virginia. There’s so many on Netflix. I’ve seen them all.

I don’t wanna ruin it for anyone [SPOILER ALERT IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE FINALE], but let’s talk about that last scene.
When she gets Chapman to agree to be baptized, it’s possibly one of the first times you see Pennsatucky smile so genuinely, you know? She even goes to hug her. It’s such a triumphant moment. And when it’s all taken away from her, I mean, she’s already a loose cannon. She’s willing to kill in the name of the Lord, and that’s basically what the last scene is about.

And it’s funny you mention her smile, because I think the one thing that everyone has been noticing are her teeth …
Yeah, people on Twitter are all, “How’d you get those teeth?” And I’m like, You guys, it’s makeup, it’s the result of an amazing makeup department. I went recently, here in L.A., to get a molding of my mouth from a dentist because I’m pretty sure they have something up their sleeve.

Oooh, they have plans for you.
Funny story: I don’t wear a stitch of makeup. It’s TV so some of the girls put on some concealer — they’ll cover up a zit or something. For my character, if anything, they made my eyes a little darker under them. So I snuck just a dab of mascara.

That’s funny because they definitely have bootleg makeup in prison.
They do, they do. That’s how they justify their lipstick — they’re mixing Kool Aid [to make it]. So the makeup artist is like, “Do you have mascara on?” And I’m like, “No, no, no, no, not at all. Why?” She’s like, “Come here.” She grabs the makeup wipe and lo and behold …

You should be like, “Look what you did to my teeth, come on!”
I just felt so ugly. But then that day was the day I was like, Just go for it. Just go for it. And that’s what I did. I just sort of was like, All right, I look terrible, but she’s just this terrible person. I just made a commitment to it. I don’t think the teeth are going to be looking very good next season.

They must have helped you get into character, though.
Apparently [teeth are] the first thing to go. The gums start to recede because of all the chemicals, and then there’s her poor hygiene. She’s got quite a grill on her. There’s no doubt about it.

Taryn Manning on Being Typecast As a Crackhead