Pushing the Envelope: Get to Know ‘Karen’ actress Taryn Manning
Taryn Manning has built an impressive career. She had a star-making role in the 2005 film Hustle & Flow. In 2013, Manning became a series regular on Netflix’s Orange is the New Black. Manning is also a singer-songwriter whose music has been in films like Mean Girls, 8 Mile, and The Italian Job.
Manning stars in the new film Karen, a thriller about a racist white woman who will stop at nothing to remove a black couple from her neighborhood. Manning wanted to take the controversial role in hopes of making people bear witness to an uncomfortable truth and hopefully make positive changes as a result.
Manning also stars in The Gateway, a crime film about drug trafficking. The tense thriller also stars Shea Whigham, Frank Grillo, Olivia Munn, and Bruce Dern.
Film Daily was lucky enough to get to talk to Taryn Manning about her incendiary new movie Karen as well as her impressive career, here is what she had to say.
What first inspired you to get into acting?
Growing up, I took ballet. When I was 13, at dance class, I was stretching next to two other ballerinas, Ashley and Shonda, and overheard them talking about the acting class they went to every Wednesday night. That day, when my mom picked me up, I said `Mom, I want to go to acting class like Ashley and Shonda!’ She was like what’s next, Taryn? It was always something with me! And well, here I am!”
Tell us about your journey in the industry. How did you get your start?
From the age of 13 to 19, I took acting classes. I finally moved to LA when I was 18. When I was 19, I got my first well-paying job and legit role. I had a guest-starring role on the TV show The Practice. I was also in a band with my brother (Boomkat) and we got signed to Dreamworks around that time. There was a lot going on.
Who are some actors that influenced you early in your career?
In my acting class, as a young adult/teenager, there were many young actors. Kirsten Dunst, Evan Rachel Wood, Leelee Sobieski and Erika Christensen were all in my class. One by one, we all started working in the industry and landing roles. It was really cool to be working around all of those actresses early in our careers and before anyone knew who we were, and be able to see their progressions and success. It is awesome.
When I first saw The Silence of the Lambs, I loved Jodi Foster and her role. It inspired me to want to take on roles similar to that. Leonardo DiCaprio is very influential to me, too. He’s incredible.
What are five films you think every actor needs to see?
This is so hard for me. There are so many, but:
- The Other Sister
- The Basketball Diaries
- The Silence of the Lambs
- What’s Eating Gilbert Grape
Have you ever worked with a mentor, and would you recommend mentorship to new actors?
Absolutely, I would recommend it. I think it’s very important to remain teachable. In any career, there is always going to be someone that knows more than you. Even if you’re more “well known” as an actor, there’s someone that has had more experience than you on the day-in and day-out grind, the good, the bad, and the ugly. It’s not all glamorous and it’s not all glitzy and about the movie premiere.
As an actor, you have to eat, breathe, and live it daily. It’s really hard to make it. Having a mentor or someone there for you for the times that you are rejected, is important. To be there to be able to remind you and help you understand that it’s not personal at all. There are so many things I wish I had known. I love to teach actors, take good care of them and make sure they know it’s rough out there. It’s the wild, wild west and there’s no blueprint to the top. Anyone can make it, if they really want it.
I navigated these waters alone, I didn’t know anyone. My mom still trips out when she thinks about how I did this and succeeded. I did everything I could get my hands on though to learn, act and get myself out there — background work, student films, you name it.
Tell us about how you came to be involved in your current project, the film Karen.
Writer and director, Coke Daniels, really pursued me for this role. He wanted me and only me. I was very hesitant, but finally agreed after almost a year of him pursuing me.
The film isn’t afraid to tackle controversial issues surrounding race. Did that make you nervous at any point?
It made me very nervous, it still makes me a little nervous. But, in all films, controversial or not, I’m only an actor and vessel for the character/story. I have always taken on roles that push the envelope.
Why do you think it’s important for issues like race to be discussed in film?
Ultimately, that’s why I took on this role. It taught me a lot. It’s awful playing an awful person, but I knew what my role as Karen was meant to do. It’s meant to be offensive and to bring awareness to these injustices.
What do you want audiences to take away from watching Karen?
I hope it shows the audience how the smallest behavior/decision that you make can destroy someone else’s life, in a split second. In the film, Karen makes it her personal mission to displace the new black family that moved into her neighborhood, and all of the horrific destruction that causes. I hope it evokes conversation.
You’re also starring in the upcoming feature The Gateway. Can you tell us a little about your role in that film?
It’s an amazing crime thriller, with a loaded cast- Olivia Munn, Bruce Dern and Shea Whigham. It also tackles tough subjects like drug trafficking, but at the root of the film, it centers on relationships. My character, ‘Corey,’ is a fun-loving woman who meets Shea Whigham’s character ‘Parker’ at a bar. After a fast connection and one-night stand, she realizes quickly that he has to learn to love himself before he can have a relationship.
How do you go about choosing projects as an actor?
For the roles that I really want and hear about, I still have to fight for it. By fight, I mean audition and show up and prove why I’m the best person for it. When you come across a script with a great female character a lot of other actresses want it too.
I do get offers and I sift through them. Some are a good pay day, but there’s something in the character that’s redeeming, and others, I turn down. I appreciate filmmakers who offer me a role different from anything I’ve ever taken on before. I love taking those roles, I love anyone that takes a chance on me.
In addition to film, you’ve done plenty of work on television. How do you approach a television role differently than a film role?
I really don’t approach them differently. In a film role, I can create the arc of the character better/quicker, because the entire script is before me. A TV show is more open-ended. A lot of times, it’s all being written as it goes. However, hopefully your showrunner or creator will tell you the background of the character. I still put in all the studying and create the backstory for TV roles though, and in the best cases, you can create the backstory with your showrunner, writers, etc.
Is there one form that you enjoy more than the other?
No, I really don’t. I enjoy both. I would love to do a TV show next, as I just shot 8 movies back to back.
You’re also an accomplished musician. How do the rewards of creating music differ from the rewards of creating a character in a film or show?
With music, it’s so different. In a touring sense, when you are lucky enough to be able to go out, travel and perform, there’s nothing like it. To be in Italy or Japan and to see people who likely don’t even speak English as a first language, or at all, singing your song back to you, is very rewarding. It’s instant gratification. I would say it’s similar to theater, with the live audience, the crowd energy and the applause. It’s rewarding for me to write my own songs, lay them down and have it come to fruition. Movies and shows are amazing too, but it’s someone else’s creation, I’m just an actor in those instances. I do write my own stuff too for film and tv, but it’s completely different from music.
What music inspires you creatively?
I really love dance music, it’s so hopeful. At dance music festivals, like Coachella, you never see fighting. Instead, everyone is happy, coming together and reaching their hands towards the sky. The lyrics are inspiring.
I’ve been going to concerts my entire life. I’ve been to EDC, Coachella, Lollapalooza, you name it. I even went to an EDM festival on a cruise ship.
If you could only watch one movie and one show for the rest of your life, what would you pick?
I’ve seen it so many times already, but I love The Wolf of Wall Street. I usually never repeat movies, but I watch it all the time. For my TV show, I would say Law & Order: SVU, which I was blessed to appear on in a featured episode. It was an amazing experience and the topics of the show are very important.
Are there any shows that people need to be paying attention to right now?
Recently, I liked The Queen’s Gambit. I think Ozark is beyond incredible in every single way – the acting and storyline. Everyone seems to love Manifest, so, I’m starting that. Netflix nails it with all the documentaries, that’s what I am into. It’s always good to see a more in-depth and behind the scenes look at the truth behind certain things. Some good, some bad. Like the boxer Christy Martin’s documentary, Untold: Deal With the Devil.
Do you have any advice for new actors?
My biggest advice is to always have something else that you truly love to do. Not to fall back on, I’m not saying that. And not because I think you need to spread yourself thin. I know for me, after I was rejected from an audition I also had my guitar to come home to and play and that would fill me up just as substantially as getting a part would. It’s important to have something else so that when you go home you can look and/or hear something that you created, and know that you are still really great, and you can still see that in yourself. It doesn’t even have to be in the arts, maybe you like to work on cars, maybe you’re an amazing bartender. You have somewhere/something you can go to or do to know that you thrive and are appreciated. Keeping high self-esteem is the only way you will make it through the grind of acting.
What can you tell us about other projects of yours on the horizon?
I created a web series, Muchos Problemas, that is ridiculous and funny and I have always wanted to put it out. I have another comedy script that I wrote. I would love to put out on my own stuff one day. I’m still doing music, and am so grateful that I worked on eight films throughout the end of last year/this year. Because of the pandemic, I am just taking it one day at a time. I am happy to be alive everyday. I have always tried to live my life that way though, I prefer it.