Frisky Q&A: Taryn Manning Talks About Playing “Radically Unapologetic,” “Bible-Thumping Freakazoid” Pennsatucky On “Orange Is The New Black”

Like many of you, one of my favorite new shows from the last year is Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black,” based on the memoir of the same name (by Piper Kermen) that I read a couple of years ago. While I enjoyed the book, I love that the show has become a vehicle for telling all the prisoners’ stories, not just the main protagonist’s, and as a result, I think it’s one of the most successful character-driven narratives on the small screen. All of the characters are interesting and engaging to watch, so it’s hard to pick a favorite, but I have been totally fascinated by Pennsatucky, the meth-addicted Christian evangelist played by Taryn Manning. Last week, I got a chance to sit down for a few minutes with Manning at an event honoring beauty industry icon Beth Minardi (who gave Taryn that awesome shade of auburn in the photo above), and she gave me further insight into what makes Pennsatucky tick. Check out Q&A after the jump!

The Frisky: How would you describe Pennsatucky to someone who hasn’t seen “Orange is the New Black”?

Taryn Manning: I would describe her as a radically unapologetic, ignorant yet resourceful, clever, newer Christian evangelist, Bible-thumping freakazoid. She’s crazy!

There’s a lot to dislike about her, but have you found things about her to empathize with as you’ve been playing her?

Yeah, I see her as someone who’s super uneducated, who’s desperate to do what she can to get freedom and just continually makes poor choices. The way she conducts herself, she’s out of her mind. It makes you wonder, What the heck happened to this poor girl?

It was a shocker when the show revealed that Pennsatucky was really at the abortion clinic that day to get an abortion, not to actually kill anybody.

Yeah, someone confronted her at the wrong time. I mean, hormones like that, when you’re a woman? You gotta be careful how you talk to girls like that. Not that anybody deserves that, but she’s probably been there many times, she was probably sick and tired of this lady … You know, there’s a scene beforehand where her boyfriend rejects going with her and she’s hurt. I think she comes from a lot of pain and there’s a reason this keeps happening to her. I think there’s actually a person in there, but she’s so far gone from drugs and the actual damage from taking methamphetamine, which is just, like, the most epically gnarly drug on the planet. I already knew it was terrible, but I really didn’t know all the ingredients until I started doing research for the role. I have the list of ingredients in my iPhone. When I’m really trying to understand where this girl is coming from, I just go look at that list of all the crap that’s in meth … it’s just beyond.

It’s everything under your kitchen sink, basically, right?

Yeah, plus more! Everything under your kitchen and in your car trunk. It’s break fluid, it’s the end of a match — just the red part. That’s what they cook! Then it’s battery acid, battery fluid, it’s bits of Sudafed. It’s crazy!

And one wrong move and you’re blowing up your house.

It’s got Drano! That’s going into your brain and your body. And there’s so many people on it.

Were there things in your life that you were able to channel when you were preparing for this role? Have you known people on drugs like that? Have you known any hardcore evangelicals?

I’ve never known drugs addicts of that sort, because if I saw someone going down that path, they were not going to be my friend anymore. So I’ve never seen a decline of that magnitude before my eyes, but you can watch so much on TV and online now because it’s so prevalent in America. That was really important to me, that I have a real understanding of the damage drugs like that do.

I didn’t grow up religious. I believe in God and I’m very spiritual, but I’ve never read the Bible. It was very important to me that while she’s rattling off the Bible verses, though she’s not always accurate or pronounces things correctly — which was a choice we made — it was important to me that I be able to rattle things off. Like, if something made her mad, she went right to that verse, almost like she’s rattling off a medical term.

Well the character has such fantastic delivery. I mean, it’s your acting, of course, but she has that seductive personality. She’s a great performer. 

Totally, she’s always performing. [Using emphatic Pennsatucky voice] EVERY TIME SHE SPEAKS, SHE’S GOTTA BE HEARD! It actually made it fun and easier for me to wrap my head around this radical person, you know. I’m a little more shy and reserved by nature. She’s kind of like … to me, there’s parts of her that I wish I could be like. She’s outspoken. I’m not that sure of myself all of the time.

She has a certain confidence to her, for sure.

I love that. Her conviction, her unapologetic nature. She walks into a room and she doesn’t care if she knocks something over. She has no manners! Zero. She’s everything that’s the opposite of how you would think a Jesus-loving person would be.

Frisky Q&A: Taryn Manning Talks About Playing "Radically Unapologetic," "Bible-Thumping Freakazoid" Pennsatucky On "Orange Is The New Black"

So does the makeup artist have to do anything special to give you those nasty-looking meth teeth?

I never knew what they used either, but I assumed it would be a retainer, but a retainer can be hard to speak with, so I was happy that it’s actually just this waterproof makeup.

Really, on your teeth? It doesn’t come off or taste bad?

Well, it comes off when I eat. So it’s in my food. It’s so gross. I brush my teeth before and after lunch and the makeup artist gets so mad because they have to reapply it, but I’m like, “You try and eat with this stuff on!” But some days, I’m so into the character, I’m like, “I’m not gonna eat lunch” because I don’t want to break character and have to have them reapply it. I think some of the crew gets worried — “Does Taryn eat?” I’m like, “Hey guys, she’s a meth head!” I eat, but I wait sometimes until I get home. Besides, I feel bad for the poor makeup ladies, having to redo my teeth multiple times.

But yeah, when you run your tongue across your teeth, you can feel the texture and it’s … ugh. It’s gross.

Photo: Sara Jaye Weiss