Entertainment

Taryn Manning On Tiffany's Tragic Fate in the Final Season of 'Orange is the New Black'

taryn manning orange is the new black
Taryn Manning in 'Orange is the New Black' Season 7 | Nicole Rivelli/Netflix
Taryn Manning in 'Orange is the New Black' Season 7 | Nicole Rivelli/Netflix

This post contains spoilers from Season 7 of Orange Is the New Black.

When we first met Tiffany "Pennsatucky" Doggett on one of Netflix's early original series, Orange Is the New Black, she was the inmate you loved to hate -- spouting racist, homophobic, and transphobic insults while professing to be an angel of God. She was a woman at odds with herself; she thought she was stupid and unworthy of love, yet bristled at the slightest suggestion that she might be wrong about anything. (And she was often wrong.) Stints in the psych ward for her mistaken belief that she was a faith-healer and solitary confinement for attacking Piper, however, seemed to straighten her out, and by the seventh and final season of the women's prison series, she was finally making productive plans for a better life outside of prison, even earning her GED.

If only she hadn't second-guessed herself, assumed that she had failed the test, and taken a fatal dose of heroin. Our last glimpse at Litchfield includes a moving memorial to the late Pennsatucky, one of the few characters who became a better person because of incarceration. Taryn Manning, who is still grieving the loss of her character, chatted with Thrillist about her personal connection to Tiffany's death and how her setbacks made her uniquely suited to the role.

tiffany doggett orange is the new black
Tiffany Doggett on 'Orange is the New Black' | JoJo Whilden/Netflix

Thrillist: What are your thoughts about Tiffany Doggett's arc this season, and how we learn that some of the problems she faced, the choices she made, and her perception of herself were due to a learning disability? That perhaps if it had been diagnosed earlier, she might have been on a very different path?
Taryn Manning: Finally, right? It's the end of a very, very beautiful arc. It's a tragic ending. There are so many times in life that we see someone like this finally figuring things out and making this effort, and then something awful happens. I think these sort of people are put here on this planet, or this dimension, or whatever your belief system is, to teach us a lesson. This girl was a hot mess. She didn't know anything. Stupid, ignorant, mean. People think they can rape her, and then she forgives him! You know? Who does that?! Well, that's a woman of God, really and truly, to forgive like that. And then she finds school, and she realizes she likes to learn. And then her teacher gets taken away from her, and the extra time for the test. And she's highly reactionary, so she's just hurt. But the way she deals with it? That's rough. And that's why they did it. She was someone on the inside who you would be rooting for on the outside. She might have actually been able to make it and have a good life. And that's the genius of the writing, and why so many people relate to the show -- the eloquent way that they position everybody, so that there's a little bit of us in everybody.

She had substance abuse issues in the past, but her drugs of choice were more like meth or huffing. She wasn't into heroin. So I'm not sure if this is a relapse, an overdose of a drug she's not used to, or suicide, the way Taystee was planning?
Manning:
I think it's really poignant. My dad committed suicide when I was a teenager, and I think that suicide is a very reactionary thing. If you don't have a lot of support, if you're so mad at yourself, if you feel guilty for things that you can't change in your life, things that you've done… Guilt is a very hard concept to grasp. It's huge. To believe that you can be forgiven, and to forgive yourself, first and foremost? That concept is beyond.

So in her lowest state -- she was learning, she was loving it, then she feels like she failed, and because of her lack of education and lack of support from anybody on the outside telling her, "Hey, you're going to be all right," she makes this stupid, stupid choice that this would be the end. And that's what happens to a lot of people. When you've lost somebody, like I lost my dad… I know in my heart of hearts that if he could change that night, he would. If he knew the impact that it would have on me, he wouldn't have done that. I'm sure he was upset or something, and he made a stupid choice. And that's exactly what happened with Tiffany. 

doggett and suzanne
Tiffany Doggett and Suzanne Warren in 'Orange is the New Black' | JoJo Whilden/Netflix

It just feels especially tragic when we see the test results. She had surpassed her own expectations. But because she's been burdened her whole life, thinking that she was stupid, she just reverts back to that way of thinking and assumes that she failed. And so she fails herself.
Manning:
Yeah. She was held down by her own mind, her own way of thinking. The whole time she was in prison, she was sponsored by the radical Christian anti-abortion group, but that was a fluke, in a way. She was just like, "Okay, what's happening? Okay, I have no idea." It wasn't because she was Christ-like. To me, it was like she was the Antichrist, in that she was the antithesis of Christ, the opposite of God. Her Biblical quotes didn't really add up to whatever she was observing. But over time, we saw her emerge as a true human being, becoming realized, becoming reformed. She was one of the lucky ones. If she had made it out, she would have been a happy, happy woman. Like, "Damn, this was great! Now I'm educated, and I want to get a job, and I'm going to have better relationships, and better sex!" I was so excited for her! And then, bam! [Laughs] That's why it's so devastating. 

It's like what she says about being the exception to the rule. Many people become worse because of prison, not better. And if Tiffany Doggett can recognize the error of her ways and become friends with Suzanne Warren, if she can confront her racism and homophobia and realize that's not who she wants to be, maybe there's hope for other people as well?
Manning:
I think that's spot on. And that's how they make the show, how relevant and pointed they make things, and that's why I'm so proud to be a part of this. You hear people do these things, say these things, and it's like, "You don't believe that, do you?" You know? If you were raised with your parents while your frontal lobe is still forming, whatever they say kind of goes. It might not even be your rhetoric, right? But when you hear your parent say something, you repeat it. So Tiffany, she was just programmed. That hate wasn't even rooted in any of her earlier beliefs. It was just popping off. Like, maybe she was repeating something her mother had said something against Mexicans or black people. It wasn't based on deep thought or a belief system. It was more like she was an empty vessel that was filled up with hate. That's so our society. 

It all comes down to education, to be honest with you. I always say that it would be really cool if schools had spiritual classes. I don't know exactly what, and not necessarily organized religion, but just an opportunity for everyone to get quiet and meditate and be together. I do think that as a combined consciousness, we all are elevating, and there are people who are trying to stop this horrible, horrible racism. Like, I can't even think about what's happening with the border with Mexico, and these poor children who are being separated from their families in these detention camps. It's beyond words to me. But I just feel that with time and education and even just little acts of kindness slowly make a difference. Otherwise, I don't have the answer. It's so bad, you know? What would you do? So illuminating this, putting some light on it and making it as disgraceful as it is, will help for a lot of these issues.

doggett and suzanne
Tiffany Doggett and Suzanne Warren in 'Orange is the New Black' | JoJo Whilden/Netflix

Did you ever talk to the Orange producers about incorporating some of your other talents into the show?
Manning:
Yeah. I understand one of my songs made the finale, although I don't know where they placed it. It's an a cappella song called "Chains," and it's basically like a singing prayer. Everybody got to start directing on the show, like Laura [Prepon] and Natasha [Lyonne]. It's so funny seeing the difference between the woman in the prison suit acting, and the woman directing. It's like, "Wow, you are a fully realized, amazing woman." I was so proud of them, I cried. Anything Natasha gets, she deserves. And Laura is just a dear heart. So I love having them direct me, but I wished I could have had that position, too.

Sometimes I get a little bored, or felt just not appreciated for all that I had to offer in these other areas. But with time, they started to see me for who I really am. It takes a lifetime to get to know people, so coming on a big show like that, and playing the hateful racist bigot, it takes some time to chip away at that part of the character, you know? When I first got offered the part, it was so amazing and incredible, because I had just had a really bad thing happen, where I made a mistake, and I went to jail for a night, in real life. It's a night I'll never forget because, you know, lessons are meant to be learned, and I learned that you can't fight. You can't do stuff like that. I auditioned for two other parts right after that, pretty much back to back, and I nailed them both, probably because I was so torn up inside and my emotions were easily accessed, and I got them both. But then I got the call from my manager that they were going to "go in another direction," basically because they didn't want trouble on the set. I was completely devastated. I had to surrender to this, and realize that this was all part of the punishment. And then I got the offer to play this weird girl Pennsatucky on this new platform called Netflix, but it shoots in New York and they want local hires. So I had to lie, and said that I live in New York. I didn't live in New York; I lived in Los Angeles. 

So you had to move?
Manning:
Yeah, and that meant I literally paid to be on that show in the beginning. Like, the amount they paid me and the amount it took to move there and do everything, I was getting pennies. I was living out of my suitcase. I had to bring my suitcase to the set. I was homeless, I had nowhere to live. After a few days, they called my manager to be like, "Is everything okay? Is her tenant moving out?" And my manager, poor thing, had to be like, "Yeah, her tenant is just having a hard time leaving," like I'm subletting a place. [Laughs] That's how humbled I was by my personal experience. But it's also beautiful, because that's how far you'll go for a role. And they knew that something was off, but that's how much I wanted to be a part of it, and what I would do for somebody to still take me. I was so grateful. But I often wonder, did I get the offer because of the terrible press about what I had allegedly done? You know?

Like they thought you had a small taste of prison, in the form of one night in jail?
Manning:
Yeah. And just the way the press spun it, you know? It's like, obviously, if there is a fight, two people are fighting. But the way that it was spun is that it was all me, and I was just this horrible person. And if you think about Tiffany Doggett in the first season, she was just this horrible, horrible person. I always like to say is that over time, I think that [showrunner] Jenji Kohan saw the real me, and the real me is a fully realized human being. And you saw this happen with Tiffany as well. A lot of fans tell me, "We liked you when you were mean!" And that's so telling, how people thrive on negativity.    
 
Any regrets? Anything you ever wanted to have happen on Orange, but there wasn't enough time?
Manning:
 It would have been cool to get Britney Spears on. I love her. She's a sweet girl, and she's a good actress, too. She would have had fun doing the show. That would have been adorable!

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Jennifer Vineyard is a contributor to Thrillist.