Taryn Manning needed all of five minutes as an actress to get the skinny on money management. Notified that she would be receiving $4,000 for her first series appearance on The Practice in 2000, she thought she had boarded the express for Easy Street. She quit her job as a server and waited for her fat TV paycheck. When it arrived, she didn't recognize it. It was for $1,900, after Uncle Sam and her agents got their take.
"I called my mom sobbing," she recalls in an interview with The Price of Fame to promote her new film, The Perfect Age of Rock 'n' Roll, opening Friday. "That was my first lesson about the business and how it works."
Working It: Actress, Singer, DJ and More
Manning, 32, says she knew she would have to work harder to secure more gigs -- and she hasn't let up. Despite a recurring role on the CBS remake of Hawaii Five-0, she moonlights as a disc jockey. The climate in Hollywood demands it because of the "take-it-or-leave it" offers she and others are getting. "Times are tough," says Manning, also known for roles in the Eminem movie 8 Mile and pimp saga Hustle & Flow. "We don't make as much money as we used to."
Besides, she explains, "I don't have anywhere to turn if I run out of money. It's almost like this urgency."
Spinning discs gives Manning a chance to showcase her own songs. She uses much of her savings on professional pursuits outside of acting, much to the chagrin of both her accountant and mother. "I'm of the mentality that you have to spend money to make money," she says. "If I release it, it comes back."
She told TPOF that she spent the royalties from the song Wastin' My Time, which she and her brother Kellin (the duo Boomkat) performed on the 8 Mile soundtrack, to finance her clothing line Born Uniqorn. She has since suspended operations, but remains sold on reinvesting in herself.
Optimism from the Trailer Park
The actress traces her optimism to growing up poor in a Tucson, Ariz., trailer park. Her mother, Sharyn, toiled to win the "lot of the month" award and a month's free rent. "She sacrificed everything so I could have everything," Manning says. "My mom didn't buy herself a new pair of shoes and a new outfit until I moved out."
Her father, who divorced from her mom when Manning was an infant, committed suicide when she was a teenager. That was around the time her quest for financial independence accelerated. She and her mother had moved to northern San Diego County, and she conned her way into a job at a cafe in Cardiff-by-the-Sea. She told her employer she was 15 when she was really 13, using her meager salary to buy concert tickets. There wasn't anywhere else to turn for extra cash. "Literally when I asked my mom for a dollar I got one single dollar," she says.
Manning still lives modestly. She's not a "label whore" -- her words, not ours -- and doesn't carry fancy purses, she says. Having less stuff gives her the freedom to pick satisfying parts that might not pay so much. At the moment she faces a choice that many actresses would like to have: picking one of two prominent parts in the same movie. It's a biopic on the women in Charles Manson's murderous clan, so Manning says she'll have to decide wisely.
In the The Perfect Age of Rock 'n' Roll, an indie film written and directed by Scott Rosenbaum, her character is an aggressive manager who embarks on a cross-country tour with a feuding band. She's always looking for the next small-budget sleeper, she says, recalling when her role as a hooker in Hustle & Flow boosted her visibility. Learning long ago that paychecks might be smaller than they appear, she stays open to opportunity.
"I have that fighting spirit in me and that will to succeed," Manning says.
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