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LOS ANGELES — “I need a coffee,” Taryn Manning announces as she settles into a chair at Fred 62, rubbing sleep out of her eyes. In fact, she’s still in her pajamas — a tank top and purple-and-pink terry cloth shorts worn with high-top sneakers.

It’s not every up-and-coming actress who arrives to an interview with a fashion publication in sleepwear, but then again Manning, best known for her roles as Kirsten Dunst’s sidekick in “Crazy/Beautiful” and Britney Spears’ best friend in “Crossroads,” is the rare starlet bent on fashioning a Hollywood career one way: her own. Judging by the buzz for her two upcoming films — next month’s “White Oleander,” opposite the blonde triumvirate Michelle Pfeiffer, Robin Wright Penn and Renee Zellweger, and the November release “8 Mile” opposite Eminem and Kim Basinger — her approach is working.

This story first appeared in the September 17, 2002 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Manning is also relying on a second passion, music, to help catapult her into the galaxy of big-name actresses. Her band Boomkat, formed with older brother Kellin, will release its first single, “The Reckoning” Oct. 15 and an album, “Boomkatalog Volume I,” on Dreamworks Records in January. “I hope when the music comes out that people hire me for bigger parts,” she says. “I’m sick of little parts!”

The album, which Manning describes as a cross between Jamiroquai and Oasis, comprises 14 songs she and Kellin wrote over four years. And although Manning would never consider herself mainstream, she hopes the record will be. “I’m hoping to pave a new way,” she explains. “They wanted to take my single and go remix it with the Neptunes or P. Diddy or Timberlake and I’m like, ‘Everyone’s already done that, why would I?’ You have to keep evolving to keep in the game.”

Manning insists on being a trendsetter and isn’t above dissing a star who’s made it and doesn’t make the effort to reinvent the formula. “I mean, what’s Britney going to do now? And what about Freaky Aguilera?” she asks, referring, of course, to Christina. “I see her out sometimes at clubs and she just sits there, not dancing.”

And Manning’s drive to be unique means she’s always working to create a look all her own. She wears mostly one-of-a-kind thrift-store goods gleaned from shops like Squaresville, Wasteland and Jet Rag, but lately she says, she just hasn’t been shopping. “You know when sometimes you get stuck and you don’t know what your style is? I feel like everything that I do gets bitten,” she says, her parlance for “ripped off.” “Even my best friend bites all my looks, but I love her for it. Once something gets bitten, I’ve got to be on to the next. I like Marc Jacobs and Grey Ant, but I’ve never been able to afford the designer stuff, so I’ve never gotten into it. I pull stuff from magazines then I do it the way I can afford to.”

It seems somewhat ironic then that the actress would agree to pose for one of Gap’s famously choreographed ad campaigns. (Her face currently peers out from countless billboards and TV screens, alongside songstresses Tweet and Marianne Faithfull.) But not surprisingly, Manning managed to make the brand’s homogenous look her own, rolling up her flare jeans and tucking them into her boots.

“It was pretty pimp, because they need to advertise what the jeans look like and you couldn’t even see them,” she raves. “And I didn’t wear any shirt underneath my hoodie. It wasn’t very sexy at first, but I just unzipped it, and they were like, ‘Yeah, that’s all right!’”

Of course, by now Manning’s on to the next. Her look’s been bitten.

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