Her breakthrough role was as Nola, a prostitute in Memphis, Tennessee, in the 2005 film Hustle & Flow. Manning was nominated in the Washington, DC Area Film Critics Association Awards for Best Breakthrough Performance. Director Craig Brewer saw Manning's picture in a photography book and was convinced that the actress who played Nola should look just like her. "There are some people who put on trashy like a wardrobe, and Taryn can play those roles with dignity and earnestness," Brewer said of Manning. In a "making of" featurette on the Hustle & Flow DVD, "Behind the Hustle", Brewer talks about how surprised and delighted he was to later realize that the model who had originally inspired his image of Nola's look turned out to also be the actress playing her.