The terribly addictive second season of Orange Is the New Black, Jenji Kohan’s binge-worthy series about a diverse group of female inmates at a dingy prison in Litchfield, New York, saw two new gals join Piper Chapman and Co. There’s Vee (Lorraine Toussaint), a female Stringer Bell and surrogate mother to Taystee on the outside, who rises to become the villainous leader of “The Ghetto,” the corner of the facility housing the black inmates, and the most feared lady in orange.
And on the opposite end of the spectrum, there’s Brook Soso.
Soso, played by newcomer Kimiko Glenn, is a hippie in the worst sense of the word. She rambles ad nauseum about everything from name-calling to her best friend “Meadow” to her wacky theories on Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. She claims to be named after “Brooke Shields except without the e,” and befriends Chapman—until the icy blond attempts to pimp her out to Big Boo for a blanket. This incident forces her into the mouth of Nichols (Natasha Lyonne) who, in one of the more risqué sex scenes this season, performs oral sex on her in a chapel. When Soso gets too chatty during the cunnilingus, Nichols shoves Soso's head into her crotch to shut her up. Later, the “passive resistance” practitioner attracts the ire of her fellow prisoners when she refuses to shower, and also stages a hunger strike to protest the shoddy conditions at Litchfield. After going at it alone, she’s joined by Yoga Jones and Sister Ingalls. And last but not least, she gets all the inmates to sing along to Lisa Loeb’s “Stay” during a prison blackout.
When I meet Glenn at a coffee shop by New York’s Madison Square Park, she’s petite, and affable, sporting a nose stud and a green army jacket a la Lindsay Weir. Over the course of an hour, we chatted about her journey to Orange Is the New Black and much more.
How were you cast on Orange Is the New Black?
Jenji had told me she’d seen me in a show that summer. I was doing Love’s Labour’s Lost at Shakespeare in the Park, and then I got the audition. I was actually watching the show when I got the audition. I was in the middle of the season—maybe Episode 5—and then I paused it, did something, came back to my computer, and opened my email and it said, “Appointment for Orange Is the New Black.” I thought I was seeing things! I thought, “Oh my God… this is big. I need to do really well,” and I also thought, “There’s no role for me. I’m not tough or badass.” This happened in the beginning of August, because then I started shooting mid-August. It was a really quick turnaround. I auditioned, the next day I got the part, and then I was shooting the day after that at six in the morning.
Wow, that’s fast. When you got the email about the audition, did it come with a description of the character you were trying out for? And what did it say?
It had a breakdown of the character and what they’re mindset is, which helped inform the scenes. It was pretty much what she turned out to be—a very hippie-dippy annoying liberal who just talks and talks and talks, and maybe knows what she’s talking about and maybe she doesn’t. It also said that the role would be “recurring,” but I didn’t know to what extent.
What did you have to do in the audition?
Well, it was about nine pages of dialogue and she talks a lot, so I got the lines the day before the audition and ran them all day and all night, thirty minutes at a time. I had to do three scenes for the audition: the blanket scene where she says, “You pimped me out for a blanket?”, when I’m complaining about not eating the right food, and I don’t remember the other one!
So you’re on the set two days after auditioning. What was the first scene you shot?
It was the reaction shot when I first come in behind Taylor and also the crying scene in the bed where Taylor comforts me.
Trial by fire. There’s a hilarious scene early on where Natasha Lyonne’s character is going down on yours in the church and you will not shut up. What was it like shooting that?
That was one of the first days of shooting! It was the second episode I did, I think, so the third or fourth day I was there. We film the chapel scenes up in Rockland. I’d done some nudity before onstage in a show called Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots in L.A. based on the Flaming Lips album, and I played a girl named Yoshimi who’s battling cancer. It was very psychedelic. But as far as the scene with Natasha goes, they wanted to get it done quickly so I wouldn’t be uncomfortable, so the lead-up was scarier than actually doing it. I had so many people making sure I was ok, working on the nudity rider, and all that, and by the time it happened I was pretty comfortable. It was a closed set and it was my idea to leave my socks and shoes on. I was given a robe, and I wasn’t completely naked—I had a little patch covering the area up. I know it looks pretty real, but she was actually pretty far from my lady parts. She just has very big hair. [Laughs]
You also got to lead a sing-along with all the inmates in Episode 12, staring with Meredith Brooks’ “Bitch” and ending with Lisa Loeb’s “Stay.”
It took me all week to memorize “Stay” because it’s not a typical pop song, there’s no repeating chorus, and there are a lot of words, so I practiced all week with Jackie Cruz, who plays Flaca. It was the most fun I had, hands down. There were mats everywhere and it was like a big rainy-day sleepover with most of the cast. And I love singing, but with Brook, I had to sort of flatten out my voice because she’s not a singer.
What’s your take on Brook? She is annoying, but by the end of the season, you realize that she’s got a point because she’s one of the only people actually voicing her complaints about the crappy conditions at Litchfield.
I think she really passionately believes these things and isn’t trying to be annoying, but nobody listens to her. She’s just trying to get her point across and is frustrated. Of course, all the inmates are rolling their eyes, so everyone thinks I’m annoying. It all comes from a good place. But she’s also new to prison and is still figuring things out, while still trying to be true to herself.
Have you, like Soso, ever participated in a protest yourself?
Well, I’m not as extreme at all. I think the world is unfair. I do relate to her in a lot of ways. There are all these trending sites and you learn about these injustices—innocent black men being killed because they’re wearing a hoodie—and we’re becoming more aware, as a nation, of these injustices, and people are trying to make a change.
Are you actually Scottish and Japanese, like your character on the show?
I’m actually more German than Scottish. I’m half-Japanese, 25 percent German, 12 percent Scottish, and 12 percent Irish.
Prior to your arrival, the only other Asian inmate on Orange Is the New Black was Chang, who doesn’t talk much. Did Jenji tell you this was something they were trying to represent more on the show?
Originally, it wasn’t an Asian role; I think they just landed on me somehow. They wanted her to have dreadlocks—oh God, I wanted to have dreadlocks so bad!—but I when I got there I thought, “I’m not going to have dreadlocks? No!” Maybe in my flashback. I think they were looking to go more in the Indian direction, but they landed on me.
There aren’t a lot of Asian actors getting juicy gigs on prestige shows like Orange Is the New Black. How’s it been for you as a half-Asian actress trying to make a name for yourself?
Well it’s challenging, for sure. There aren’t as many roles and I think there’s a lack of openness in casting an Asian character in a leading role, or unless they’re a stereotype. It’s been hard. I’ve been able to play some non-stereotypical roles, which is great, but I have a lot of Asian actor friends who are struggling. It’s just harder to get a job. If you look at the statistics, it’s pretty staggering. I think on Broadway, Asian actors fill 1.5 percent of all roles. And growing up, there weren’t too many role models to look up to on television. There was Lucy Liu and Sandra Oh. But I think that’s so important, because if you see people in entertainment and in media, you relate it to yourself, so I would never think I could be able to tell my story.
I’m curious about your backstory. Where did you grow up?
I was born and grew up in Phoenix, and I left there when I was 17 to go to Interlochen Arts Academy—a boarding school in Michigan—for a year, and then I went to college for a year at The Boston Conservatory, and landed the Spring Awakening tour midway through my freshman year, which was pretty cool. I did that for two years, and then I moved to New York, because that was always my dream. Growing up, I was always so jealous of the Broadway kids. But I came to New York with an agent because of Spring Awakening, which was great, and managed to book some things. I just wanted to work so really did everything I could.
Everyone knows the cast of Orange Is the New Black gets along like gangbusters. Who do you hang with?
I think the main people I enjoy talking to on a regular basis are Emma Myles who plays Leanne Taylor, Connie Shulman who plays Yoga Jones…
…I still can’t get over that she voiced Patti Mayonnaise on Doug.
One day I was like, “I love your work! I loved you on Doug!” The theme song of Doug was my ringtone once for literally a year. And Jackie Cruz I love, who plays Flaca.
Uzo told me you all started shooting the third season a couple of weeks ago.
We started shooting right before the second season aired. It’s going well! I’ve been in one episode so far, I think.
I figure you’re going to be featured pretty prominently this season because we’re still not privy to your backstory and what you were arrested for, with Piper merely describing it as a “political protest.”
I hope so! I’m curious why she’s in Litchfield. I don’t even know what I did!
How’s your life changed since landing the role on Orange Is the New Black?
In L.A., I was a much easier sell and it was easier to get into the room for auditions. Since it’s come out, nobody recognized me for a week, and then I went to get a milkshake with a friend and my hair was all frizzy because it was raining, and then someone spotted me there and pointed at me and went, “ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK!?” I thought I knew him or something. [Laughs]