The actress has had her share of “pinch me” moments of late: first, in the hit series “Orange Is the New Black,” and then in her Broadway debut in the musical “Waitress.”
If there’s a mantra for those working in the acting meccas of Los Angeles and New York, it’s this: Follow your dreams. Actress and Broadway star Kimiko Glenn is most certainly on her own road to self-actualization, perhaps best known for her portrayal of hippie-activist inmate Brook Soso in Netflix’s award-winning series “Orange Is the New Black” (“OITNB”), returning June 17 in its fourth season. As she makes her way through the corrections system at Litchfield Penitentiary, Soso initially grates on her fellow inmates with her idealist, chatterbox ways and then progresses through depression (even an attempted suicide), newfound loyalty and possibly love.
“The whole experience has been incredibly humbling and exciting,” says Glenn, of playing Soso. “I had already seen the show and was amazed by how bold and how brave it was in terms of its content and its characters. I remember thinking how cool it must be to have that job and that I would die to be on it.”
Only later would Glenn realize that watching “OITNB” was an important dot that would eventually connect in her constellation of reality. All within a 40-hour timespan, Glenn would audition, get cast and go to her first day of work on the second season of the show.
Such a short turnaround forced Glenn to quickly get comfortable with Soso’s character on set. It was only after shooting “OITNB” for some time that she began watching prison documentaries, studying nuances that Soso would adopt as she learned the ins and outs of prison life. One plotline had Soso not showering as an extension of her hippie ways, perhaps in an attempt to exercise a bit of control in a prison where inmates have little control over anything.
“I experimented with using lemon juice in place of deodorant alongside Soso’s no-showering storyline,” says Glenn. “FYI — lavender oil works way better than lemon. However, I did go back to using antiperspirant when the episode wrapped.”
Method acting or otherwise, Glenn has been performing her whole life. “I was always singing and dancing and creating little skits at home,” she says. “My parents asked me if I wanted to audition for a musical when I was 10 years old — ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.’ I ended up getting the role of Dopey, and I never stopped after that.”
After her debut as the most loveable dwarf, Glenn immersed herself in the musical world, with no shortage of role models to look up to. “I became obsessed with Ruthie Henshall, Liz Calloway, Lea Salonga,” she says. “I imitated every character on every cast album I could get my hands on.”
Of course, Glenn’s dream was to be on Broadway, something she pursued relentlessly. After a decade of performing in the New York theatre scene, she was starting to feel that her goal was “almost unattainable.” But just last month, Glenn made her Broadway debut in the musical “Waitress,” playing Dawn, a fellow waitress, alongside Tony Award winner Jessie Mueller. The critically acclaimed musical, directed by Tony Award-winning director Diane Paulus, with original music and lyrics by Grammy winner Sara Bareilles, tells the story of Jenna (Mueller), a waitress and pie maker who rebuilds her life through a baking contest, with the help of her fellow waitresses.
“When I got the audition for the musical, I knew I had to be in it,” says Glenn. “I locked myself in my studio apartment for three days to practice the material. I had never been so nervous in my life. I really wanted Sara Bareilles to like me!” It took several “nerve-wracking” auditions, but eventually Glenn got the part. “A definite ‘pinch me’ moment, for sure.”
It seems Glenn has been experiencing a lot of “pinch me” moments of late. And much like her eco-conscious counterpart on “OITNB,” Glenn prefers natural remedies to deal with her anxiety when she performs, like drinking tea to calm nerves and lots of water to keep her singing voice in tip-top shape.
It may well be her high-profile role as Soso that helped Glenn land the part in “Waitress.” Indeed, Glenn appreciates the larger impact the groundbreaking show has had in our cultural dialogue. “I think the coolest part about being on this show has been witnessing how ‘OITNB’ has broadened the types of people we see on television,” she says. “We are now starting to tell the stories of people of all shapes, sizes, and cultural backgrounds, and how it opened a dialogue for the trans community.”
And of course, there’s the burning question that fans are always asking: Will Soso get together with fellow inmate Poussey (played by former “Composure” cover girl Samira Wiley) in the upcoming fourth season of “OITNB”?
“Well, I certainly hope so, for Soso’s sake,” says Glenn. “She hasn’t had anyone to talk to since she got in prison, and I think it’s about time she had a ‘friend’ of sorts.
“I think in a lot of ways they would be compatible,” she continues. “Poussey has an unusual past that I think Brook would find attractive and intriguing. Also, Samira Wiley is super hot. Who wouldn’t be into that?”
“Orange Is the New Black,” season 4, will be released on Netflix on June 17. “Waitress” is currently playing on Broadway at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre.