Please be advised: The following interview covers the second season of Orange Is the New Black. Spoilers to follow.
It’s not easy being the new kid at Litchfield Penitentiary, especially if your name is Brook Soso (you know: like Brooke Shields, except without the e). Throughout season two of Orange Is the New Black, Litchfield's smelliest inmate suffers all manner of indignities, from being forced to shower against her will to nearly being traded for a blanket. But while all her talk of WWOOFing on a walnut farm in Xenia can be pretty insufferable, it's hard not to empathize with Brook, who ends up channeling her youthful idealism into a valiant, if futile, protest against inhumane prison conditions. We talked to TV newcomer Kimiko Glenn about being one of the show's few Asian-American inmates, scalding prison showers, and the ins and outs of shooting a sex scene with Natasha Lyonne.
Brook’s past is still a bit of a mystery at this point, other than that we know she's in prison for political activism. Did you imagine a more detailed backstory for her?
I come from a theater background, so usually at the start you know what happens and where the character goes and everything. But with TV, it’s really unpredictable. And the writers are so unpredictable. I would get the script every week and be blown away, like, Oh my God, that is not where I thought my character was going or what I would do. So I kind of gave up at a certain point trying to make up some of her backstory, because it wasn't actually very helpful because it was usually way off.
It can be hard to tell whether Brook's protest is a ploy for attention or something she actually cares deeply about. Do you think her activist inclinations come from a real place?
I honestly think that they do. People might disagree with me, but I think it truly comes from her heart and she cares about these things. She’s just kind of not good at picking up what people just don’t want to hear, and she’s kind of socially inept. She doesn’t pick up on social cues sometimes, and doesn’t really know her place in the prison and doesn’t realize that most of the time people don’t want to hear it. And I think in that way, she comes off really annoying, but I think she’s just desperately trying to hold onto who she was before she came into prison. And [if] it seems a bit narcissistic or excessive, I think it's just because she has no one else who really relates to her.
Racial divisions play a significant role in the prison's social organization, but Brook, as one of the show's only Asian-American inmates, doesn’t really fit into one of the show’s clans.
Yeah, that’s one of the things I said to one of the writers before the finale was written: It was like, Brook does not have any friends. Like at this point, I just don’t think she made any friends. No one likes her still. And then it ended up being like, all I talked about in the finale, the fact that I had no friends. But I do hope that she finds someone who can stand her.
Maybe next season?
Maybe next season — we’ll see. I'll try to push them in that direction, be like: Give Brook a friend, please! She’s really lonely.
You’ve talked in the past about the experience of being Asian-American in an industry where there are relatively few Asian-Americans represented. What has that experience been like for you?
It's kind of interesting because, as an adult, I get a lot of material that’s more stereotypical, like secondary roles, or the funny sidekick, or the smart one, that type of thing. Or a lot of Asian prostitutes, or stuff like that. Which is always so much fun. But thinking back on it, I just really didn’t have very many role models to look up to when it came to Asian actresses. And in that way, when I would see an Asian onscreen, it would be a secondary-type thing, and that’s kind of how I ended up viewing myself in the world, as secondary. That’s why diversity is so important and being represented is so important and telling all these people's stories and having them be just as important as the pretty Caucasian girl or man. We’re in America. So I think its one of those things I really appreciate about Orange, and one of the things I really noticed and latched onto, which is that there's so many different types of women.
I feel like Brook is someone young viewers can relate to, in that she's one of the younger characters on the show, and some of her concerns — like when she talks about WWOOFing or Bonnaroo — are so stereotypically millennial.
Yeah, and she’s like the least likely person to end up [in prison]! I mean, at least at the outset, you don’t know what she’s done, but she just is seemingly the most unlikely person. And that’s what’s also so interesting about her character, is that anyone can really end up there.
She sort of occupied the same role that Piper filled in the first season, in that she was very naïve and kind of an outlier and a target.
Totally, except for the fact that she's probably not as tough or quick to learn as Piper. Shes a little more naïve.
The scene where Brook is dragged into the showers was pretty upsetting. What was filming it like?
Well, first of all, it took a while. And it was actually a full scene that they ended up cutting down, so it was really hard to stay in that emotional place all day. But it was hard because I felt bad for Brook. And actually, funny story: It was hard because when I got into the shower, they told me to turn it so it’s not freezing cold when you get into the shower. So basically, like an idiot, I walk into the shower and turn it all the way and then, as it's pouring on me, it’s scalding hot, like 200 degrees. Like, oh my God, my skin is burning off, oh my God. And of course they’re like, "Okay, we have one take, we have to do this in one take 'cause your hair’s going to get wet." So I was like, oh God, oh God, because in my head like, oh my God, I’m burning alive. And at one point I turned around and turned it down, but then I came out and was like, "Is that okay?" And they were like, "That was great." And I was like, "Are you sure? Because I don’t even know what I was doing because it was so hot."
Was there other stuff cut from the shower scene?
Yeah, there was a bit of stuff about how poor the conditions were. Basically I come in and I start like gagging because it smells like shit, literally, because crap is coming out of the drains.
You also had to shoot a sex scene with Natasha Lyonne, who must be pretty experienced in that department at this point. Did she make you feel comfortable?
Well, I actually met her that day, and we had like a little van ride together to set, and she talked a bit about it and I was kind of asking her. I wasn’t really nervous about the whole nudity aspect, I was more nervous about sex on-camera, because I was like, I’ve never really had to do that. I’ve never done a sex scene before. And like, one where I'm talking throughout and all these things. And she was like, "Well, truly it's the least sexual thing ever." You know, you’re thinking about A, B, and C, the technical things you have to execute in order to do this, and nobody wants you to feel uncomfortable, everyone kind of just wants to get it done. And, as bizarre as it sounds, after I saw the sex scene, I was like, that was crazy, that was really intense. It is really sexual on the show! But at the time, it didn’t feel like majorly embarrassing or sexual, it was just kind of another thing that you were acting out and trying to execute A, B, and C.
We just did a big story on fun.'s Jack Antonoff, and I know you were in the Bleachers video for "I Wanna Get Better," which Lena Dunham directed. What was the experience working with the two of them like?
It was probably one of the most fun days I’ve had on a set. First of all, when I came up to the makeup trailer, I see Lena in a group talking, and she catches my eye and she like runs away from the group and embraces me, and she’s like: "Kimiko! Its so great to see you!" The whole experience of shooting was very much like you were back in high school making a fun video with your friends, it was very low pressure. She was just very giving and like a very comforting person to be around. So it gave you room to like play and have fun, and Jack is just the sweetest, the cutest. They’re like, the world’s cutest couple. I can’t say enough good things about them.
Is there any chance we’ll see you on Girls next season?
Oh, I hope so! I don’t know if there will be a part for me, but I hope so. She’s so fun to work with.