Kimiko Glenn talks Asian-American representation on film: ‘We have made huge strides’ 

Kimiko Glenn talks Asian-American representation on film: ‘We have made huge strides’ 
"Little Kimiko could've really used an Awkwafina to look up to."

“Little Kimiko could’ve really used an Awkwafina to look up to.”

Following the release of Asian-led favorites like “Crazy Rich Asians” and “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,” actress Kimiko Glenn says she’s finally starting to see the more diverse film industry she’d hoped for when she was a young girl.

“Little Kimiko could’ve really used an Awkwafina to look up to, and I’m so excited that my children might actually get to have that,” says the New York City-based actress known best for her role of Brook Soso in “Orange Is the New Black.”

As an Asian-American actress, Glenn says she’s always been “painstakingly aware” of the limited opportunities she’d come across when seeking out film and television roles. Hollywood has only recently, she says, opened up more doors than ever with non-white-led projects.

Her latest film gig — a voiceover role in the NYC-set “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” — was also praised for its diverse casting of “modern heroes for a modern world,” per Variety. And while hopeful of Hollywood’s slow move toward inclusivity, the 29-year-old actress stresses female leads of color are still a rarity.

Kimiko Glenn portrayed Brook Soso on "Orange Is the New Black" for three years. 
Kimiko Glenn portrayed Brook Soso on "Orange Is the New Black" for three years.  Photo Credit: JoJo Whilden/Netflix

“[W]hether or not I get a paycheck is so much determined by how I look. There’s always been an obvious imbalance and I was hoping for a shift,” she says, “but I think I even surprised myself when I realized how deeply I needed it.”

For Glenn, 2019 marks the continuation of a career high: her role in “OITNB” ending two years ago only left her more in demand; her resume since packed with spots in TBS’ “The Guest Book,” upcoming film project “Can You Keep a Secret?” and Netflix’s “BoJack Horseman.”

We caught up with Glenn by email to dissect her latest projects and her hopes for the ever-changing industry.

The industry has made a slow and necessary move toward on-screen diversity. What does this mean to you as an Asian-American actress?

I am happy to say that I finally think it is! The evolution of diversity in media has been a slow one, but I think we have made huge strides in the past couple of years toward properly representing the world and not just a certain version of it. Audiences, including myself, are excited to finally be able to see people they can relate to. Watching “Crazy Rich Asians” was a surprisingly emotional experience for me. I had never seen a film portray Asians in a way that didn’t feel like the same few Hollywood archetypes that even I had gotten used to, let alone include more than one Asian actor in the cast and it caught me off-guard. I was completely mesmerized by Lana Condor in “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” in part because I had just never seen a movie told from that perspective.

With an expanding resume — and an evolving Hollywood — what’s your wildest dream role?

To be honest, I had never really thought beyond maybe some obvious choices like Mulan or Kim in “Miss Saigon” — they were, in my childhood, the only potential roles I saw for Asian girls and I think I might still have a complex about it because I am having a hard time thinking outside the box on this one.

One theatrical project that I have always been passionate about (I did the world premiere years ago) is “Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots.” I played Yoshimi, a young woman who is diagnosed with cancer and is split between her reality and a fantasy world in which she has to physically fight for her life. The story is told using solely music by The Flaming Lips’ — who happen to have the most masterful, existential lyrics, exploring mortality and what it means to be alive — and it was my first true artistic love.

I would love to reprise that role and adapt a version for the screen. I think the visual storytelling paired with the psychedelic rock music would be so moving! Oh, and Eliza in “Hamilton” would be fun, too.

How did portraying Peni Parker in “Spider-Man” help you grow as an actress, through having to rely on voiceover acting behind the scenes rather than visual?

Doing voice over always gives me a jolt of childlike energy because it is so playful and often outrageous. It is also an interesting skill set, depending on what stage of development they are in. Typically, creators use the actor’s voice to inspire the emotion of the animation, but occasionally, once the process is a little further along, we have to do pick-ups or Automatic Dialog Replacements to fill in some story moments that weren’t able to be salvaged from previous sessions. Most of the time, they are to sync up “efforts” or action sounds like grunting, running, kicking, punching, etc., which can end up being a hilarious part of the process.

You played Brook Soso on “OITNB” for three years. What are your thoughts on the series ending, and will we get a chance to say goodbye to Brook?

As much as I am sad to see the story come to an end, this series was incredibly groundbreaking in terms of strong female-driven characters, diversity in television, trans visibility, and sparked awareness and interest toward prison reform, humanizing incarcerated non-violent offenders. “Orange” was ahead of its time in so many ways. We would shoot a year before the season would come out and somehow the plotlines would be even more prevalent than they seemed at the time. It was expert at shedding a light on societal issues and I think I will miss its humorous take on serious problems most of all. I would love to know how Brook’s story ends, but unfortunately, I don’t believe we will find out what happens to her.

What can you tease about what’s next for you and your upcoming projects?

I am beyond excited to see “Can You Keep A Secret?” I had such a fun experience working with our director Elise Duran who created a space in which we could have as much fun as possible while reigning us in enough to keep the story chugging along. She put together a kick-ass cast and I am just so excited to watch it mainly. I also have a big handful of animation projects coming out.

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