Warning: spoilers ahead.
While the rest of Litchfield is rioting, when we first encounter Brook Soso (played by Kimiko Glenn) in the season 5 premiere of Orange Is the New Black, she’s balling her eyes out in the library, clutching a copy of Rilke. Days before, her girlfriend with a penchant for German literature, fan-favorite Poussey Washington (accent à droite, b*tch), was suffocated by a correctional officer during a prison-wide protest in what will go down as one of the show’s most heartbreaking scenes. Here, we caught up with Glenn to discuss how her character—and the rest of the prison—is dealing with life after unspeakable tragedy.
Were you surprised when Poussey was killed off?
I literally had the thought last season: “Things are going too well. They’re going to write me off the show. I’m going to get released. Something dramatic is going to happen.” But I never in a million years would’ve thought that Samira [Wiley] was going to be the one to go, because she’s so beloved. When we got that script, it was so shocking. None of us dealt with it well. I cried a lot. Maybe I shouldn’t have; maybe I should’ve kept my cool a little bit more.
How is Soso coping this season?
Her lover just died tragically and suddenly, so she’s dealing with that in her own way. The way she deals with it is a bit different than the way her friends deal with it. Poussey was all she had. Not only is she grieving—she’s alone again completely. She’s having a really hard time.
Considering it takes place over the course of three days, there isn’t really time for her to properly cycle through the stages of grief.
I think she’s pretty much stuck in denial and anger. But the riot helps get her out of it. It’s only been three days, so the wounds are really open at this point. It was really easy for me to get in touch with those feelings because it really did feel like a huge loss—the show is obviously continuing without her, but the cast and crew loves her, and we weren’t expecting it at all. I really truly was sad, so it was pretty easy to go there.
And Jeneé helps get Soso back on track, too.
She [Jeneé] is the one who starts getting me going again. She gets me into letting out my anger through running and punching a pillow and stuff like that, because she has a lot of anger too—not just about Poussey, but just in general [Laughs]. She lets out a lot of her emotions through physical activity, so she takes me under her wing. It starts out with her and grows from there. People eventually sympathize enough to help her [Soso] out, which I was thankful for. I would get the script and be like, “Oh! Someone cares!”;
Sounds physically demanding.
I probably should’ve used some technique, because I couldn’t walk the next day. We did so many takes. It was more of an emotional thrusting of arms.
The book memorial scene for Poussey was really touching.
That’s one way she [Soso] really channels her feelings: She and Taystee create this memorial, and it’s a beautiful book memorial. So there is time to grieve her and there is time to reflect on her and her life. It’s not all just anger and rioting and justice. It’s a little artsy, creative hallway of books.
Poussey did love to read. What else does Soso miss about her?
Companionship, mainly. They both needed someone to understand them. There was a point when Poussey was like, “I need a girlfriend.” And there was a point when I say, “I need a friend.” There was no one listening to her; people were annoyed with her. She was getting really frustrated and depressed—she tried to commit suicide, poorly. Having someone go, “Hey, I get you” and laugh with her and listen to her was a huge beacon of hope for her, and it was stripped away in a second. She didn’t even get to say goodbye; she didn’t get to see her. She was taken away from the cafeteria and heard about it after the fact. It goes to show the holes in the prison system.
What do you think Soso will do after she’s released from Litchfield?
I think she would have a more mature activist stance and follow in Piper Kerman’s footsteps—she wrote the book and is big into the Women’s Prison Association and rights for prisoners.
Orange Is the New Black has always been a champion of diversity. Has working on the show impacted the roles you’ll take going forward?
I am very selective. In the entertainment industry, it’s so important. We shape how society thinks in a really subliminal way. For the longest time growing up, I always viewed myself as secondary, because my stories are never told. It’s always centered around a white person. Whenever an Asian is brought in, there’s a mention of their Asianness as being the butt of the joke. It shapes the way we think in a big way. I am very much an American—I’m obviously half Japanese, but I don’t like when it’s the center of attention unless it’s an important story. I want to be seen as a human being, not just an Asian. I was seen for so many prostitutes and accented roles and sword-wielding ninjas before I finally was financially stable enough to go, “No! I can’t do that anymore.” I want to represent the Asian American who lives in America who isn’t the stereotype. There’s definitely much more work to be done, but it’s gotten a lot better, thankfully.
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This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.