Kimiko Glenn says, “If you love it enough…you will have your moment.” It’s safe to say that right now Ms. Glenn is having her’s and it is thrilling. She is making her Broadway debut in the Tony nominated Best Musical Waitress. Eight shows a week, Kimiko is giving one of the most fun, energized, and gripping performances of the season as waitress Dawn. On Friday, you can see her as Brook Soso for her third (and the series’ fourth) season of Orange is the New Black on Netflix. The two projects couldn’t be more different–a Sara Bareilles written musical vs. a dark comedy about a women’s prison–but Kimiko is doing her characters more than just justice. Like any great actress, she seamlessly blends into the settings while standing out as powerful women to be reckoned with. In this interview, Kimiko talks Waitress, OITNB, and everything that got her there.
When did you catch the theater bug?
I started out as a singer. When I was young, like maybe five, I got my first album, which was Celine Dion. From then on I was obsessed with imitating her and singing all of her songs as loudly as possible [Kimiko laughs]. I became obsessed with mimicking what she was doing. My parents were like, “I think she’s a performer.” So they asked if I wanted to take voice lessons and audition for a musical. I was like, “Yes!”
I auditioned for the musical and ended up getting it—it was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Since then, I don’t know if I had an oh my gosh I think I’m going to do this for the rest of my life moment. It just felt natural, like I was [expressing myself in the perfect way]. It was a no brainer, not really a revelation…
Growing up in Arizona, what was your idea of what Broadway was?
I was obsessed with Broadway when I was a kid. I was obsessed with Broadway kids especially because I was like, “Why can’t I be a kid on Broadway?! Why can’t I live in New York? I’m all the way on the opposite side of the country, which is so unfair.” That’s how I felt my whole childhood and I would research as much as I could research—as much as there was out on the Internet, which was just starting out: my big ole desktop computer. I would watch clips, listen to audio of young kids performing on Broadway in Les Miserables, stuff like that. That was my experience growing up on the opposite end of the country.
You know, my [experience] with Broadway isn’t much different from what I imagined. I felt like I was already there because I had imagined it and I had done so much Googling. I don’t even know if Google existed when I was a kid [Kimiko laughs]. I search engined it. I Yahooed it? I don’t know [Kimiko laughs].
So now that you are on Broadway what are some differences from what you expected?
I’ve done eight shows a week my whole life. When people were like, “Ugh, Broadway is so demanding and so difficult. You have no life.” I was like, “Oh come on. I’ve done eight shows a week my whole life. What’s the big deal?”
The thing is that they don’t tell you is that there’s press, all the stuff to promote the show where you have rehearsals, the preview process, the tech process. It’s two months of rehearsing during the day and then performing at night, then doing it all over again. It’s really exhausting and really taxing. It’s hard work. I had respect for Broadway actors before, but wow it is a whole process. Honestly, it’s so much fun. But I asked one of my people, “When does the sleep happen?” [Kimiko laughs] But yeah, it’s so much fun. There’s a reason why people do it, why people want to be on Broadway so often. It’s more rewarding than it is difficult.
What training did you do to help set you up for success and be able to keep up with the rigor of Broadway?
I grew up in Phoenix. There’s actually a really strong theater community in Phoenix. I don’t know if anyone outside of the theater community knows that, but it’s kind of amazing. The arts scene is booming. I grew up doing shows at Valley Youth Theater, which is a children’s theater. They have wonderful people running it, Bobb Cooper and Mark Fearey. They put on these shows that are high quality, they cast great people. I grew up with people like Emma Stone, Jordin Sparks, and Max Crumm from Broadway. Charity Dawson, this is her second Broadway show, she’s also in Waitress. I grew up with her, which is amazing and hilarious that we’re now doing a show 10 years later together. Beyond the movie star/successful people, a lot of the people I grew up with are working. Whether they’re a household name or not, they’re all working. I grew up with those people, so I had them as examples. We were all doing it for the love of it, we all loved doing theater.
We got together at the end of our school day. The rehearsal schedule was actually kind of extensive. You’d get home at 4pm from school and then from 5-10pm you would rehearse. It was a little bit demanding, but in that way we were disciplined because we rehearsed a lot—we got it right, we created, we found the moments—and the shows were actually quality, especially for a children’s theater in Phoenix. That’s how we all came to be who were are today and who we will become. We had such leadership there and we had such a great community and great examples set in our environment.
That’s why we have to support the arts!
I know. You’ve got to have good teachers and people who inspire you.
How did Waitress come about?
I don’t know what all happened, but I think about a year and a half ago my agent brought this project to me. I saw Sara Bareilles was attached to it and I was like, “OH MY GOD, I have to be apart of this show!” I listened to the demo and I was like, “OH MY GOD, this song is amazing! I have to do it! I have to do this show. This song is a perfect song for me, it’s a perfect role for me.” I think they had some ideas about Dawn and they were finding out who she was at the time. Who Dawn was a year and a half ago is way different from how I’ve now created her. I think they put a pin in me and tried some other people out for a while but always had me in the back of their head. I don’t know what the actual story is; it’s all hearsay [Kimiko laughs].
They came back to me and I auditioned again recently before the lab, after the Boston run. They gave me some guidance of what they had learned throughout the year. Then they cast me, which was kind of unreal…I was so sad that I didn’t get the part because I wanted it so badly. It’s just amazing that it came back around, especially for the Broadway run. It’s my Broadway debut, which is a dream come true for me. Also, I’m having so much fun with the cast. The group of people that they got together is just amazing: so sweet, so nurturing. It’s a big love fest back there. The part that I’m doing is so much fun—nonstop silliness.
Dawn is the best. She’s so fun. When you’re choosing projects do you take into consideration whether they have strong female characters or a strong female creative team?
Here’s the thing, as an actor unless you’re Jennifer Lawrence you don’t really get to choose your jobs. It’s about half and half. There’s a definite conscious decision of what we audition, what we put me in the mix for. There’s certain stuff I won’t do and so in that way I guess I’m very selective. I actually don’t audition that much anymore because I really want to be specific about the next thing I do. I want it to be important to me and hopefully to other people. That’s why I end up in these sort of roles, it just sort of ended up working out. You know, I audition for a lot of stuff and a lot of stuff I don’t end up getting. So I don’t necessarily pick what my next thing is, but I do whittle it down so my next thing is important to me.
There’s such a paradox in this discussion about women in entertainment because on one hand if you talk about it then it seems like you’re drawing attention to the inequality, which ends up sounding antifeminist. On the other hand, if we don’t talk about it, nothing is going to change. That said, is there something about working in predominantly female spaces that has been beneficial to you as an actress?
You know, it’s funny that you say that you don’t want to draw attention to it because then it highlights the inequality. That’s kind of my view on it. When we stop drawing attention to it, that’s when there’s no longer a problem.
The thing I’ve been asked a lot is, “What’s it like working with an all female creative team?” To me, it’s no different than working with an all male creative team. The only difference is that they’re women. It’s very odd to me that this is the first time in Broadway history that there’s an all female creative team. That’s weird to me. But I think the reason why this group of people came together is because these people were the best for the project…It wasn’t like, “Oh my gosh we just have to break barriers all the way. We have to have all these females involved.” I just think it was like, “Lorin Latarro is a fantastic choreographer. I think she would really bring a certain life to the show that maybe wasn’t there before.” That’s why she got added onto the project: the choreography, especially in the pie moments…I think the way they use the choreography so creatively it’s kind of emotional, honestly—those moments when [Jenna] is dreaming up the pies—because of the movement that [Lorin] created. I don’t think it’s because she’s a woman she got involved with the project. It’s because she’s a brilliant mind and [that goes] for the rest of the creative team. Everyone is just so smart and knows what they’re doing. They’re really strong and have opinions. I think that’s why people really love the show, it’s because they handcrafted this thing that we’re all doing.
There’s an interesting dichotomy between people trying to change an industry but being so over the fact that things need to be changed.
It’s wonderful to celebrate [the all female creative team] but all the commentary on it may be making the divide more [pronounced]. I don’t know…But it’s important to celebrate. I don’t think it’s so conscious maybe. And even with diversity in television, when it becomes unconscious that’s when we’ve won: when we’re able to tell stories without the limitation of thinking that it needs to be one way or the other.
Orange is the New Black comes back on Friday! What was something that you learned from doing the show that has made the whole process of Waitress easier?
You know, in every job you learn something. You learn a lot. I’ve learned a lot from being on that show just because it’s something different. I’ve done musical theater all my life. The fact that I went to go do TV for a few years and didn’t step on a stage for three years I think really helped shape the honesty of my performance because you can’t be dishonest when you’re on film. It reads every single twitch that you have in your face. If you’re dishonest and don’t believe every single word you’re saying then the audience knows. I think in that way it’s helped because theater is larger than life. It can be hard to find a balance. It’s been fun creating Dawn after that whole experience. I hope that I’ve created a human being and not a caricature, which I may have done before Orange—I don’t know. Orange has changed my life in so many ways and I’m grateful for it.
Every step along the way you grow and you learn more. You observe the people that you’re working with. I’ve worked with such amazing people on that show. By watching them, you become a better actor because you’re seeing them work and seeing how they breathe. It informs how you do your work.
Brook was in such a dark place last season. It was heavy stuff to watch. How was it performing that and understanding that journey going into this most recent season?
It’s funny because the last two seasons of Orange—excluding the fourth season that’s about to come out—Brook has been in such a dark place. No one listened to her. It’s really hard to play a role where no one is listening to you for two years. You’re talking and talking and no one’s responding. No one is communicative; they’re all shutting you down. That was really hard for me. I feel like my relationships blossomed even more after the fourth season because I was able to speak more and have more of a friendship in season four. I had someone to talk to. It’s a weird thing, but it’s something you don’t see in the character: someone responding in a way that’s respectful and interested. In the past couple seasons it was hard. But the chaos is great—it’s great drama! [Kimiko laughs]
So the way your characters relate on screen affects how you all interact off screen?
It’s no one’s fault but mine. When I go in with this character, in this role, and that sort of thing is happening, I immediately become slightly like [her]. I become a little more self-conscious and nervous to be around people—worried about stepping on people’s toes. It just happens to me in general.
I think that because I’m playing Dawn now, because I’m playing a bit more of an expressive role and am on stage performing, I’m a little bit more outgoing, which is interesting. I feel like I adopt bits and pieces of my character in my life as I’m playing them. It’s cool now because I’m a little more outgoing right now, but while I was doing the second and third seasons [of OITNB] it was hard for me. I was a little like, “Oh gosh everyone hates me” or something, which wasn’t true. It’s hard to for it to affect your life.
What’s your advice for aspiring actors?
There’s so much I’ve learned from doing this for the past eight years. I would say the main thing that I learned is persistence is key. If you keep going, if you love it enough, and you just chip away, you will have your moment. Every one of my friends who’s been doing this, everyone has their own journeys, it’s not an immediate thing. That’s a hard thing to swallow because we just want it now. It does take time and not everyone is an overnight sensation. If you keep going, if you believe in yourself enough, if want to do it enough, keep going. Whether it’s now or in three years or in 20 years, you’ll have your time. Every one of my friends has had their time or will have their time. I know they will because they’re brilliant and need to have it. It just takes the right project, the right role. You can never predict that. You have to do it for the love of it and not for the successes: the fame, the magazine covers. It’s not about that at the end of the day. If that’s the end goal, you’ll probably be disappointed because it’s so rare and it doesn’t happen immediately. You have to love it enough to keep going during the hard times. That’s probably the biggest thing I’ve learned. ♦