'OITNB' Star on Tragic Season 4 Ending and Soso's Journey

Actress Kimiko Glenn also talks with THR about why the Netflix series continues to break ground.
JoJo Whilden/Netflix
'Orange Is the New Black'

[Warning: This story contains major spoilers from the entire fourth season of Orange Is the New Black.]

To the Orange Is the New Black fans who were shocked by season four's ending, actress Kimiko Glenn (Soso) can relate.

In the penultimate episode of season four, the Jenji Kohan-created prison dramedy killed a fan favorite for the first time in the show's four-year run. In a prison-wide protest that turned fatal, Poussey Washington (Samira Wiley) is accidentally suffocated by a guard in a provocative and devastating storyline that parallels the Black Lives Matter movement and racial injustice dominating the real-life news cycle.

The plotline was kept under lock and key and while Wiley told The Hollywood Reporter that she knew for over a year, nearly all of her castmates found out a mere two weeks earlier when they read the script for the episode. Even Glenn, who plays Poussey's girlfriend, the usually babbling but now heartbroken Brook Soso.

"I had a hunch that something was going to happen because things were going way too well," Glenn tells THR about the pair's romance, which blossomed throughout the season as Soso finally found someone who understood her and Poussey finally found love. "I thought I was going to get released from prison and that we were going to have to deal with that — that there would be some drama or that something would happen. But I thought, 'Samira is safe.' She is adored and the most beloved character on this show. One hundred percent, I thought she was going to be OK."

While still grieving for her character, Glenn — who will be splitting her time when Orange goes into production on season five next week with her role on Broadway's Waitress — spoke with THR about what it was like to film Poussey's death scene, how she imagines Soso will cope and the importance of working on a show that continues to break ground by shining its spotlight on a mixed-race lesbian couple.

How did you react when you first read the script?

It was so intense because it was completely out of left field and just so unexpected. When I read the script, it was around 1 a.m. and my boyfriend was asleep next to me on the couch. I smacked him, and I was like “I have to tell you what happens. No wait, I can’t. But It’s SO crazy." It’s the biggest thing that’s ever happened on the show and I thought, “I can’t believe they just did that.” But then when I thought about it a little more, I realized that is the best drama, because it’s doing something that no one would expect to the most beloved character on the show, everyone loves Samira. You want a drama? Here’s a drama.

Did you call Samira right away?

It was too late so as soon as I woke up I texted her: “Is it real?” She said, “Yeah.” I wrote, “That’s not possible!” And she said, “Well, it is.” I told her she was evil for not telling me during the six months we’ve been doing scenes together! And she said she didn’t tell anyone. But I would probably do the same thing. It’s probably good that she didn’t.

How long before you shot the episode did you read the script?

About a week, maybe a week and a half. But it was strange going to set after reading it, because it was like everyone was in mourning. She’s such a huge part of the show, not only a big character, but also her presence and personality. It almost felt like a real death, it was weird. Everyone’s going to miss her so much.

The entire cast was there for the filming of her death scene. Can you take me through what it was like on set?

Soso is one of the people who gets torn away by the guards and taken out of the cafeteria, so she doesn’t even see. But that scene was really intense. It was a 21-hour day — I woke up at 4 a.m. and then we wrapped at 1 a.m. the next day, so it was really long-winded. We were all asleep on the bunks, going a little nuts and stir crazy but also having moments of laughing and being silly because we were just so slap-happy. To then being really upset because it was a really sad day. It was her death scene, so it was hard to keep it together. The day was very long and just weird vibes. There was so much coverage to get because there were so many stories to tell with everyone there, including a ton of extras. It was a bitch of a day.

When you guys wrapped, did you have a moment with Samira?

That wasn’t the last scene that I shot with her. I saw her a couple times after that — and I’ve seen her around recently in the past few months because we’ve both been doing stage shows and we’re in the same neighborhood, she always goes to the same bar and I see her. But if that was my last scene, that would’ve been crazy. Maybe that was some peoples’ last scene with her, but because we wrapped so late and it was such a long day, everyone just needed to get out. There wasn’t any hug or kiss goodbye. If you wrapped you just left because it was just so brutal. But I got more time with her after that. 

One of the most powerful moments in the next episode is seeing Soso in the aftermath with Norma. Did it feel personal to play that heartbreak?

Anytime I even thought about the idea that Samira was being killed off, it made me start to cry. So it wasn’t a hard thing to act because I felt like I was actually mourning a loss, weirdly. It was so fresh at the time and we all were still in such shock about it that it felt really real to me. And I love that they had Norma singing to me and cradling me because it kind of brought it a little full circle with her whole comforting thing.

Soso really does grieve alone. She’s never invited to sit shiva with Poussey’s friends. How do you see her dealing with Poussey’s death? Do you think she’ll look to Taystee and co. to lean on, or will she spiral out?

I imagine she’s going to have a really tough time with it. She’s had such a tough go of it in general and she finally found someone she could really talk to. She had a bit of a purpose when she was with Poussey, because she was able to love someone and communicate with someone and have someone hear her and treat her with respect. She hasn’t had that this entire experience. So I imagine that this is not only a huge loss because she’s dealing with the death, but it’s also dealing with the death in a prison. You’re trapped. You have nowhere to go, you don’t have family to fall back on. She doesn’t have much of a family in the prison in general. I can’t imagine she’s going to have an easy time dealing with it from here on out. 

Your chemistry with Samira was so great. What was it like to film their relationship and love scenes?

It was so great filming with Samira. There’s no better person. As soon as I had an idea that things were starting to blossom, I felt, “Oh, my gosh. This is so great!” Not only do I love her as a person — she’s such a sweetheart, great and fun to talk to — but she’s also such a talented actor so it was fun to work against her and play with her. And also — she’s really attractive! So it was not hard to act out, “Oh, I love this person.” I think we have pretty good chemistry because we like each other a lot in life.

What will Soso miss most about Poussey?

Honestly, I think Brook was really starting to fall in love with her. And when that happens, you miss so many things about a person. It’s not that there’s one thing she’ll miss — she’s just going to miss Poussey. If you’ve lost a loved one, you wouldn’t say, “I miss this about them,” you’d say, “I just miss them.” Because that person was such a big part of my life and a presence and affected me in a certain way and affected me positively in so many ways. She affected Brook positively during a time when she really needed that. She’s just gonna miss her, as a person.

At one point, Soso jokes with Poussey about being second in the prison’s mixed-race lesbian couple power rankings. How does it feel to be a part of a show where an Asian-American and black couple is front and center?

In the past year or two, I feel like television has progressed in that direction and I'm excited that Orange is still breaking ground with a lot of these issues. It’s really cool to be part of a show, not only with the whole mixed race couple thing, but bringing up the issue of race in general and what it means to be not white in our country. 

Is TV way ahead of film?

One hundred percent. Film has so far to go. Just last year, #OscarsSoWhite happened again and I was a little bit — a little bit — surprised, just because we had the time to progress. The discussions started happening years and years ago, like four years ago. Last year, I was getting kind of down because I wanted to see a movie that reflected someone I could relate to or that told the story from another perspective. I told my boyfriend, who wanted to see all the Oscar movies and was getting kind of frustrated because I never wanted to go to the movies with him, that if he could find a movie with an ethnic person in it, then we’ll go. It could be any movie, it doesn’t have to be a blockbuster, it can be an indie, just a movie that has ethnic people in it. And we ended up getting ice cream because he sent me an animation. It’s a bit disappointing. 

Orange tackles racial profiling right on, even with Soso profiling Poussey when she talks to Judy King. From the fan reaction you’ve seen so far, is the show having the impact that Jenji intended, to bring these issues of race and Black Lives Matter to the conversation?

I think people are recognizing the statements that she’s made with the season. I get a lot of comments on my social media and none of it's like, "I love the part where it really explores the racial profiling and injustices of the prison" — no one’s saying anything quite like that. But in talking to my friends who’ve seen it or certain celebrities who have spoken out about it, and I think that when I watch it, so I think people are getting it. 

When filming starts on season five, you'll be splitting your time with Orange and your role on Broadway in Waitress. Both are female empowering shows. Do they raise the bar when it comes to the roles you'll take?

Yes. I'm terribly specific about the kind of work I want to be doing. I love to tell stories. If there’s a role that speaks to me, I go for it. But I also like to be a part of something that says something. That changes the world for the better and doesn’t continue to put forward or perpetuate certain stereotypes and certain ways of thinking that aren’t helpful to our world. So I try to be mindful as much as possible because I think the media informs how we think so much more than we actually realize. For me as a kid, not seeing too many Asian-American actors on television or in film, and if they were there, they were always secondary — I’d start to see myself kind of as secondary in life. It creeps in whether you know it or not. You start to view yourself in the way that you’re portrayed by the media. So I try to be mindful of that as much as possible because it’s so much of how we’re educated as well, how we take things in. 

Season four of Orange Is the New Black is streaming now on Netflix. Follow THR's complete OITNB coverage, including interviews with the cast, all week here.

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