“Waitress” and “Orange is the New Black” actor Kimiko Glenn is clearly having a blast playing Kiff, the titular optimistic squirrel in the Disney Channel’s newest animated series.
From creators and executive producers Lucy Heavens and Nic Smal, the series follows best friends, Kiff and Barry, as they attempt to navigate school, relationships and their eccentric community of Table Town, where magical animals and characters tackle our everyday struggles.
Although this isn’t Glenn’s first animated role – she has also voiced characters in “Baby Shark” and “My Little Pony,” among other projects – the actor and Broadway performer brings a uniquely bright and lively passion to the character. And with each half-hour episode including a new original song, Glenn’s musical talents never fail to shine through.
I’m so excited to talk to you about “Kiff.” Watching the show was a nostalgic moment where I got to sit, relax and watch a cartoon. What was it like for you to take on the lead of the show, Kiff?
Glenn: I mean, so fun. She’s kind of kooky. She’s out there. She’s, you know, full throttle. She’s adventurous and ready to party. She’s just like a fun, fun character and loves hard, plays hard and has her adventure buddy Barry, who is hilarious and squishy. [He’s] just like everything you’d hope for a best friend — loyal. It’s so fun. I mean, when you know that you’re in a good show and that the creatives are so funny and smart like you, you just sort of relax into it.
One thing that really stood out to me was the genuine friendship between Kiff and Barry. What was it like playing that dynamic with your co-star, H. Michael Croner?
Well, I didn’t always get to record with H. Michael like that. That’s been something that’s few and far between but cherished. But when we do, because recording voice-over is pretty insular, you get to occasionally read with your co-star, and H. is so brilliant and just such a joy, and so sweet and so funny. I mean he’s just hilarious.
So getting to hear his read of Barry just made my brain explode. It brought the whole thing to life because it’s so specific. I don’t know if it really lent itself to me playing Kiff, because then I understood the energy I was playing with. It was really fun. It was really cool.
Compared to Barry, Kiff definitely has more of this outgoing yet strong personality, and I could definitely see a lot of my younger self in her. Could you say the same?
I love K. I mean, I don’t know if there’s a part of her that I don’t love. Honestly, Kiff is who I was as a child. Kiff was me to a T. I was like, ‘Yeah!’, always ready to go, just like very enthusiastic and very playful and down for adventure. And I’d say I carry that into my life as an adult — just with a kind of coolness about me, you know, like I agree to things and I’m still cool. But yeah, Kiff, I completely relate to, and I hope that our kids do, too.
You only had 11 minutes to showcase an entire character arc. Was that a challenge for you? With the fast-paced plot, how did you approach that?
That is all in the creatives. I have hours of time to record, get things right and play around. And they afford me that through their great writing, their conciseness, and their ability to create something big in such a short period of time. So, I can’t speak to the challenges on that, because I don’t have that challenge.
You also have some musical numbers in every episode of “Kiff.” As someone not unfamiliar with the musical world, how was that experience?
That’s part of why I love doing voice-over so much, because with TV and film I’m expressing myself. I’m leaning more into comedy lately, and I love it. But you don’t always get musical numbers in a TV and a film series. And my ultimate dream would be a part of a series that constantly included that.
But I think it’s far more typical of animation to use your voice in that way. And so for me, it’s like my favorite thing, because I started my entire journey as an actor, as a singer. So like a lot of my acting is melodic and rhythmic. I think that’s because I just like was really interested in imitating crazy singers.
If you could pick out maybe one episode or a scene that you would love your audience to see, which one would it be?
But there are so many! Like, there are so many, even just within the first couple of episodes. But I’m so thrilled for people to meet Helen. She doesn’t come in on the pilot episode, but she’s in there in the second or third episode.
She’s one of my favorite characters. She was my favorite character on paper. Helen is not me by the way, she is played by Lucy Heavens, one of the creators, and she’s brilliant. On paper, I was like, ‘oh my gosh, Helen’s like gonna be the best character.’ And then, hearing Lucy’s read on, it’s just so so funny.
Beginning your 2023 with “Kiff,” can we look forward to more projects from you this year?
Yeah, I mean, this is such a funny question. There are things simmering in the works. So, it’s a hard one to answer. But I do have “History of the World: Part 2” coming out, I think, within the next week, and that should be pretty epic. That’s a spin-off of the Mel Brooks movie.
I was a huge Mel Brooks fan as a kid. In middle school, my friends and I would watch every single Mel Brooks movie and try to write our own scripts with the Mel Brooks feel. So, the other day I was in the same room as Mel Brooks. That was like the coolest thing of my life. To be amongst the funniest people in Hollywood was just like a true pinch-me moment because I don’t know how they even wanted me to be a part of it. But I’m not asking questions. I’m there for it.
“History of the World: Part 2” can be found on Hulu.
Audiences can tune into the premiere of “Kiff” on Friday, March 10, on the Disney Channel at 8 p.m. EST. Streaming on Disney Plus will be made available on March 15.