Glee viewers know Jenna Ushkowitz as the incredibly talented (and sometimes tragically underappreciated) Tina Cohen-Chang. But Jenna’s first post-Glee role is behind the scenes, as an executive producer of Twinsters, a documentary about Samantha and Anaïs,twins who were separated at birth in an orphanage in South Korea, and who didn’t know about one another until Anaïs happened upon Samantha in a YouTube video. (The movie premiered last week at the South by Southwest film festival.) Cosmopolitan.com spoke to Jenna about Twinsters, how the movie resonated with her as an adopted child herself, and — of course — the end of Glee.
Between wrapping Glee and promoting the series finale and South by Southwest, you must be exhausted.
Yeah, you know, I’m actually getting on a plane in a few hours to go to Paris for a Glee convention, so I’m really looking forward to the flight so I can sleep.
Are you a good plane sleeper? That’s such an important skill.
I’m an anything, anywhere sleeper. I’m very lucky.
At what point in the process of this movie did you become involved? I know it was a Kickstarter project at first.
I came in later in the process — they had already filmed almost everything before I came in. And then Sam called and said, “I want to tell you this crazy story. You’re an adoptee as well, so I wanted to share this with you.” Sam and I go way back — we’ve known each other since the East Coast because we were both kid actors and we’d see each other at auditions. The story was mind-blowing. I seriously was like, “What the hell is going on? That’s unheard of. You’re literally The Parent Trap.” I asked what she needed help with and what I could do, and she said she was looking for an executive producer, and I said absolutely. And then the response from adoptees was so huge that we ended up starting a foundation together [Kindred: The Foundation for Adoption] as well.
Were you looking to take on more behind-the-scenes roles post-Glee?
I totally was. It sort of fell into my lap exactly when it was supposed to. I’d been thinking and talking more about directing. That was my goal for the year. But then things got so crazy and busy and [Twinsters] was perfect. But I definitely want to develop and produce and get my hands dirty in all aspects of it.
Do you have other projects like that coming up?
Not that I can talk about just yet! But there are rumblings. And then I’m definitely going to look into directing and shadowing some directors to get an idea of what that work is like, because it’s such a different part of your brain that you use, compared to being on set as an actor.
Your Glee castmates recently outed you as being a loud crier.
Who said that!?
It came up on Ellen! And then I think again at the Paley Fest panel.
[Sarcastically] Oh, good. Yeah, [Lea Michele and I] are loud criers, actually. But we always cry, so it’s not a huge deal when we do.
So the loud crying wasn’t something that got in your way, working on an emotional project like Twinsters?
No, definitely not. These were like the quiet cries — the happier kind.
The film follows Sam and Anaïs as they do a homeland visit to Korea together, and your foundation helps make those trips possible for other adoptees. What do you think the value of those experiences is?
I think when [adoptees] are ready, it’s very important, in the sense that you learn about where you came from and how to be proud of it. A lot of the time international adoptees try so hard to be American and fit in, like every other kid in the world. But it’s a really beautiful thing when you’re ready to go home and see the culture you came from and how beautiful it is and how proud of it you can be.
And that definitely gets back to the movie for me, because I haven’t been back [to Seoul, where she was adopted from] yet – it’s not that I’m not ready, I just haven’t had time. So I’m actually planning to go in the next year or so with Sam. In the movie I got to see this beautiful culture and where I’m from, and all these people who are proud to be there, so I’m looking forward to it.
Maybe it’s just because I’ve been spending so much time thinking about Glee these past few days, but I saw a really strong parallel between Twinsters and the show, because both of them suggest that your relationships are what make your life special.
Yeah, absolutely. I think they both have a lot of heart. They’re both about embracing who you are and where you’ve come from, and realizing that you’re going to make it out okay and be a stronger person because of it.
I know you’ll be in France, but do you have plans to watch the finale?
Probably when I get home. I don’t think that we can see it in real time there. But I’ll watch it when I get home for sure, because I haven’t seen the finished product yet!