On the Scene: Actor Derek Mio talks about his role in ‘The Terror: Infamy’
Derek Mio is drawing on his family’s experiences in playing Japanese American photographer Chester Nakayama, the lead character in the second season of the AMC network series “The Terror: Infamy.”
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Derek Mio’s maternal grandfather grew up in Pahoa on the Big Island and then joined the Army during World War II. He ended up stationed in Tokyo where he checked kabuki scripts for hidden anti-American content and met the Japanese woman who became his wife. Their daughter, who was born in Tokyo, grew up in Hawaii.
Mio’s paternal grandfather and his family lived on Terminal Island, Calif., until President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 in 1942 and they were shipped to the Manzanar internment camp.
Mio, 37, is drawing on that heritage in playing Japanese American photographer Chester Nakayama, the lead character in the second season of the AMC network series “The Terror: Infamy.” George Takei co-stars as an interned community elder, Shingo Usami and Naoko Mori play Chester’s parents, and Kiki Sukezane is Yuko, a woman from Chester’s past.
“The Terror: Infamy” premieres Monday at 6 p.m. on AMC.
What can you share about “The Terror: Infamy?”
“Terror” takes a historical event and adds a supernatural element to it to make an entertaining piece in the horror genre. Our season focuses on the Japanese American community’s incarceration in concentration camps and a mysterious Japanese figure — an obake (supernatural being). I think the intention of the series creators was to take the obake genre of horror — in the show we refer to it as a yurei — and, staying true to those conventions, present it to American audiences for the first time in this way.
Tell me about the experience of working with George Takei.
Working with him was what made this so special. We had a few scenes together and it was quite surreal. I couldn’t help but tell him, “You know, George, I can’t believe I’m here acting with you. You’re George Takei.” And he said, “You know, someday people are going to say the same thing about you: ‘I can’t believe I got to work with Derek Mio.’”
Is there a scene that hit especially close to home for you?
My grandfather grew up in Terminal Island, where our series starts out and where my character is from, and the similarity between them is so remarkable. The FBI came in the middle of the night and took away my great-grandfather (before the rest of the family was interned), and my grandpa was pleading for them to take him instead. I read about that when I was doing research online. When we shot that scene I was so overcome with emotion.
What have you been doing since the show wrapped?
The show really inspired me to get in touch with my ancestral roots so I went to Japan. I took a three-hour drive outside of Kyoto to Wakayama which is where my relatives from Terminal Island originated from. I met my grandpa’s cousin and he resembled my late grandfather. It was a very special encounter that wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t have done this show.
What would you like to be doing 10 years from now?
I’ve been doing stand-up comedy for the past three years, so I’d like to be doing more stand-up comedy. And I’d like to be telling my own stories behind, and maybe in front of, the camera as well. One thing I’ve been toying with is developing my own story and perhaps setting it in Southern California where I grew up. It’s easy to get pigeon-holed as a character but I’d like to stay true to me and show the different multidimensional, multilayered, multifaceted aspects that we all are. We’re all leading men or women in our own lives.