Derek Mio thinks he might have been destined to star in The Terror: Infamy.
"It’s pretty strange and crazy how closely I relate to Chester," Mio told Ranker over the phone. "I have a personal connection to the Japanese-American internment camps. My grandfather was actually incarcerated at one of the camps, but early on I learned the show was going to start on Terminal Island – which was an actual Japanese-American immigrant community near Long Beach harbor – and that’s where my grandpa grew up. I thought that was pretty coincidental and special because this is a very small, not well-known community. I felt that I was perfect, or maybe even destined, to play this role. "
The Terror: Infamy, the second season in the AMC horror anthology series, follows Chester Nakayama (Mio) as he, his family, and countless others are imprisoned in Japanese-American internment camps following the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. It’s a role that required intensive research, which is not uncommon when actors land a role in a series or film that takes place around historical events. What made Mio’s experience different is that he prepared for his role by studying the firsthand accounts of a family member that lived through it – his grandfather. That personal connection to the story and events helped fuel Mio's performance.
"My grandfather is passed, but his sister is still with us and is pretty sharp. I’d actually interviewed her a few years ago about her experiences growing up there so when this came up I made a point to reach back out and go and visit and talk with her," Mio said. "She provided me with some interviews that my grandfather had given that I’d never read which was pretty special.
"There were also some testimonials online that I found that detailed the night the FBI came in and took all the community elders away – which they did to my great-grandfather – and I learned that my grandpa was pleading that they take him instead, and he was in tears. That was very moving for me to discover because I had only known him as this kind of rock of a man, a man of few words but a very strong figure. But to read about how vulnerable and emotional he was at the moment just transported me."
The struggles of living in the camp aren't the only thing plaguing Chester, though. He soon realizes he and the camp are being haunted by a shapeshifter as well. Mio thinks the hybrid of real-world horror with supernatural horror is what makes the season work so well.
"I thought it was such a brilliant idea to talk about the internment but also have this figure that can represent so many things and all the terrors that Chester is facing: his generational conflict, the breakdown between his relationships, his identity, him being a Japanese-American – and this all occurring at a time when the Japanese are looked at as the enemy," Mio said. "The horror that’s really touching audiences right now are things like Get Out or Us that are working on multiple layers of horror. It doesn’t hit you over the head with the social issues, but it makes you think about it and it makes it that much more compelling. These things are real and it makes the horror that much more visceral."
Joining Mio in The Terror: Infamy is legendary actor George Takei, who is probably best known for his role as Sulu in the original Star Trek series. Takei plays Yamato-san – one of the community elders who becomes convinced that something followed them to the camp – and Mio said acting alongside Takei hit him all at once during their first scene.
"I remember the first scene we had together I just kind of froze up looking at him and thinking, ‘Oh my god this is George Takei. This is so crazy, what am I doing here right now,'" Mio confessed. And I told him that after I cut, I said, ‘George I can’t believe I’m sitting here acting with you, you’re George Takei,' and he said, 'Someday people are going to say the same thing about you. They’ll say, can’t believe I acted with Derek Mio.'"
Takei also has a personal connection to the show. Like Mio's grandfather, Takei was imprisoned in the camps as a boy and now serves as a consultant on the show to ensure it has an authentic feel.
"He’s so gracious and generous with his time," Mio added. "He’s dedicated his life to tell this story about this terrible experience that he had to go through and my family had to go through."
It’s easy to understand why telling this story is so important: Nearly every moment of World War II has been told through the lens of film, TV, video games, and comic books, but the story of the Japanese-American internment camps is one of the least-examined periods of the war. With such clear parallels to what's happening at the US's southern border, ICE, and in current headlines, Mio thinks that now is the perfect time for this story to take the spotlight on a mainstream network.
"The first film I did was a short that took place at the internment camps, and I’ve done a couple projects that remain on the independent fringes of viewership, but for this to be presented on a mainstream network in such a high quality way – with so much attention to authenticity and extensive research into set design, wardrobes and costumes – to make sure that it’s all right. We’re very excited to let this story be known," Mio said.
"If people aren’t aware of stories like this then it’s easy to just keep repeating the past."
The Terror: Infamy premieres August 12 on AMC, and also stars Shingo Usami, Kiki Sukezane, Cristina Rodlo, and more.