Lee Shorten talks The Terror: Infamy, Asian representation, and the importance of the series

Image Credit: Kyla Hemmelgarn -- Acquired via M Public Relations
Image Credit: Kyla Hemmelgarn -- Acquired via M Public Relations /

You lived through the first season. Now it’s time to make it through the second. The Terror: Infamy comes to AMC and Lee Shorten talked to Hidden Remote exclusively about his character Walt and why this role is so important.

The Terror was one of the most underrated shows of last year. It just didn’t get the viewership that it deserved. That cannot happen with the second season, which sees the focus on post-Pearl Harbor America with the Japanese American people rounded up and forced into internment camps. Lee Shorten plays one of those characters.

This isn’t the first time he’s stepped into this type of role. The Man in the High Castle fans will recognize Shorten as Yoshida, who worked closely with Kido before his death in Season 2. Now he’s stepping into the shows of anther Yoshida, this time delving deeper into the role of Japanese American thrust into the world of internment camps in World War II America.

Lee Shorten took time out of his busy schedule to talk to Hidden Remote exclusively about The Terror: Infamy, the importance of this role and story, and his upcoming projects.

Hidden Remote: So I loved the first season of The Terror, anthology shows are the best, and the promos for The Terror: Infamy look amazing. What can you tell me about your character, Walt?

Lee Shorten: Walt Yoshida. What can I say without spoiling anything? He goes on quite a journey.

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Walt is a Nisei, second-generation Japanese guy, and Chester’s [Derek Mio] best friend since childhood and is Amy’s [Miki Ishikawa] older brother. He starts off a bit of a bro, a 1940s equivalent of whatever that is. He’s living his life, about to get married, and enjoys drinking.

Then Pearl Harbor happens, and everyone is rounded up and taken to a camp. I think that really forces him to change his perspective on life. He ends up growing up very fast and becoming the moral center of the show.

HR: There is going to be a lot of heavy material with the internment camps. How much research did you do into the real camps?

Shorten: I did a lot. I had a little bit of a head start from when I worked on The Man in the High Castle. I’d started researching the internment camps for that character, because he was Japanese American too. For this show, I knew we were diving a lot deeper. I asked the writer’s room to provide me with the list of the books they’d used.

There were about eight or nine books there and others that I found. I also found interviews of people who had lived on Terminal Island, where the show’s set, and I watched a bunch of documentaries. I consumed as much as I could in the months leading up to filming.

Image Credit: Kyla Hemmelgarn — Acquired via M Public Relations
Image Credit: Kyla Hemmelgarn — Acquired via M Public Relations /

HR: The Man in the High Castle is one of my favorite shows. That and The Terror: Infamy are finally giving us a look at this part of World War II. We usually get Pearl Harbor and then it’s about the Americans joining the Brits. There’s not so much on the home front. What’s it been like to be able to tell the side of the Japanese-Americans after Pearl Harbor?

Shorten: It was a lot of responsibility. I think this is the first time the story has been told on this scale. A lot of the cast and crew felt a great deal of responsibility.

I’m not sure if you’re aware, but a lot of cast and crew had connections to people in the camps. There was also some internment in Canada, and a lot of the locations we filmed at were where the Japanese Canadians were interned. Every time I walked on set, I could feel the weight of history.

It was a combination of responsibility and honor to tell the story, and to work with George [Takei] who was in the camps as a boy. Just to be there with him is really hard to describe how much it meant and how much it affected me.

HR: As well as the research, what else did you do to help you prepare for the role?

Shorten: I brushed up on my Japanese, although I don’t speak a lot of Japanese on the show. Then I dropped a bit of weight because the weight I’d put on muscle-wise for another role didn’t seem appropriate for this role.

The main thing was the reading and watching documentaries to grasp the severity of the situation. I’d also been fortunate enough to take a trip to a museum to see a lot of the pieces of history in the flesh.

As an actor, I also find the wardrobe is a big part of the character. For most of us, what we choose to wear reflects a bit of our personality, so I worked with the wardrobe department to flesh out Walt.

The Terror
Lee Shorten as Walt Yoshida, Hira Ambrosino as Fumiko Yoshida – The Terror _ Season 2 – Photo Credit: Ed Araquel/AMC /

HR: What was it about Walt that drew you into the series?

Shorten: It’s kind of funny. Not to keep going on about High Castle. I talked a lot with Daniel Percival about Yoshida being one of the few Japanese American characters on that show, and how Kido had rescued him from internment camps. We’d decided to do some backstory in Season 2, but a lot of it ended up on the cutting room floor.

A lot of what the writers did with the Nakamura character in Season 3 was going to be with me, but for various reasons, Yoshida had to die. When David [Kajganich] and Alex [Woo] came to pitch me this role, it was the chance to explore some of the things we wanted to but didn’t get to do on High Castle. It really was this appeal of exploring the flip side of that last character and in an in-depth, historical way.

HR: Not a lot of actors get to continue that when switching roles.

Shorten: Yeah, it was so unique, I couldn’t say no!

Also, Walt has become a sort of All-American hero. That’s not something we see a lot for an Asian character on TV. The fact that he could be so American was also interesting.

HR: There’s a lot of diversity and representation in the show. It’s refreshing to have that. It’s something deeply needed.

Shorten: Thank you! There was a moment on set early on where we were all sitting in the camp and, for the first time for pretty much all of us, the majority of the people in the tent were Asian. Most of us are used to being the only Asian on set. It was a surreal experience.

HR: And it’s on one of the bigger networks. Most of the highly represented shows tend to end up on their own networks or on much smaller networks. It’s nice to have this on a more diverse network.

Shorten: Absolutely. When I was younger, I looked up to AMC so much. It had such game-changing television. To be able to tell the story with them is pretty incredible.

I loved Season 1 of The Terror. It was so underrated with the mainstream public. Again, when I heard they went from the Franklin expedition to this, I could never have seen that coming!

HR: While it was deep material, I’m sure you had a lot of fun with everyone. What you’re your favorite moment on set?

Shorten: Oh, that’s always a tough one. I’m trying not to get too spoilery. There was a scene I have with someone and I’ve been looking forward to working with them closely all season. Getting to do that was fun. Their talent is really something else and we had a lot of fun shooting it.

This show is, like Season 1, quite grim and dark. But this scene is a bit lighter. I know that’s so vague!

HR: It makes it fun because that it finally happens and I’m like “that’s it!”

Shorten: Or it doesn’t make the cut and you’re like “what were you even talking about?”

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HR: Yes, I’ve had that happen before. I’ve emailed and been like, “what happened to it?” Is there anything coming up for you that you’d like to talk about?

Shorten: It’s been a long time in post-production, but I shot a Christmas movie for Disney a while back with Anna Kendrick. I think it’s going to be one of their launch titles for Disney+.

As a kid, I always wanted to do a Christmas movie and this is my first one. That’s called Noel and I’m looking forward to everyone seeing that.

Image Credit: Kyla Hemmelgarn — Acquired via M Public Relations
Image Credit: Kyla Hemmelgarn — Acquired via M Public Relations /

HR: And there’s something about Disney movies. You’re never too old for them.

Shorten: Right? You know, it’s good to do The Terror but then it’s good to do something really light-hearted and wholesome.

HR: It’s the joys of acting to be able to switch between different types of projects.

Shorten: Yes, when they let you!

HR: So, my final question: if you could do a dream role, what would it be?

Shorten: Well, everyone would love to play a superhero, but I would love to play a supervillain. That would be very cool.

HR: You’d get to have so much more fun!

Shorten: Yeah, when you look at Heath Ledger’s Joker and Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger, they get to play at the edge and outside the box. So, yeah, I’d love to do that at some point.

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What are you excited to see in The Terror: Infamy? Are you ready for another horrifying, wild ride? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

The Terror: Infamy premieres on AMC on Aug. 12 at 9/8c.