The Terror: Infamy star Derek Mio on his ‘once in a lifetime role’

Photo: Derek Mio by Tommy Garcia Jeffrey Fountain.. Image Courtesy of Anderson Group PR
Photo: Derek Mio by Tommy Garcia Jeffrey Fountain.. Image Courtesy of Anderson Group PR /

Derek Mio tells Hidden Remote why playing Chester Nakayama in The Terror: Infamy is a ‘once in a lifetime role’ for the AMC star.

The Terror: Infamy has been both scaring and enlightening TV fans all season, and Derek Mio is at the heart of the AMC series. He portrays Chester Nakayama, who’s right in the middle of all of the scares—not all of them supernatural.

It’s a breakout role for Mio, a fourth-generation Japanese-American for whom the series is more than just a starring opportunity. It’s something that rests close to home, and that also enabled him to cross some things off his wish list.

Learn more about Derek Mio in our interview below, then don’t miss new episodes of The Terror: Infamy every Monday on AMC at 9 p.m. ET/PT.

Hidden Remote: You mentioned at San Diego Comic-Con that your family had a personal tie to the Japanese-American internment camps. Was that a reason you signed on to The Terror?

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Derek Mio: That was a big part of it. But it was also the fact that this is a lead role in an AMC show, one of the best networks we have, and under the guise of Ridley Scott, who is one of the greatest directors we have living today. He’s also one of my favorite directors. So it was a combination of all that.

Also, there’s the fact we’re telling the story of the Japanese-American internment on such a large scale, and it’s also the genre of horror which is a very hot genre in movies right now. There are movies like Get Out that touch upon race relations, but here [in The Terror: Infamy] we have the unjust incarceration of US citizens by its own government.

The crisis that we’re having at the border right now, it just makes it relevant. I’m still getting messages from people that had no idea this actually happened during World War II.

It’s a combination of all that. There are just so many elements involved in this project that made it so exciting to want to be a part of.

How did you and The Terror writers approach the character of Chester Nakayama, to make him both authentic and so relatable?

That was another point of why I signed on to this project. It was the writing. It was very interesting the way that the writers crafted this whole story together. In the first season, there is not necessarily this external creature that is haunting the men; it’s internal and psychological. The breakdown between the humans is more terrifying, and that’s something we tried to accentuate in our season as well.

Chester is dealing with so much at the same time. He’s facing the outbreak of World War II, and the discrimination against his family and his community. He’s got a generational conflict between him and his father, and there’s also his relationship with his Mexican girlfriend Luz. Having an interracial relationship was outlawed at the time, and there’s this pregnancy which causes a lot of problems in his eyes.

On top of that, you have this mysterious figure, this ghost or apparition, that he seems to think is haunting him. It was very challenging to pull off all these different threads of story at the same time, but that made it all the more enticing to want to play.

The Terror
Derek Mio stars as Chester Nakayama in The Terror: Infamy. Photo Credit: Tommy Garcia/Courtesy of Anderson Group PR. /

What are your highlights from The Terror: Infamy? Was there anything that left a strong impression on you as you were filming the season?

I definitely would love to highlight the cast and the performances all around. I was so lucky to be surrounded by and to play with such talented actors. It’s a predominantly Japanese cast, which you do not see on television, so it’s really great to be able to showcase the talent of so many really skilled Japanese actors and I just enjoyed performing with them. I was in awe, becoming a fan of all their work as we’re acting out the scenes.

There are so many aspects of the show that I’m proud of. The cinematography and the wardrobe and the production design; everyone stepped their game up and everyone felt how important of a story this is.

The fact that this actually happened, and there are people still alive that went through this, like George Takei and [relatives] of people from this project—we knew that the whole community was going to be watching this with a very cautious eye. Even people that had no personal connection to the Japanese-American internment—some people who worked on [The Terror: Infamy] had no idea themselves that this actually happened—they really felt the gravity of it and they felt that empathy.

I think that’s what we’re really trying to tackle with the show. It is a horror show where we’re trying to thrill the audience and we definitely do. But underneath it all, we’re trying to drive home this theme of empathy and empathizing with these characters. You might not look like this, but you’re going to feel what these characters are feeling and you’re going to be in their shoes when they’re being terrified and feel that visceral sense of terror. I think that’s what we do with acting and art. We’re trying to make connections with everyone to show that we’re all human. We’re all the same.

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What was the tone of the set during shooting, given the seriousness of the subject matter?

It is heavy subject matter. It’s very serious and it’s horror, but our cast was very silly so we definitely kept things light in between takes. There are certain scenes and sequences that are very heavy, especially going through the horse track in Episode 2 [and] the roundup of the community in Episode 1. But in between takes, we would just try to keep things light. Everyone really treated the process with a really high level of respect and reverence.

Viewers who see The Terror may not know you have experience in comedy. How did that become part of your career?

I have been doing comedy for maybe three years now. I started comedy because things were a little slow on the acting front and I always loved comedy. That’s a very prevalent side of me that sometimes I get to showcase in acting projects, but other times you just want to have agency of what you say [and] comedy definitely gives you that. You get to write and edit and direct and perform, all at the same time.

I definitely started out acting first, but if you want to go all the way back, I started doing impressions when I was a little kid because my mom would do impressions and was a fan of Saturday Night Live. If you want to talk about the personal connection I have with The Terror, it definitely made me go back to my roots and trace the lineage of how I got into acting in the first place.

My grandpa on my dad’s side was from Terminal Island and was in the internment camps on the West Coast. My mom’s father was from Hawaii and he was in the MIS in Japan after the war was over. His job was to monitor kabuki scripts at the Kabuki theater for anti-American messages and in the process, he became friends with these Kabuki actors.

The show really inspired me to go back to Japan and reconnect with my roots, so I went to Japan after we wrapped filming The Terror: Infamy. I met up with old relatives and they told me stories of how my grandpa on my mom’s side did impressions of Elvis at karaoke. So I think that the impressions thing got handed down to my mom, which then got handed down to me.

It’s hard to wrap my head around the fact that I’m doing what I’m doing and I’m in this show which has a direct correlation to both my grandfathers. It’s because of them that I’m pursuing this craft in this industry, and to be able to be in a project like this where I get to honor both of their stories has just made it such a profound experience.

What are the things you’re passionate about? Do you have people who’ve inspired you or that you’re a fan of?

In terms of when I was younger and getting into doing impressions, my favorite was Dana Carvey when he was on SNL. He’s so silly and he’s just so great on how he puts an impression together. I’ve gotten to meet him in the stand-up comedy scene and it’s just been one of those perplexing things. It’s like oh gosh, I get to meet my heroes!

I’m such a fan of a lot of things. I grew up on movies like Pulp Fiction and Goodfellas, so I was a fan of Robert De Niro and Al Pacino and [Quentin] Tarantino, but also Michael Mann. When I got to do Netflix’s Medal of Honor project, I had to portray a Japanese-American veteran. That was a really great experience as well. Heat is my favorite movie along with Apocalypto, which dealt with the Native American experience. Seven Samurai, things like that.

When I was acting in The Terror, I felt that I got to fulfill some of these wishlist roles. I felt like I was in a samurai movie, especially when you get to Episode 5. I got to act with a really talented actor from Japan who plays a Japanese character, and I got to speak a lot of Japanese in this show that I haven’t gotten to do in any other projects.

Is there anything that you hope viewers take away from The Terror? Anything that you’ve taken away from the experience?

This project was such a special, once in a lifetime role for me and I’m still processing it. It’s still coming out, so people haven’t seen the whole thing yet, but just the fact that it’s getting such a positive response—not just critically but from the community—really means a lot.

I feel very lucky and fortunate to be doing what I’m doing, and it’s hard for me to comprehend how I was able to be a part of a project where my character is basically a composite of both my grandfathers. And it has opened lines of communication between family and old friends, so it’s really been great.

Things are so crazy in the world that you just hope that people can look past the differences and embrace the similarities and have a little more compassion for other people.

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The Terror: Infamy airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on AMC. Read more on The Terror: Infamy and other AMC series in the AMC category at Hidden Remote.