'The Terror: Infamy' Star Derek Mio Talks Show's Connections to His Roots, J-Horror Thrills (Exclusive)

AMC anthology series The Terror is back for its spooky second season, subtitled Infamy, and actor Derk Mio is center stage as lead character Chester Nakayama, a photographer and son of Japanese immigrants grappling with both the horrors of war and the supernatural. Mio is gripping in the heavy series, but new fans of the actor will be surprised to know he has quite the comedic streak. His resume ahead of The Terror includes the teen-comedy series Greek, the kid-friendly Emoji Movie and Geek and Sundry's ghost-hunting comedy Spooked, in addition to regular standup gigs.

His comedic streak ties into how his acting career began, as he was inspired by some of TV's comedy institutions and his own family's knack for impressions.

"When I was little, I remember just whenever I could get a laugh it always felt good, right? Whether it was with my own family or my friends, and I would do impressions when I was little," Mio told PopCulture.com ahead The Terror: Infamy's premiere. "I was a big fan of Saturday Night Live and Whose Line Is It Anyway?, and I just always loved TV and movies. My family, we would take trips to the movies as a family together. Those are some of the fondest memories I have of my childhood of going to the movies as a family."

(Photo: Tommy Garcia)

He added, "The Academy Awards was always a big event in my house. My mom would be making a home-cooked meal and the whole family was together, and we'd watch and anticipate who's going to win. Actually, my mom used to do impressions and she still does whenever she's just telling stories about whoever she's talked with or friends or family or church members, whoever, she always would do their voice and their kind of mannerisms."

Mio also notes that his grandfather would also bust out impressions on occasion, including a killer one of Elvis Presley. His grandfather, who served in the military's intelligence service, also strengthened Mio's family history in the entertainment realm. After World War II ended, Mio's grandfather went to Japan and served as a translator during the U.S.'s occupation of the country. He worked in a kabuki theater as a script reader, ensuring that the performances would not slander the U.S.

Mio's family history comes up again when discussing The Terror. The season takes place at a Japanese-American internment camp, with a family being haunted by a ghost from Japan. The show also starts out at the real-life California immigrant community of Terminal Island, which was targeted by the federal government after Pearl Harbor. Mio's grandfather grew up on Terminal Island and spent time in an internment camp, so Mio was drawn to this project like no other.

"It was quite remarkable, the parallels and the relationship that I had with my character," Mio said. There's other things that you're going to find out about Chester that I also have ties to that I don't know if I can fully disclose now, but, I don't know if there's been any role like this that someone can say that an actor has such a personal connection to."

Despite all this history on his shoulders, Mio, who also appeared in Netflix's Medal of Honor, was not weighed down by the pressures of bringing the story to life. If anything, it strengthened his grasp on the material and elevated his performance to another level.

(Photo: Tommy Garcia)

"I don't think I felt pressure as much as I drew strength from it, and the way that I approached this project with much more respect, and it was almost a mission to tell the story as authentically as I could. Being the lead on the show, I guess there's pressure, right, to take the lead? So, hopefully, that's what translated out to the rest of the cast and crew," he said. "I was told by a lot of people that worked on it that this was such a special experience, and it wasn't just me that had a personal connection to this story. We had many other crew members who had family members that were incarcerated as well. I think all around it just kind of filtered out to everyone that this is a really special project, and that we're going to treat it as such."

He added, "Working on the show was just such a powerful, moving experience for me."

As his family's experiences brought something to his performance, the show itself inspired Mio, in turn. Entrenched in Japanese culture for The Terror, Mio decided to travel back to Japan and experience his family's homeland through a new lens.

"I hadn't been there (Japan) maybe in over 20 years or so, and I hadn't seen some of my relatives in that long time, and I've never met some of my relatives. So, I actually traveled to Wakayama, which is this small seaside village, and it was a three-hour drive outside of Kyoto, but it's where my relatives immigrated from, and it's also where our characters in the show are from because there's a certain dialect of Japanese that they spoke, and so all the Japanese actors made it a point to really nail down the specificity of that," he said. "I'd always heard of Wakayama, but having gone through this experience and portraying these characters who are descendants of this region, I made it a point to get out there because life is short, and I try to see the things happening for a reason, and maybe working on the show is what's going to be the reason for me to finally make this kind of pilgrimage out there.

"I actually went to this bakery that's still in my family that I've seen old black-and-white photos of, and I actually met my grandpa's cousin, who when he emerged from the back, he resembled my grandfather who has passed away. Oh my God, it was breathtaking because there was like a similarity. There's a resemblance, and it was almost as if my grandpa was back alive again. Oh, it was crazy. Then, I went to see some kabuki because I'd always wanted to. This project really made me kind of look into myself and look back into the past of who I am. That's also what my character, Chester, has to do. It was so many instances of art imitating life and vice versa."

(Photo: Tommy Garcia)

The Terror: Infamy's ties to history are of the uttermost importance, but they go hand-in-hand with another element: horror. The AMC series' first season was filled with thrills that kept audiences frightened, and Season 2, which also stars George Takei and Shingo Usami, will be no different in that respect. However, fans can expect an all-new vibe of horror this time around, as Mio teases the show's Japanese horror roots.

"There are certain social and political things that are definitely relevant to our show, but at the core of our show it's a great horror show, and we're just excited to bring the J-horror genre to the horror world," Mio said. "It's something that horror fans in the mainstream really haven't seen, but we're just excited to tell this story and to thrill the audience, and just make it a very visceral viewing experience for them. I think they're really going to enjoy it and go along for the ride."

With its singular take on historical horror, Mio hopes The Terror: Infamy resonates with viewers in a unique way that will help it stand out in the ever-crowded TV landscape.

"It is a true honor (to star in the show), and not just because it's a show that features an all-Asian cast, but because it's a story that hasn't been told before, that is underrepresented, but it's being told at such a high level, and it showcases the talents of the entire cast and the crew," he said. "It is a great moment, and hopefully studios and audiences can see that when it's done right, it can hold up against the best of the best out there in the landscape, and I think it does."


The Terror: Infamy premieres Monday night at 9 p.m. ET on AMC.

Photo Credit: Tommy Garcia