Miki Ishikawa, who plays Amy Yoshida on The Terror: Infamy, talks about the challenges of researching this role, Amy and Ken’s relationship and how the deaths of Amy’s father and Ken affect her character.
Q: How did you prepare for this role that is so deeply rooted in history?
A: Prior to reading for the show, I had a bit of understanding of the subject matter from school, but I even remember in school how we just blazed right past it and it wasn’t taught as an important subject matter. I wanted to do as much research as possible. I wanted to read some biographies, and this is a funny story but also sad — I went to a big bookstore, to the World War II section, and I could only find one, Infamy: The Shocking Story of the Japanese American Internment in World War II [by Richard Reeves], and that was it, which was in itself shocking. So I scoured the internet and ended up reading some really great books: Midnight in Broad Daylight: A Japanese American Family Caught Between Two Worlds [by Pamela Rotner Sakamoto], Farewell to Manzanar [by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston], No-No Boy [by John Okada] and Looking Like the Enemy: My Story of Imprisonment in Japanese American Internment Camps [by Mary Matsuda Gruenewald]. All of these readings gave me insight from all different angles that I used to fuel playing Amy.
Like Amy, I identify as second generation, so, in reading for Amy, it felt like we were very similar and I felt very close and connected to the character. I listened to this great podcast called Order 9066 that’s published by Densho [a nonprofit focused on the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II]. I could hear all these voices, which made the internment camp experience very visceral. And it helped me to create and understand where I wanted to have Amy end up. I thought of her as someone like Yuri Kochiyama, who later became a civil rights activist after she and her family were interned in Jerome, Arkansas, and who was later associated with Malcolm X. She had that vision that I wanted Amy to have.
Q: How would you describe Amy and Ken’s relationship?
A: Amy and Ken’s relationship comes out of their situation in the camp. Ken was somebody who was different from her brother and other people she’d known. He taught her a lot about justice and became very important in her life.
Q: Ken is challenging Amy, implying that she’s living her life safely. Does Amy feel Ken resents her for playing it safe?
A: I think they have a different understanding of justice. Amy works with Major Bowen, so she knows how things work and is not just trying to play it safe. Ken just has a different way of going about things. I think in many ways she was trying to be more strategic about how to use her position all while trying to respect authority and keep her loved ones safe. I don’t think Ken resents her, and I do believe he does come to understand the reasons behind her actions.
Q: Despite Ken being adamant about his stance on the questionnaire, Amy changes his answers. Why do you think she does it?
A: Amy just wanted to protect him. Because of working in Major Bowen’s office, she had seen what the consequences would be of answering “no” to questions 27 and 28. He was one of the people in her life that made a difference in the world around him. Still, she knew that he probably wasn’t going to like it. Although it seems selfish, her heart is pure and she didn’t want to see him hauled off and face unknown consequences, especially since at this point she has had to see so many people in her life go.
Q: Amy tries to speak to Major Bowen about the illness that’s going around and when he does nothing, she makes a call herself. Has she finally decided to take some risks? What’s changed in her?
A: Especially after talking to Ken, Amy knows the situation with the sick people is pretty dire — and Toshiro [Furuya] is sick too. Amy says to herself, I’m in this position, so what could I do? At least I can try to do this. So she stops the recording device and makes the call to the hospital to request the patient transfer. But she doesn’t realize all the consequences. Again this was another challenging choice she knew she had to make — realizing that Major Bowen wasn’t playing her ally and seeing how desperate the situation was, I believe we see her realize that she must take matters into her own hands.
Q: Major Bowen has Ken killed, in front of Amy. Her father was also killed in front of her. How do these losses change Amy?
A: Both the deaths of her father and Ken change the course of Amy’s life forever. Because of her grief, Amy becomes a martyr in some ways. The sudden deaths hone her sense of justice to talk about what happened to the Japanese Americans, rather than to shy away from it like so many around her did. It’s the only way she could bring voice to her father’s and Ken’s sacrifice.
Q: What are you most excited for people to see this season?
A: I’m excited for people to see Amy find her voice throughout the season; I really hope people root for her. I’m definitely excited for people to watch the show and create conversation around what they’ve seen, especially since we live in a time that is paralleling the subject matter of the show. It is such a privilege to be on this show that features not only so many actors of Japanese descent, but actually talks about these forgotten events that happened in history. This show features really strong women, and, in the end, the women are really the ones that in a way save all the men. Even Yuko is an example of a strong woman. It’s amazing to see the reason why she’s doing what she’s doing. Each of us women have our own reasons that drive us to do the things that we do. There are so many different storylines, with something for everyone to capture that showcase small bits of humanity.
Read an interview with Kiki Sukezane, who plays Yuko Tanabe.
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