“City on a Hill” actress Keiko Elizabeth said that when she was cast as Karen Shimizu — a U.S. attorney who had grown up in an internment camp during World War II — she had the unique knowledge of talking to someone who had experienced that firsthand: her father. “My dad is simultaneously very idealistic and very cynical about the American justice system and I really wanted to illuminate that paradox,” said Elizabeth, who resides in California. “Karen is a woman who, in spite of having experienced the worst of the American justice system, is committed to improving it from the inside. And that commitment is the source of (her) power and the root of (her) conflict with Jackie Rohr (played by Kevin Bacon).”
Q: What has your father shared with you about his time growing up in an internment camp?
A: My father was born in a camp called Tule Lake, which was the most brutal and heavily guarded of all the camps in the war. It’s something that impacted the course of his entire life. His family chose to repatriate to Japan after the war, as a result of the incarceration experience, so he grew up in post-war Japan as an American citizen of Japanese descent. He returned to the U.S. at 16 and has remained here since. But I think he retained this inner experience of never feeling like he belonged no matter where he was.
Q: Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, how has the surge in anti-Asian hate affected you?
A: I haven’t been the victim of any violence in the last year directly. But the fear of being targeted or of my family being targeted is very real and visceral. It all kind of came to a head with the shooting in Atlanta (in March 2021, which included six Asian American victims), which triggered memories of being excluded, bullied and fetishized with a vividness that surprised me. I’m a very optimistic person, maybe even naively so. But, ultimately, I’m convinced that the more we expose the structures of white supremacy, the more we can shift that hierarchy for the better. So, in spite of everything, I’m very hopeful.
Q: How have you handled being somewhat isolated and not being able to hop on a plane to go away on a vacation?
A: I’ve been exploring our local hiking trails, supporting local businesses and visiting new beaches. Early on in the pandemic when we were very locked down, we planned what we called a fakecation. My kids chose France, so we watched YouTube videos of Paris, ate croissants, made eclairs, learned some French words and watched movies about French history. But once the pandemic wore on and we realized we really didn’t know when we’d be able to travel again, the idea of a fakecation got a little depressing.
Q: How have your travels for work changed since the pandemic?
A: “City on a Hill” is shot in New York. Before the pandemic, I was flying back and forth every week. After we returned to shooting post-Covid, they kept me in New York for longer stretches, which I actually really enjoyed. I value being able to travel for work much more than I did before.
Q: If you had travel plans for 2020 and had to cancel, where were they to?
A: I had planned to travel to Japan with my dad and my brother in November of 2020. I was really looking forward to it. We’d planned to shoot part of the trip for the documentary. It would have been the first time my dad had been back to Japan in 40 years. We still plan to go — maybe in 2022.
Q: What is your favorite vacation destination?
A: The Big Island of Hawaii is fantastic — so dynamic, unpredictable and interesting. If you go, you absolutely must visit the volcano. It’s always doing something different, so there’s no way to know in advance where the active spots will be.
Q: What was the first trip you took as a child?
A: My parents took me to Yosemite at a very young age — maybe four. I loved everything about it — climbing the rocks, finding sticks, looking at the stars and riding a very stubborn donkey named Chocolate.
Q: Where would you like to go that you have never been to before?
A: Japan 100 percent. Vietnam, Thailand and China as well. I’ve never been to Asia at all, so it’s at the top of my list.
Q: What would be your dream trip?
A: One of the things on my bucket list is to see the Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights.
Q: What is your best and/or worst vacation memory?
A: At the end of my MFA program, five of my classmates and I went to Russia. When we were in St. Petersburg, one of my classmates had her wallet pickpocketed as we were getting onto the bus. We got out at the next stop, determined to find the guys who had taken her wallet. We finally found the three of them. They were total Russian gangsters. We were terrified as we approached them, but they recognized us right away. Without a word from us, they opened their bag, which was filled with stolen wallets! The main guy casually took my friend’s wallet from the top of the pile and handed it back to her with a big smirk on his face. I have no idea why he gave it back to us, but we got her wallet back intact.
Q: When you go away, what are some of your must-have items?
A: Ear plugs, lip balm and a good novel are always in my carry-on. Also, I love coffee first thing when I wake up, so I always bring instant coffee and this grain-free breakfast porridge mix that I make myself. Especially if I’m crossing time zones, having a hot cup of coffee & breakfast at my fingertips is the best way to start a trip off on the right foot.
Q: Do you speak any foreign languages?
A: I speak Spanish slightly less than fluently depending on where I go — Cuban and Chilean Spanish is so fast and different it is harder for me to follow! I also had to go to Japanese language school on Saturdays as a child. I think that early exposure to language has given me a really good ear for picking up languages and accents. I love listening to the rhythm and cadence of people’s voices in any language. When I was about seven, we went to a family reunion in Georgia. After a few days, everyone teased me because I started speaking with a Southern accent.