EXCLUSIVE | 'City on a Hill' star Keiko Elizabeth says her own racial identity was an integral part of the show

In an exclusive interview with MEAWW, the LA-based actress talks about playing Karen Shimizu and how her own racial identity became an integral part of the show


                            EXCLUSIVE | 'City on a Hill' star Keiko Elizabeth says her own racial identity was an integral part of the show
Keiko Elizabeth (Instagram/@imkeiko)
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‘City on a Hill’ is undoubtedly one of the best shows out there. It is one of the rare shows that tackle issues like crime and racism with precision. Season 2 saw corrupt FBI agent Jackie Rohr (Kevin Bacon) looking to exploit Boston’s criminal justice system in a desperate attempt to salvage his career. However, ADA Decroucy Ward (Aldis Hodge) is onto his adversary's latest misstep.

Bacon and Ward continue to enthrall viewers with their scintillating performances. However, the riveting portrayal of US Attorney Karen Shimizu by actress Keiko Elizabeth took everyone by storm and garnered a lot of praise from fans. Karen is a no nonsense character and takes no s**t from anyone around her. She understands the power she holds as an attorney and wants to change the system from the inside. However, it is all personal for her because of her family history.

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In an exclusive interview with MEAWW, Keiko spoke in-depth about her character and how the show seems to be a timely release even though it is a period drama.

How did the role of Karen come about? 

I auditioned for the part before COVID. The production was based in New York and I sent my tape to the producers through my representative. A couple of weeks later, I hopped on a call with the showrunner Tom and we had a big conversation about Karen and how the character came about and what he was kind of interested in exploring through Karen. It was a great conversation and at the end of the phone, he said we are shooting in Boston at the end of this week, so I’ll see you there.

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Keiko Elizabeth as Karen Shimizu (Showtime)

Can you shed more light on Karen’s character?

Karen is somebody who wants to change the system from the inside. There is a real self-acknowledgment of how the system can fail people. You know certain characters are marching in the streets for change. But she is somebody who is working from the inside and I think that it’s a pretty interesting place to be given the history of her family.

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How would you describe Karen’s relationship with Jackie Rohr (Kevin Bacon) and Decourcy Ward (Aldis Hodge)? 

Karen and Jackie have an interesting relationship. Karen didn’t rise to power in the same way that Jackie did. I think there is a disdain for the way that he was able to rise to power and sort of capitalizing on the white male privilege to gain the kind of power he had. But at the same time, they are working on the same side. So, there’s a way that Karen tolerates Jackie and is forced to make some choices. So yes, her relationship with Jackie is a bit complicated. 

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Keiko Elizabeth and Kevin Bacon in 'City on a Hill' (Showtime)

Season 1 was all about 90s crime-ridden Boston while Season 2 looked at the element of racism and more importantly, the candid portrayal of women. All the other female characters on the show were strong who after a point started giving it back to society. Would you say Karen is shaped in the same mold? 

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Absolutely. The thing that I love about the women characters and the show is how different they are because of some circumstances of their lives, but there is also a similar strength in all of them. And a way in which, you know maybe at the beginning or maybe not until at the end, the women see what the men in their lives are doing.

Initial reaction of working with Tom Fontana, Kevin Bacon, and Decourcy Ward

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Oh my god, they are so incredible and so great. Tom was my first introduction to the cast and crew and he was the first person that I met. We had a wonderful relation and he welcomed me to set when I got to Boston. He was really supportive of the character and also me, as an artist. Meanwhile, Kevin was incredibly generous and super fun to work with.


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You have quite an extensive CV. Starring in TV shows like ‘General Hospital’ and ‘How to Get Away with Murder?’ How different was ‘City on a Hill’ from your previous projects?

This is the first time that I worked on a project where my own racial identity and background were an integral part of the role and that was really meaningful for me. It was really fun to take that and have something to say about it. 

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Considering all that happened in the country over the last few months, essentially with the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement and the ‘Stop Asian Hate’ campaign. Do you think the series was kind of a timely release?

Yeah, it’s funny because it technically is a period piece. But I think people will find the series very timely and that will either give us hope. We are already seeing more nuanced conversations tapping about these issues and I think, it will call people to reflect on the kind of conversation we are having in a different way, which will be very nice.

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What’s next?

I have a couple of projects that I can’t talk about yet. But I’ve been working on a documentary that is my project. It is on hold currently due to COVID.

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Season 2 of ‘City on a Hill’ ended with Jackie Rohr tossing his badge in the harbor, suggesting the fight has gone out of him. The second season was compelling enough to leave us all hoping for another season and there may be another season because of strong ratings. Let’s hope we get to see more of Jackie and how he transforms himself into a better man.

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