Keiko is an educator turned actress based in Los Angeles. Originally at Stanford University for pre-med biology, she discovered a passion for teaching that led to co-writing and producing a student’s play. Keiko felt moved by the production’s power, and went on to apply and become accepted into Cal State Fullerton’s MFA program. Now, Keiko stars on popular streaming services such as Showtime’s “City on a Hill,” and has produced a documentary (“Herselves”) for The New Yorker! In addition to her impressive resume, Keiko serves on Carry the Future’s advisory board to provide aid to refugee families. She advises young artists to “focus on developing [their] own authenticity” and to ask questions that allow for self-expression and foster imagination. Read on to learn more about Keiko Elizabeth and what makes her an Amazing Asian in the Arts!
Name: Keiko Elizabeth
Heritage: Mixed Race: Japanese and Caucasian
Hometown: Sacramento, CA
Current City: Los Angeles, CA
Current project: “City on a Hill” for Showtime
What are some of your favorite credits/projects:
The projects I’ve been working on in the last year have been some of my favorites. Playing Karen Shimizu on Showtime’s “City on a Hill”, and producing a short documentary called “Herselves” for The New Yorker have been incredibly rewarding. Honestly I don’t know how I would’ve gotten through Covid without these creative outlets.
Any advice for young people getting into the arts?
The best advice I can give (the advice I would give my younger self) is to focus on developing your own authenticity. Maybe you already feel super connected to your authentic voice—you know what you want to say, how you want your art and creativity to impact the world. But if you don’t, all of your creative endeavors should have an underlying intention to reveal your own authenticity to yourself so that you can express that authenticity in your work. What’s important to you? What questions do you have about life, about identity, about humanity? What topics are you interested in exploring with your work? What do you want to say to people? The more you can own and express what is truly, uniquely you, the more free and impactful your art will be. It’s so easy to get caught up in what you think others might like or what you SHOULD like, and spend a lot of energy trying to predict what will sell or what will get you an agent or a booking, but that is honestly the biggest waste of imagination that I see in artists.
How did you get your start?
I have had several starts, actually. I was a Biology major (pre-med) at Stanford University. Then I wanted to go into public service law, so I applied to law school and got into UC Berkeley, where I deferred admission for a year to explore my passion for education. I taught middle school math and science to kids coming out of juvenile hall and loved teaching so much I decided not to attend law school. Teaching is where I really saw the power of the arts to make an impact on other people, and where I first discovered that I wanted to be an actor. One of my students’ brothers had been killed in a drive-by shooting, and we helped her write a play about his life and death. We produced the play and cast local professional actors in addition to our students. I remember sitting in the back of the theatre the night of the performance, watching these actors breathe life into this story, and I thought, “That’s what I want to do.” Fast forward a couple of years and I got into the graduate MFA program in Acting at Cal State Fullerton. It was a 3-year program where I learned a lot (and struggled a lot), and after I graduated I started pounding the pavement in LA—auditioning, looking for an agent and manager, etc.
Do you have any favorite moments in your career that you'd like to share?
What have you found is the biggest challenge in your career?
Not allowing myself to be limited by my own perceptions of myself or how I think other people are perceiving me. I thought I’d mostly found peace with my identity as a mixed race woman, but when I started auditioning in Hollywood, that’s a whole other level of being seen and judged that I had to work through in order to own my authentic voice.
Do you have any organizations or non profits you work with you’d like to highlight?
I’m on the advisory board of an organization called Carry the Future, which serves refugee families and children to bring comfort and ease to the uncertainty of that experience. There are more refugees on the planet right now than at any previous moment in history, and how that impacts all of us is something I think about a lot. The topic of home is very meaningful to me at many levels, and helping others find comfort and peace and meaning in the refugee experience is something I’m very proud to contribute to.
Did you have any interesting “odd jobs” you worked at between gigs to pay the bills?
I've done so many odd jobs in my life! A particularly interesting one was when I worked for a sculptor on these enormous molds that were meant to be exported to Mexico to be poured on site as architectural decorative elements on timeshares. I always wondered if it wasn't just a front for drug smuggling. I'll never know.
Where did you study at?
Undergraduate: Stanford University
MFA in Acting: CSU Fullerton
Currently and ongoing in LA: The Imagined Life studios
What is your greatest accomplishment?
Giving birth to two children and witnessing their vitality and authenticity evolve as they grow. It's such a humbling experience.
What are some goals you hope to achieve?
I’d love to Executive Produce a TV show from the ground up — have the idea, be part of a team who develops and makes the whole thing come to life.
What helped you most to rebound from what you considered your biggest failure or mistake in your career?
Allowing myself to feel, knowing that the space which feels that discomfort and pain is my vulnerability, which is the crown jewel of my talent, and I don’t want to repress or control or deny the softness and responsiveness of that part of me.
Do you have any self care practices you do to stay focused and sane? What was your self care routine before the pandemic and how has that (as well as your views of self care) changed throughout the pandemic?
I’ve really deepened my conception of self care in recent years. Self care to me is the practice of cultivating an inner posture toward myself that is fundamentally nurturing, validating and loving, and then taking action from that place! It’s not at all about the external activity, it’s about the inner experience of that activity. For example, I could get a pedicure and spend the time berating my disgusting ingrown toenail or feeling guilty for spending the money on myself—not self care. So I have a variety of activities that feel good to me right now in this season of life — certain foods I eat, types of movement I enjoy, etc. But those activities alone are not self care. The foundation of my self care is that I have spent time (hours, days, weeks at this point) doing the work of listening deeply to myself and I facing my own shadow — the ways I’ve been conditioned and colonized into thinking I’m less than, the ways I control, repress or berate myself. That is the real root of true self care in my opinion.
How do you prepare for a role you consider difficult personally, whether it hits too close to home or goes greatly against your personal beliefs?
This is such a deep question. I can say that my process always begins with accepting the circumstances of the human being in the story. Sometimes this is easier than other times. If I’m judging the character, (which usually means I am actually judging a part of myself unconsciously) I can’t really live from that part of me and do the excavation work necessary to bring it to life. That has to be dealt with first, and is a very expansive part of the process. Then it’s imaginative—creating and bringing to life the matrix of history and beliefs that make the character who they are.
To find out more about Keiko, please visit her at:
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