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At Home Behind the Camera

Lily Mariye on a Downtown L.A. roof, shooting a scene for “NCIS: Los Angeles.”

By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer

She’s not giving up acting, but Lily Mariye is fast becoming a familiar face behind the camera as a director.

Since directing an episode of “Nashville” two years ago, she has directed two more episodes of that show, two episodes each of “NCIS: Los Angeles” and “Criminal Minds,” and one episode each of “Just Add Magic,” “The Fosters,” “Chicago P.D.” and “MacGyver.”

On screen, Mariye may be best known for playing Nurse Lily Jarvik on “ER” from 1994 to 2009. Her most recent TV appearances include “Murder in the First,” “One Mississippi” and “NCIS: Los Angeles.”

“I don’t consider myself a more established director yet … I’m still proving myself, still taking meetings, still pursuing shows or projects that I want to direct,” she said. “I’ve had to turn a few things down recently because I was already booked, which is REALLY a new experience for me!

Lily Mariye on the set of “NCIS: Los Angeles.”

“The ‘unemployed actor’ impulse in me always kicks in and I want to say ‘yes’ to everything, but I’m learning to let things go. In television directing, my agents actively solicit work and field offers, but I always keep my eyes and ears open for projects I’d like to be involved with.”

Mariye discussed the pluses and minuses of her new line of work: “The most enjoyable aspect of directing for me is the fact that I get to do it! I love directing so much and have been working for many years to build this career. I’m deeply grateful for every moment. I love collaborating with so many talented artists to create the worlds in which the characters live.

“I love working with actors. I love post-production, figuring out how to tell our story. Because I’ve been an actor all my adult life, I’ve spent more time on a set than not. I feel more at home there than anyplace else…except maybe my actual home.

“Which leads me to the most challenging aspect of directing: when I work out of town. I miss my husband, my home, my friends, my cats. But I’m so focused on directing, I don’t notice how homesick I am until I’m on the plane coming back, then I can’t get here fast enough!”

When a director is hired, he or she is not necessarily a long-time fan of that particular show. “When I initially meet with studio executives or producers, I will have watched a few episodes of their shows beforehand,” Mariye said. “Once I’m hired, I’ll watch at least the entire previous season of a show, if not more.”

Having guest-starred on “Criminal Minds” and “NCIS: Los Angeles,” she noted, “The great thing about having appeared on a show before you direct it is that you are already familiar with the set, with the cast and crew.”

The “NCIS: Los Angeles” episode, titled “Superhuman,” aired in October and had special meaning for her. Her character described the wartime incarceration of Japanese Americans.

While directing an episode of “Chicago P.D.,” Lily Mariye was reunited with former “ER” co-stars Eriq La Salle, a “Chicago P.D.” executive producer and director, and Paul McCrane, who was directing an episode of “Chicago Fire.” Mariye joked, “All we needed was a gurney and we could have recreated an ‘ER’ episode!”

“Kyle Harimoto, the executive producer/writer of that episode, asked me if I would play the character of Shirley Hidoko,” Mariye recalled. “He didn’t tell me anything about it, but he is such a talented writer that I completely trusted him and agreed. When I read the scene, I was so moved.

“My mother’s entire family was exiled to Tule Lake, where my grandfather died. I was honored to talk about the JA incarceration on network television. I think as JA artists, we must keep up the conversation. It’s our responsibility to keep educating people.”

Lily Mariye has worked with “NCIS: Los Angeles” both in front of and behind the camera. She is pictured in an episode that aired last month. (Screen grab by Kathee Yamamoto)

Mariye said it “took my breath away” when she was nominated for a Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Children’s Programming (for “Just Add Magic”) and received a Visionary Award from East West Players.

“I still can’t believe it and I continue to work to the best of my ability to live up to those standards,” she explained. “Growing up, I had so few Asian American women to look up to as role models as an actor, and none as a director. I realize that my mere existence as a Japanese American woman director changes people’s perceptions of what a director looks like, and I take that responsibility very seriously.”

Regarding upcoming projects, Mariye, who was interviewed last month, said, “I am about to head to Chicago to direct my second episode of ‘Chicago P.D.’ I’m excited to work with the cast and crew again. They’re so talented and make my job lots of fun. I also get to hang out with my old ‘ER’ friend Eriq La Salle, who is the EP/director on the show.

“After that, I am directing an episode of a new show, NBC’s ‘The Enemy Within,’ starring Morris Chestnut and Jennifer Carpenter. And coincidentally, a friend of mine, Erin Donovan, is writing the episode! We started as actors together and she’s worked very hard to have a career as a television writer. I’m thrilled for her.”

Lily Mariye with her powerhouse all-female team on “Criminal Minds”: first assistant director Anne Carroll, showrunner Erica Messer, writer/co-executive producer Stephanie Sengupta.

Mariye is also attached to direct “Lost and Found,” a new film by Iris Yamashita, Oscar nominee for “Letters from Iwo Jima,” produced by Jimmy Tsai.

In addition, her first feature film as writer and director, “Model Minority” (2012), “is more visible than ever with its online release in Japan, China, the U.K. and Germany.” The inner-city coming-of-age story stars Nichole Bloom, Courtney Mun, Chris Tashima, Jessica Tuck, Takayo Fischer, Delon de Metz and Mark Anthony Samuel.

It can be watched on the following platforms: Hulu, Amazon (U.S., U.K., Japan, Germany, ROW), Snagfilms, Realeyz, Flixon, TubiTV, FandagoNOW, Hoopla, Filmocracy, China Mobile Indie, NandarTV, Pantaflix, and Kinoflimmern.

With old TV shows like “Will and Grace” and “Murphy Brown” being revived with original cast members, is there any chance Mariye will play Nurse Jarvik again? “I have not heard about an ‘ER’ revival, but that would be something, wouldn’t it?”

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