Justin H. Min
Breakout Star Justin H. Min on the Representation, Work Family and Finding Your Inspiration
By Alexandra Bonnet
Despite the progress we have made in our World, there are still many groups of people who are marginalized and assigned labels which can be belittling at times. In the entertainment industry, we see many people of different backgrounds being stereotyped based on their race and although we are moving forward from this, there is still a lot of work to do. For Justin H. Min, this is exactly what made him believe he couldn’t become an actor when he was younger: “You know, growing up when I saw TV shows and movies here in the States, I never saw people who looked like me,” he shared. “I never even thought it was an option, I never saw Asian-American men on tv and movie screens.”
Min expanded on how Asian-American men, in particular, have been shown in very negative and stereotypical ways. As he continued, “You know the “nerdy IT guys” or some emasculated male or the guy who never gets the girl… all of these things.” So, what an opportunity and surprise it was when the talented actor found out he would be playing on the now renowned Netflix Series THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY. Yes, surprise. Having no knowledge of who he would be playing prior to his arrival on set, it was only then that his role was unveiled. The showrunner, Steve Blackman, pulled him aside and told him about “Ben Hargreeves aka Number 6.” As Min expressed, “I was so excited and shocked, and yet very confused because in the comic books, that brother is just dead and is not talked about ever again.” He, later on, found out that the studio took some creative license and decided to make “Ben” a ghost who interacts exclusively with Klaus, the sibling whose powers allow him to speak to the dead.
Double surprise! Robert Sheehan, who plays Klaus, shared his first scene with Min which could not have made Min any happier. Excitedly he shared, “I have been a fan of his work for a long time so again; it was, such an out of body and surreal experience for me to be acting in scenes with someone whose work I admired.” Being part of this show was overall a surreal experience and the biggest job Min had gotten to date. There were hundreds of people on set in massive sound stages, which made it all the more thrilling and exciting. The cast and crew developed a strong chemistry and became a family on and off screen. “I pinched myself many times that day (first day on set) to make sure I wasn’t dreaming,” he shared with a bright smile.
What made this experience all the more special was the fact that he got to play someone like Ben, a character which does not include the usual stereotypes which a lot of people assign to Asian-American men. In the second season, Ben has a love story with an African-American woman, “and even that is so powerful. How many Asian men and African-American women couples have you seen on screen? I can’t really think of any, so even being able to represent that was really important and powerful to me.” The show touched his heart on many different levels.
After all, to Min, the show is centered around family more than the world of powers and superheroes; something we can all relate to. “The show does a great job of showcasing what a real family is like, and that includes a lot of dysfunction, a lot of fighting and a lot of bickering, but at the end of the day they still love each other,” he expressed. “To be able to be part of that family unit is so much fun, and I loved being able to develop those relationships with the other cast members.” The chemistry off-screen definitely translates to what is happening on screen. In terms of how he relates to “Ben” personally, “I don’t have tentacles coming out of my body,” he shared laughingly. “But in terms of Ben’s introvertedness, shyness, loyalty to his family and wanting to do what is right, those are things that really connect to me as a person.” Luckily, there was such a positive response to the show and Ben’s character which brought him back “as a full series regular in season 2.”
Following this epic set, Min was also cast in A24’s AFTER YANG alongside renowned actors such as Colin Farrell and Jodie Turner-Smith; what a dream that was as well. Returning to New York where he went to college, he was able to go back to some of his old routines, “very nostalgic for me,” he shared. Mixed in with those feelings, this set was a lot more intimate, only thirty of them shooting in a house with Kogonada, a director who Min has always admired. “To be able to work under his direction was an honor and privilege.” Between the director and cast, the young actor found himself working with people he grew up watching and admiring, once again.
“We truly became this tight-knit family; the sound guy, the camera guy, the hair and makeup people,” shared Min excitedly. “It was just us everyday, together, in this small little family shooting this movie and that experience is also amazing. I will never forget that experience.” The film was set to release this year but with everything going on, it will most likely come out in 2021. A little disappointed by the prolonged wait, the actor looks forward to seeing it come out and for people to watch it.
Being part of these two projects was a dream that he found himself continuously in. Growing up, there was a part of him that must have known this was the path he would take as he has always been comfortable with public speaking. “I did a lot of speech and debate, I loved storytelling and writing, so when it came down to it and I started to pursue acting a couple of years after college I was like oh this makes sense,” he explained. Acting combines a lot of public speaking, storytelling and “just entertaining people and making them laugh, making them feel something. Connecting to people and to other artists.” And for Min, it goes beyond that.
As mentioned previously, the Asian-American actor never envisioned himself making it to the big screen and now he finds himself as a source of inspiration for many. As he shared humbly, “It is also very inspiring and moving to me when I hear young Asian-Americans message me or email me or talk to me on the streets explaining to me that they want to pursue the arts, become an actor.” When he first started his career, it was just “Justin Min,” but soon after he made it a point to include his middle initial “H” which stands for his Korean name “Hong-Kee.”
Having grown up in a predominantly Asian-American neighborhood, Min’s parents are first-generation immigrants from South Korea. “My heritage and culture are important parts of my identity and I always want to make sure that they are highlighted and showcased,” expressed the actor proudly. As he steps onto any set, the caring actor asks himself “What am I really contributing to society?” And that is when he realizes that “art and visibility are some of the most powerful ways of changing culture and perceptions and to change people’s thinking.” Something he is honored and privileged to be a part of.
Promoting change through art was something Min was exposed to during his college years. Along with writing, he also has a love of photography; a talent he discovered when he was working with a non-profit organization in Venezuela for a summer. Before leaving, his father handed him an old Nikon camera and with it, he took many photographs of his trip. When he got back, the people from the organization saw the photos he took and reached out to him to let him know he has a great eye. Surprised and humbled, Min shared “it just goes to show how powerful even just a little encouragement is,” which pushes him to be the “voice of encouragement” for those around him. He continued on this path as he traveled the world capturing moments that mattered, such as his trip to Cambodia proved as he worked with many survivors of the Khmer Rouge genocide.
“It is so powerful to be able to sit with someone and listen to their story, particularly a story of someone who survived a genocide. I got to be part of that storytelling process by photographing them; to see those photos move and inspire people to get informed and donate to help some of these causes and organizations,” described the caring actor. “I don’t think I could have wished for anything more.” Once again, art has proven to be a powerful source of inspiration for change and progress.
On and off screen, Justin H. Min is a true hero. Off screen his superpowers include humility, care, and dedication. Bridging the gap between real life and stereotypes, the talented actor uses art to promote change, to finally get people to listen. Working hard every day, he also aims to do some work behind the camera, “so when we are talking about writers, producers, directors you don’t see a lot of diversity in those higher-level positions,” he discussed. “I would love to be able to do that in any way I can and open the door for more Asian-American actors to get the platform and opportunities that I have been given because it is such an honor and privilege.” Min is building something here as he touches many hearts around him. Here at BELLO, he definitely touched our hearts and we hope after reading this yours were too!
Photographer LESTER VILLARAMA @shotbylester
Creative direction ALEKSANDAR TOMOVIC @alekandsteph
Styling WILFORD LENOV @wilfordlenov
Styling Assistant CARLOS VALENCIA @jvaalencia
Styling Assistant EMILY ALVAREZ @emily.alvrez
Grooming SONIA LEE for Exclusive Artists @sonialeeartistry
Production @bellomediagroup x @maisonpriveepr_la x @bonnetalex18