Recently, I got to participate in a group interview with Justin Min who plays Ben Hargreeves/Number 6 in Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy. Here are some of the things that Min shared with us.
WARNING: Interview contains spoilers for The Umbrella Academy show and comic.
On his audition:
Min was given “fake materials” for his audition and had no idea what character he was auditioning for. It was a week before flying out to Toronto for filming that he was told he was playing Ben Hargreeves in a new Netflix show, and then he hurried to pick up the comics which still didn’t give him a proper sense of Ben since the comic book version is not an active character. He learned about the character he was playing through the showrunners and scripts.
On Ben’s expanded role and backstory:
Since Ben is mentioned in the comics but not present, he received secondhand knowledge from Gerard Way through the showrunners to help fill in the blanks about Ben’s backstory, and he had lots of conversations with the showrunners about how Ben would interact with his siblings. Keeping Ben’s expanded role a secret was “really, really hard” but Min felt that it was worth it to see how the surprise played out.
On playing Ben and how fans responded to the character:
Min felt that being Klaus’s “walking conscious” was fun to play, especially as viewers aren’t always certain if he’s a ghost or something that exists in Klaus’s mind when he first turns up. Min also acknowledges the irony that Ben has some of the most blatantly violent and destructive powers (the comics call him “The Horror”) but Ben himself is very shy and sweet. Min says, “I just wanted to create a character that would be memorable enough so that the audience would believe that, you know, because of his death the family split apart.” He has been overwhelmed and grateful at how much the fans took to his character, even if Ben did take a bit of a back seat this season.
How is Min like Ben:
Like Ben, studying and always reading books are traits Min shares with his character. He also has a brother (older) of his own.
What surprised him about this role:
The technical aspects were very unique for Min because only Klaus was supposed to see him, and the cast had to avoid him making eye contact with the characters that were not supposed to see him. They did have to do some reshoots when this happened.
On working with a large ensemble cast:
Min says the cast had an “instant chemistry” from the very first day they met and there was a sense of family among the cast. He definitely got to develop a relationship with Robbie (Robert Sheehan) because of how much they worked together.
On his younger counterpart:
Min worked a lot with Ethan Hwang, who played the younger version of Ben. Min called him up and says Hwang quickly became like “second family.” They had a lot of discussions on how they were going to play Ben to keep the character consistent.
On working with Robert Sheehan:
Min calls Sheehan “the best scene partner” and the “funniest guy.” For those of you wondering, yes, Sheehan does bring in a good deal of improvisation to his scenes. Their dynamic in and out of character was very similar. Min says, “I didn’t feel like I was acting very much because I was just responding to the craziness and fun that is Robbie Sheehan.”
On Ben and Klaus’s relationship:
Min feels like Ben as a ghost still carries the same sort of relationship with Klaus that they had when he was alive. They joke around and look out for each other. He feels as though these two brothers have always had a strong connection and agrees with suggestions that this bond has been influenced by how wary both brothers are of their superpowers.
On what song he would like to see used in a fight scene:
The Umbrella Academy has a tendency to use upbeat songs with super violent fight scenes. If he could pick any music to use for next season, Min would love to see more Queen because he’s such a big fan.
What other superhero shows can take from The Umbrella Academy:
Min feels the biggest lesson for other superhero shows is that the relatability of the characters is more important than superpowers. When it comes down to it, Umbrella Academy is about a dysfunctional family, and people connect to that.
On racially diverse casting:
Min states diversity is “one of the issues that I am most passionate about as an Asian-American actor.” He “couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunity” to be in The Umbrella Academy. He is also very grateful that the creative team and Gerard Way intentionally made a choice to have the casting be more representative of the people we see in our world today. It’s very exciting for him to see such a diverse cast in a superhero series.
On his creative outlets:
Min is involved in photography and writing as well as acting and feels that writing and photography let him keep making while he’s between auditions. He’s written for travel magazines and done celebrity profiles and interviews. Being the interviewed instead of the interviewer feels “surreal and odd.”
On who Min would pick to haunt him:
Steve Jobs. Min feels that Jobs could tell him what to invent and would just love to pick his brain.