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The Umbrella Academy's Justin H. Min Is Having a Breakout Year, and He's Just Getting Started

After expanding his role in Season 3 of the Netflix series, Min is carefully shaping his path in Hollywood

Kat Moon

For almost eight months, Justin H. Min had to think like a dickhead. That's how long it took to film Season 3 of The Umbrella Academy, in which Min portrays an entirely new Ben Hargreeves. Long gone is the kind, gentle — and dead — Ben from the Netflix show's first two seasons. Instead, its third installment features a snobbish Ben who is very much alive. For Min, playing a nearly direct opposite version of his tentacles-summoning character was a fun challenge. "It was exhausting, though, to be in this darker headspace," Min told TV Guide. That's likely because, in reality, the actor is less a dickhead and, in the words of castmate David Castañeda, more a "little marshmallow." 

This became obvious in the 30 minutes I spent talking to the actor ahead of The Umbrella Academy's Season 3 premiere. He repeatedly addressed me by name and made our conversation feel more like friendly chat than a rigid interview. And when I sheepishly told him I dropped his recent favorite K-drama, Start-Up, because I became too frustrated with the plotline (justice for Han Ji-pyeong!), Min laughed, "OK, but the grandma, she's the MVP."

This year marks a decade since Min started acting, and it's a big one for him. Season 3 of The Umbrella Academy, which was released on June 22, gives him an expanded role as the now-living Ben. But Min also had a buzzy first quarter of the year thanks to his role in After Yang, Kogonada's quietly provocative, visually stunning film, released in March. In his first feature film performance, Min played the titular humanoid robot who helps an adopted daughter connect with her Chinese heritage. Up next, Min is starring in the upcoming Netflix dramedy Beef which features Steven Yeun, Ali Wong, and his cousin Ashley Park. And in our conversation the actor teased he will soon begin filming for another project that's yet to be announced. 

Justin H. Min

Justin H. Min

Getty Images

Min credits The Umbrella Academy with opening doors in his career, and the third season spotlights his performance even more. In the new episodes, the Umbrellas return to a very different 2019. Their home is now the residence of the Sparrow Academy because Reginald Hargreeves (Colm Feore) decided to adopt a new group of children after meeting the Umbrellas in the 1960s. Ben is Number Two among the Sparrows and desperately wants to become Number One — the leader of the group. To Min, there are clear reasons behind his character's hostility. "Anyone who's angry or maybe seen by the outside world as an asshole — or as the Umbrellas like to call him, a dickhead — I think those people are unfortunately the people that are hurting the most inside," Min said. "I feel like Sparrow Ben is a really lonely, insecure person who's just searching for a sense of belonging."

It's a search that Min thinks is universal, and one he personally relates to. "As an Asian American, it's something that I'm confronted with almost daily: Where do I fit in, in this place in America?" he said. Min, who was born and raised in Cerritos, California, has been vocal about how his Korean American identity has shaped him as an actor. Much of Ben's journey is tied to trying to earn recognition from Hargreeves through being an excellent Sparrow. I told Min that while watching his character, I couldn't help but think of Asian kids, myself included, seeking parents' approval — and how it's often an uphill battle because in our cultures, words of affirmation or phrases like "I'm proud of you" are more rare. Min connects with this assessment. "The way that we were able to show our love to our parents was through our accomplishments," he said. "In the same way, I think Ben — although he's not growing up in an Asian household — there's still that sense of, how do I prove myself to my dad? How do I show him that I'm worthy?" Min said. "And it's by excelling at what he's asking me to do." 

Justin H. Min, Britne Oldford, The Umbrella Academy

Justin H. Min, Britne Oldford, The Umbrella Academy


Min has always loved listening to people's stories — and sharing them. Before he started acting, he traveled with various international development organizations to document their work. (The actor recently became a UNICEF ambassador, which he described as a "real full-circle moment.") This became his impetus to go into journalism, and he wrote for a few local magazines after graduating from Cornell University. But after learning that it could take five to eight years before he'd be in a position to pitch stories he was passionate about, Min decided to change paths. "I'm an extremely impatient person, so I wasn't sure if I could write about eight more lobster festivals before I was able to pitch something that I wanted to write about," he previously told GQ. 

He moved from New York back to Los Angeles and played small roles in broadcast and cable dramas before starring in Wong Fu Productions' short film How I Became an Adult in 2017 and the web series Dating After Collegein 2019. The Umbrella Academy premiered that same year. Min landed a recurring role in the first season as Ben, aka Number Six, the dead Hargreeves sibling visible only to his spirit-conjuring brother Klaus (Robert Sheehan). He joined the main cast in Season 2. 

"I was just going from job to job and paycheck to paycheck, hopefully cobbling enough to get by and pay for rent," Min told TV Guide of his life before booking The Umbrella Academy. The show afforded him a sense of financial security, and now he's able to be more selective in his projects."I don't have to work now just for the sake of working," he shared. "I can actually choose things that I think are important and resonate with me on an emotional level."

When The Umbrella Academy premiered, Min's inbox was flooded with messages from Asian American parents and kids, who wrote to him about how powerful it was to see his character on the screen. Asian characters in superhero films and series have been virtually nonexistent (though recent Marvel projects like Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and Ms. Marvel are a sign of progress), and Ben's presence was significant to many. Reading messages from fans, the actor was reminded of his own experience growing up. "When I first saw The Joy Luck Club it was like, oh, this is so weird and amazing that there's actually people who look like me in this movie who share a lot of similar experiences that I do," he recalled. It connected for Min then: The Umbrella Academy is to many what The Joy Luck Club was to him.

The actor has advocated for more representation behind the camera, too. In 2020, Min sent an email to The Umbrella Academy crew calling for greater diversity across departments, from production to hair and makeup. Protests against police brutality and racial injustice had spread across the U.S., and Min thought hard about what he could do in his sphere of influence. "I was, to be honest, scared to send that email at first," he recalled. But the email was received well by showrunner Steve Blackman and the series' producers. "We immediately had a number of Zoom calls to talk about how we could do that," Min said. "And Season 3 was the most diverse it has ever been both in front [of] and behind the camera, so I'm very, very thankful."  

Genesis Rodriguez, Cazzie David, Justin H. Min, Jake Epstein, Britne Oldford, The Umbrella Academy

Genesis Rodriguez, Cazzie David, Justin H. Min, Jake Epstein, Britne Oldford, The Umbrella Academy


As the push for a more inclusive Hollywood continues, the globalization of streaming platforms like Netflix is prompting worldwide audiences to consume more stories about different cultures and backgrounds. Case in point: the booming popularity of Korean dramas. When Min was growing up, a K-drama was almost always playing on the television. "My parents were obsessed with Korean dramas and still are," he said. There was a period when he didn't watch them after moving away from home, but he began following these highly binge-able shows in the last few years as many of them became available to stream. I asked Min if he would consider starring in projects produced in South Korea. "Absolutely," he said. "I was actually supposed to do a Korean project last year in Korea," Min revealed. "And we were very close to closing the deal." He didn't go into detail about why the deal fell through but said it had to do with labor laws. "Hopefully, as these laws change and evolve, and I figure out more about my ability to work there, it can happen sooner than later," Min said. 

In the meantime, more opportunities are being presented to Min in the U.S. He recognizes the swell of Asian American creators seeking to tell authentic stories and wants to be a part of the narrative building. Working on the upcoming series Beef from Lee Sung-jin — which Min described as "an intensely dark comedy" that starts with a road rage incident — felt personal. "It is such an exciting new perspective into the Asian American persona and world, I don't think we've seen characters like this ever on screen," he said about the show. "I got to be a small part of that process, and it was such a joy." 

So far, Min has played characters whose Asian identity is explicitly part of the story, like Yang in After Yang, and characters whose Asian identity is not — like Ben Hargreeves. The actor does not want to limit himself to one type of character or the other when selecting his future roles. "The next project I'm doing does center a lot around [the character's] Asian American identity, but it's not because of that that I gravitated toward that project and script," he said. "It was because I read it and connected with it."As he chooses stories that move him, Min's work will continue to resonate. Even if he's playing a hateable character, it's hard not to love him. 

Season 3 of The Umbrella Academy is available to stream.