The Korea Herald


[Herald Interview] Musical actor Min Woo-hyuk shows emotional Ahn Jung-geun in 'Hero'

By Park Ga-young

Published : Feb. 15, 2023 - 20:32

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Min Woo-hyuk poses for photos during an interview on Monday. (Acom) Min Woo-hyuk poses for photos during an interview on Monday. (Acom)

Min Woo-hyuk, a musical actor, had been working in small theater productions for three years before scoring his first major role, as Enjolras in "Les Miserables," staged in 2015. Around the same time, he saw "Hero" and immediately knew he would like to take on the role of Ahn Jung-geun, the historic independent activist who assassinated Hirobumi Ito, Japan’s first prime minister and the first Japanese resident-general in Korea, in Harbin, China, in 1909.

The 39-year-old actor's goal became reality. In 2022, he was cast in the main role.

“I was so shocked when watching the musical for the first time in 2014 because the original musical made in Korea was so amazing, and I added it to my bucket list,” Min told reporters in an interview Monday.

Not only did his dream come true, but Min has also had the opportunity to share the role with two people from whom he learned a great deal and respects very much: Jung Sung-hwa and Yang Joon-mo -- both of whom played Jean Valjean, the lead character in "Les Miserables," in 2015, while Min played the supporting role of Enjolras.

“When I first began my career as a musical actor, I had little money to spend on vocal or acting lessons. I would go to experienced actors like Jung and Yang and learn from them indirectly. I would sometimes record secretly and repeat their advice over and over again,” Min said.

Musical actor Min Woo-hyuk sheds tears as he sings Musical actor Min Woo-hyuk sheds tears as he sings "His Song" during "Hero." (Acom)

When asked how his approach to Ahn Jung-geun differs from other actors who have played the role, Min said, “Jung is so friendly and humane while Yang is really powerful. To describe my Ahn Jung-geun, I have to say, I’m prone to sobbing. I can’t help but crying whenever I sing ‘His Song’ on stage." Once his sobbing was so vigorous it caused his costume mustache to fall off.

Min has had a unique career: Among his two self-proclaimed failures are his brief stint as a singer and 10 years as a professional baseball player, cut short by a career-ending injury. Regardless of what he was pursuing at the time, Min has always known that he loves attention.

In 2015 while performing as Enjolras, he discovered his true calling of inspiring others. His focus was then on how to look or sound best in his performances. One day, however, he was approached by a woman who explained that she was so miserable she wished to die, but that his performance as Enjolras gave her the courage to carry on.

Since taking on the role of Ahn, Min's attitude toward viewing the performance of other actors in the same role has changed drastically.

Whereas he used to completely avoid watching others perform in the same role so as to avoid being swayed by their technique, he has made it a point to use the performances of Jung and Yang as Ahn to ensure that his transition into the character does not disrupt the flow of the message to the audience. He is so dedicated to maintaining their legacy that he prays to Ahn before each performance that he could carry Ahn’s message to the audience.

"I learned through ‘Hero’ that so many people have put in a lot of effort in an unseen place for us to enjoy everything we have today in this country. It's not something that's taken for granted. I hope people get this message from ‘Hero,'" Min noted.

Musical actor Jung Sung-hwa (front center) performs as Ahn Jung-geun in Musical actor Jung Sung-hwa (front center) performs as Ahn Jung-geun in "Hero." (Acom)

The latest run of "Hero" is set to be the longest yet at six months, compared to the previous eight runs since its premiere in 2009. The ninth revival kicked off at LG Arts Center in Seoul on Dec. 21, the same day the film version directed by megahit filmmaker Yoon Je-kyoon released in local theaters. Yoon was so touched by the musical in 2012 that he made it into a film starring Jung as Ahn Jung-geun.

After its run at LG Arts Center as the first musical to take the stage since its relocation to Magok-dong in western Seoul, the production will make its move to Blue Square in Yongsan, central Seoul, from March 17 to May 21.

"As the production is running longer than usual, I have had the chance to learn many of the anniversaries related to Ahn," Min said. For example, Min notes that "Feb. 14 is Valentine's Day, but it is also the day Ahn received the death sentence, and March 26 is the day he was executed.”

“I think 'Hero' is about love,” Min added, “Ahn's desire to create a country where future generations could love freely.”

Musical actor Yang Joon-mo (center) performs as Ahn Jung-geun in Musical actor Yang Joon-mo (center) performs as Ahn Jung-geun in "Hero." (Acom)