Taekwondo instructor Samuel Lee described himself as the typical boy growing up — he’s always looked up to superheroes.
“I would say that’s why I kind of do what I do,” said Lee, who has been practicing martial arts 1996.
Now, Lee will get a chance to be a superhero himself, performing as Spider-Man in the European tour of live-action stunt show "Marvel Universe Live."
The 30-year-old owner and instructor at Hwarang Martial Arts in Columbia has been cast as the spider hero in the third multistop tour in Europe. The show features characters from Marvel comics, including Captain America, Wolverine, the Hulk and Spider-Man's nemesis Doctor Octopus.
Lee will join a cast of eight people playing Spider-Man, of which five or six will perform as the hero in any given show. It gives the illusion that he's in more than one place at once, requiring each person playing Spider-Man to be similar in body type and skill level, said David Doersch, the casting and stunt specialist for the show.
Lee will make his debut at the tour's first stop — in Nottingham, England — at the end of the month. The Rockville resident will travel to France, Croatia, Sweden, Netherlands, Norway, Germany, Spain, Italy, and locations throughout the United Kingdom until the end of January. Lee will fly to Feld headquarters Tuesday to begin training.
Lee's students at Hwarang Martial Arts — and their parents — are excited for him, he said.
“Some of [the parents] said, ‘We might plan a trip to Europe now,” he said, laughing. “And I said ‘Oh, no! You don’t have to do that.”
Lee’s parents, who he said are very traditional, weren’t as thrilled about his new job at first.
“My mom thought I was going to be in a traveling circus,” he said, but since explaining it, they've come around.
Lee, who trains with the stunt performance group D.C. Stunt Coalition, auditioned in April on a whim, following in the footsteps of a few of his friends that had been previously hired for the show.
“They’re really good,” he said. “I didn’t think I was, but you never know if don’t try.”
He endured a four-hour tryout that included choreography, standard martial arts and a display of his special skill — tricking, a form of martial arts acrobatics.
The show auditioned thousands of people all around the country and in Europe in search of "Olympic-level athletes" to portray the superheroes, Doersch said. They consider height, weight, body type and performance level assessments of every person auditioning, and Lee fit the role, he said.
“Samuel is a wonderful performer with terrific skills,” said Doersch, adding that the goal. “It’s no small feat stepping into the scenes he’s stepping into.”
After Lee landed the role, he flew to Florida and Alabama to shadow and live with other performers for two weeks and — quite literally — learn the ropes.
As Spider-Man, Lee is required to enter the arena upside-down from the ceiling and perform an array of drops, swings and acrobatic passes through the air, while "webs" made of rope harnesses and laser lights shoot through the air.
Overcoming his fear of heights gave him a little bit of trouble, he said, but he manages.
“Having the skills that I’ve trained all these years — it is different — but you’re just making a few adjustments,” said Lee.
He's looking forward to spending the next several months on tour with performers like him.
“Everyone there has similar skills and experiences,” Lee said. “It’s really like a giant family.”