Bazaar Men: Great Expectations

At the end of January 2018, Liu Haoran filmed a photoshoot for Bazaar Men and was featured on the cover of their March issue. Because Liu Haoran has had six magazine features in the first half of 2018 alone (and with the exception of the VogueMe interview which was conducted in March, the rest of the interviews were all done in December 2017/January 2018), the content of them aren’t going to differ very much since they all center around his recent acting experiences.

But just like how the VogueMe editor mentioned that Liu Hao Ran doesn’t like giving fixed responses, each interview that he’s done also varies slightly in terms of the content that he covers and the direction his thoughts flow. There’s a reason why the media loves interviewing him – he’s always sincere and gives thoughtful responses. You can also tell how positively the media views him because all of his interviews have been about acting and performance – they really don’t treat him as a little fresh meat.

In this interview, he shows a confidence in his abilities that we all know exists but rarely see from him. He talks about his view on how lucky he’s been (because it’s a word that’s constantly associated with him), the acting philosophy that he follows, and various challenges that he’s faced.

He also reveals a little bit about how he’s gotten casted for his various projects since everyone always says he has such great resources. And he has some interesting comments on how he feels about popularity. I know I say this every time, but this interview was also held before Detective Chinatown 2 and his popularity exploded to a new peak – the context matters here.

(Original article/interview from 2.26.18)

Sometimes in life, there will be a sudden instance where you will suddenly find yourself pushed to a whole new world from what you have been used to. We call this “luck” and “opportunity”. Liu Hao Ran’s life thus far has been a web of dreams woven together by the beads of opportunity. Fate has smiled kindly upon this tiger-toothed boy,

*T/N: Tiger tooth = canine tooth. I just think the literal translation sounds better, ha.

“Am I lucky? Maybe some things were just meant to be. But you can’t just eliminate the hard work component of it either. There are many people who have been lucky, but few have truly taken advantage of the opportunities given to them.” He says, “I am constantly doubting myself. I think that’s a good thing, because it pushes me to constantly improve myself. I feel that I am continuously growing, and that with every project I take on, I am maturing.”

In The Eye of the Storm, which is a book that was published in commemoration of his 20th birthday, Liu Hao Ran wrote, “The tempo of the outside world is like the wind pushing you along. Don’t let it carry you away, because even though you’ll be able to travel very fast, it’s easy to fall. But if you walk against the wind, it’s exhausting. So the best compromise is to stand your ground while being blown by the wind. That way, every step that you take is according to your own will.”

Yes, the bright young man standing before us lives up to his great reputation. He has always strived to walk steadily at his own pace and has remained clear headed. He never panics, nor has he become narcissistic. Like a young sailor facing the open seas and a boundless sky, he has the ability to navigate the murky waters ahead to find his correct route.

On January 31, 2018, as the whole world is buzzing about the approaching Super Blue Blood Moon, Liu Hao Ran is preparing for his cover photoshoot with us right after completing a road show for the upcoming Detective Chinatown 2. When this college junior strides onto the set of the shoot, the “him” at this moment is an actor. No matter what may be going on in the world, he is unaffected – his focus is on what he needs to do.

Some have said, Liu Hao Ran has an incredibly bright, youthful aura. The truth is, the real him is a bit of a paradox. He’s simultaneously complex and simple, mature yet pure-hearted, and confident but humble. These traits seem to be conflicting in nature, but somehow it works for him. It’s an attractive quality, but it doesn’t feel overdone.

“When I first started college, our professor told us students that all actors need to grasp the ‘art of experiencing’. You need to be able to truly listen, watch, and feel in order to perform well. There’s a phrase in stage performance called ‘standing out from the crowd’. A good actor needs to be able to make himself stand out. That’s also a lesson that we were taught during the yi kao* – you need to appear different from the others, to be distinct. I am working hard to get to this state right now, and sometimes I feel like I’m able to achieve it.”

*T/N: The yi kao is the performance part of the Chinese college entrance exams for performing arts students.

The art of experiencing” is an acting philosophy that comes from Russian theater practitioner Konstantin Stanislavski. He believed in utilizing an actor’s conscious thought and will in order to activate other less controllable psychological processes (such as emotional experience and subconscious behavior).

As an actor, you should experience feelings similar to those that the character experiences in order to give a convincing performance.* “The art of experiencing” requires that the actor truly and sincerely believes that his character – and the setting that he is in – is real. It is only with this belief that the actor will be able to put in a great performance.

When we bring this up, Liu Haoran says, “This actually has become my point of weakness. I tend to do things the stupid way. For example, if the scene requires my character to be sad, I will enter that state in real life as well. I bring the feelings of my character into real life, and it’s very easy for me to get into it. That’s why when I’m on set, I’m like a crazy person. I might be in a playful, cheerful mood initially, but a couple days later I will suddenly become quiet and moody.”

When filming The Legend of the Demon Cat, the director (Chen Kaige) made a comment about his weight, and Liu Haoran used half a year to lose 20kg. He took his coat off with no hesitation and plunged into the icy waters over and over again (for his scene). That kind of desperation to do whatever it took was very similar to what his character Bai Long goes through.

For his role as the nineteen year old version of Su Yu in The Founding of An Army, he read all the resources that he could get his hands on. That also included reading up on the backgrounds of all the characters that he had scenes with as well. His serious attitude and determination (to do well) has enabled him to stand out from the other “little fresh meat”, and has put him closer to the title of “actor”.

“I’m an actor. That term, in itself, represents all sorts of possibilities. I can become any type of person – depressed, sad, grieving, joyful. Using an adjective to describe an actor is funny to me. You shouldn’t say, this is a cheerful actor, or this is an actor who spreads joy. Does that mean he can’t act in more serious projects? As an actor, we don’t need to be labeled. You need to be able to take on different kinds of roles, and not become typecasted.”

He says he doesn’t like being labeled or having a character setup. “At the end, what people think of you decides your future. If you don’t want to be seen as an idol, then put down your idol image. It’s a pretty simple concept. When you say that you don’t want people to have fantasies (about you) while simultaneously keeping your idol image, it becomes a little difficult to reconcile that.” Liu Haoran transcends his age with this statement, and it shows how mature his mind is. From the look in his eyes, you can see that he truly believes in the art of performance.

And at this moment, you will believe in him too.

You could probably say that Liu Hao Ran’s life, from childhood through now, has been a blend of hard work and luck. Before he was admitted into the middle school branch of the Beijing Dance Academy, he attended the best middle school in Pingdingshan, Henan Province.

In his grade, which consisted of seven to eight hundred people, he ranked as high as 28. Later, because he heard that attending the Beijing Dance Academy would grant him a Beijing hukou*, which would give him an advantage when it was time for the gao kao, he made the decision to transfer schools and move to Beijing.

However, on the very first day of classes, he drafted a resignation letter, because it was only then that he (and his family) realized that the Beijing Dance Academy is a specialized school. In the future, when it was time to apply for college, he would be limited in his choices, which meant that he wouldn’t be able to pursue the two majors that he was interested in at the time – finance and civil engineering.

*T/N: Hukou is basically your household residency. Your hukou is usually tied to your place of birth (or where your birth is registered), but certain schools, like the Beijing Dance Academy, and government agencies, universities, and corporations can also offer you a specific city (usually Beijing or Shanghai)’s hukou. Because there are better opportunities in big cities, everyone wants to move there – but only those who have hukou will be granted special entitlements and privileges.

High school students who have a Beijing hukou also have a significant advantage when it comes to the gao kao, specifically in terms of admission to Peking University and Tsinghua University (the two top schools in China) – this is the main reason why LHR made the decision to move to Beijing at twelve. He was a good student, but he wouldn’t have a chance of getting into either of those schools if he remained in Henan – however, with a Bejing hukou, his chances would increase substantially.

His dreams were suddenly shattered, but he says that he is someone who “is extremely stubborn and won’t turn back easily. If I’ve walked on a particular path, I will keep going until the very end.” The more that fate wanted him to retreat, the more determined he became to succeed.

From a game of “Truth or Dare”*, the sixteen year old Liu Haoran unexpectedly won the chance to act in the film Beijing Love Story, and started his journey in the entertainment industry. The opportunity allowed him to get a taste of acting – and also helped him to gain confidence. He fell in love with acting.

Because the start of filming for Detective Chinatown was very close to the gao kao dates, he had no choice but to use the time between filming to do as many practice tests as he could. Despite this, he was admitted into the Central Academy of Drama, ranking first in his major for both the gao kao (academic portion) and yi kao (performance portion) portions.

*T/N: Chen Sicheng casted Liu Haoran for Beijing Love Story after having a group of students play Truth or Dare, and then having the girls vote for the guy that they liked the most. The majority of the votes went to Liu Haoran.

When he participated in military training reality show Takes A Real Man, he showed a perseverance and determination that surpassed his age amidst an extremely strict and rigid environment. It was through the show that he got rid of the “little fresh meat” label that he detests so much.

In regards to this experience, he said, “I’ve been a dance student since I was a child. We had practice everyday, which included stretches and doing the splits. We were howling in pain on a daily basis. That was true torture.” In regards to that period of his life, he describes it as “a wind of opportunity that suddenly blasted by and was a test of true willpower and required me to really dig within.”

In Nirvana in Fire 2: The Wind Blows in Changlin, Liu Haoran is Xiao Ping Jing, who goes from a free spirited, willful, general’s child to a reliable and restrained young man who carries the burdens of a nation on his shoulders; in Novoland: Eagle Flag, which he is currently filming, he is the male lead Lv Gui Chen. When the promotional posters were released, upon seeing the determined look in his eyes, book fans exclaimed, “This is the Lv Gui Chen that I pictured!”. Being able to perform different roles and go through different scenes is  an experience exclusive to actors.

I ask, has luck been the reason that the twenty year old you have already received such great opportunities?

“Let me raise an example. It’s impossible that every role that I’ve had was mine to begin with. They start out by looking at many different options, but when they decide on you, it’s not just because the director has confidence in you. They will look at how you’ve done in prior roles to predict your potential. That’s why you can’t simply use the word ‘luck’ and erase all the hard work that went into it.” Liu Haoran says.

“When I accepted Nirvana in Fire 2: The Wind Blows in Changlin, a lot of people were worried about the second half, when Ping Jing matures. But that’s the part that I was most interested in – the Xiao Ping Jing who becomes a young military general who is responsible for his country and family, and who has grown to be a reliable man.”

To put it another way, it gave me an opportunity to play a role that went from twenty to forty*. I wanted to test myself and see how far I still had to go to pull off a role like that successfully. If I was able to do it well, then it would prepare me well for the me who would still be acting in ten years. The end result was pretty good. I’m pretty happy with it.”

*T/N: He’s referring to the personality change – not the actual age change of PJ.

In regards to his professional development, he says, “I don’t really have much ambition. This is the type of person that I am: no matter what industry I’m in, no matter how I got there – whether it was due to coincidence or by my own choice, once I’m on that path, I have to do it well. I won’t have any other thoughts about it, like wanting to win an award.”

“Because once you set your sights too high, it’s easy to make mistakes. The easiest way to go about it is just don’t think that far. Right now, just focus on how to become a better actor. To me, every role that I take on is in preparation for the next one. Almost all the directors that I’ve worked with casted me because they watched my previous performances and decided, hey, that actor seems pretty reliable. That’s how I’ve gotten the new opportunities. You have to believe in the abilities that help you earn a living.”

Many people have said that Liu Haoran has a maturity that surpasses his age, that he is someone who has lot of thoughts and ideas. Sometimes you may even feel that the intelligent boy in front of you is actually an old soul with a young appearance.

Most of his maturity comes from living in Beijing by himself since he was a child. That part of his life has also taught him to remember that he’s not the center of the world. This is a concept that kids who have been overly sheltered  by their parents do not understand.

“I approach everything with a pretty serious mindset, and will have a lot of thoughts about it. I am a pessimist by nature, so I’ll prepare myself for the worst outcome. But I will always strive to do my best – not sure if that’s a positive trait. The bad thing about me is that I’m too boring, too rational. Right now, I’m trying to let myself just follow my heart, to be impulsive, though it hasn’t been easy.”

He says, “No one is important enough that the world will stop turning when they’re not around. So don’t think too much of yourself. Or else when you enter the real world, there will be a lot that you won’t be able to accept. Because your expectations will be different, it’s easy to feel lost and become misguided.”

Despite being followed by the paparazzi 24/7, Liu Haoran doesn’t have an idol image. “Liu Haorn doesn’t like fans receiving him at the airport.”, “doesn’t like fans giving him expensive presents”. His unique personality has left everyone with the impression that he is different from his peers.

“Because we understand each other, I don’t think there’s much that we need to say. My fans are great. On a regular basis, everyone lives their own lives and do what they need to do. Celebrities shouldn’t be the focus of your life. I can pay my fans back through my performances.” That’s why he doesn’t really care about whether or not he starts fashion trends, or if he gets on the (Weibo) trending search, or airport interactions.

Liu Haoran will joke and say that his hobbies are like those of more senior actors, like drinking tea and playing Chinese chess (xiang qi). His view on how his relationship and fans should be like is also reminiscent of how veteran actors think. “The tempo in this era is too fast. I hope fans can slow down a bit. Because I am an actor, I think the best state is for me to have a comfortable relationship with fans. I want us to have a long term relationship, not a short, intense one.”

He says, “I am someone who hides away after being out in the open. Every time I go through a period of promotional events, I will quickly retreat back to the production set or return back to school, to give myself – and everyone – some quiet time. A normal life should have ups and downs. If you always stand at center stage, you will become tired. I think most Central Academy of Drama students have the same mindset as I do. Most of the upperclassmen are very down to earth, and don’t really put a lot of emphasis on the more glamorous aspects (of being an actor). This is probably due to the influence of our professors.”

Liu Haoran also doesn’t have the notion that he needs to protect his celebrity image. He will openly discuss all sorts of topics, including big, unreliable dreams, and his ideal romance. “My ideal romance is one that’s very comfortable, where we don’t try to influence one another. The way I look at it is that there should be many different aspects of your life, but none of them should be all consuming to you. Life has a lot of components, like work, and love. But that one component shouldn’t affect your entire life. It’s important to maintain a level of independence.”

One day when he couldn’t sleep, a question popped into his head. “If one day I couldn’t be an actor anymore, what would I do?” After thinking about it for a while, his answer was, “Maybe I’ll become a video game streamer!” And then he laughed.

At this moment, he isn’t the rebellious Bai Long, nor is he the young general with the weight of the world on his shoulders. He’s not an idol celebrity – he’s just a normal college student, who waves his hand to show the stitched up injury that was caused by an accident during filming; who wants to finish up the photoshoot so he can go eat with friends and then catch the lunar eclipse.

“Is popularity really that important?” He asks us, “Everyone says that it’s very important for entertainers to gain popularity. But, what is the true purpose behind that? Is it to get better resources? Is it to obtain better endorsements and commercials? I already have all of these. I’m very satisfied with the current state of my life and career. So even though people have said in the comments section online that 2018 will be the year that my popularity blows up, it’s not that important to me.”

“All I want right now is to focus on acting and be able to deliver good projects. That’s what an actor should do – focus on completing his part well.” The Liu Haoran at this moment is sincere and natural. This is his attitude towards performance and life. Even though it seems very normal, this kind of mindset can allow you to walk more steadily and to go further.

“I like feeling a little uneasy. Actors don’t really need to have a sense of happiness, because this industry provides so many reasons for you to feel happy. You will be recognized by a lot of people while doing something that you love. You can travel around the world, and be the center of attention. You can wear the latest fashion…but when you have too much happiness, your thoughts, values, and your sensitivity towards social cues will gradually change. At that point, you will discover that your life feels rather meaningless. Even acting will just be a way of going through the motions – you’ll lose the enthusiasm for performance.”

Liu Haoran summarizes, “Good projects and roles require a certain amount of neuroticism – stubbornness, sensitivity, etc. When you exhibit a more layered personality, you will have a greater ability to touch people. If you are trying to pursue happiness everyday, it’s like boiling a frog in lukewarm water* – you’ll slowly lose the state of mind that you need to have as an actor.”

*T/N: If you put a frog in boiling water, it’ll jump away, but if you boil a frog in lukewarm water it won’t realize that it’s being cooked until it’s too late. In other words, it’s a metaphor that describes our unwillingness (or inability) to be aware of gradual changes or incoming threats. It’s a reminder not to get too comfortable.

When he’s filming, he is entirely focused on acting. And when he returns to real life, he wants to blend into the crowd and not attract attention. He believes it’s important to carve out an existence, but wants to strike a balance. As a rising young star, this is very important.

In the upcoming weeks, he will be hitting two cities each day for road shows (for Detective Chinatown 2), which seems crazy. “What’s your ideal lifestyle like?” I ask. He’s just changed into a different outfit, with his hair loosely brushed back, and his eyes are bright.

“My ideal lifestyle? It would be to work for half the year, and disappear for the other half. I want to take a long vacation and let myself vanish, to a place where no one knows me, where no one can find me. Some people do things with an end goal in mind, but for me, all I want to do is complete what I have on my plate at the moment. When I’m done with those tasks, I’ll suddenly feel empty and a little bit directionless, like I need to go wandering. To use a modern expression, I have a Buddha-like mindset*.”

*T/N: This is a popular Chinese Internet slang term, which basically means lacking ambition and being detached.  Magpie Kingdom did a fun article on the term here.

He laughs, and his signature tiger tooth peeps out.

While you’re still young, travel more!

Sail forward, young man!

Leave a Reply