Men’s Uno: Young Power (Part 1)

In January 2018, Liu Haoran was featured on the cover of Men’s Uno and was also interviewed at length about where he is in his career and how his road has been different from most of his peers. It’s an extremely in-depth and interesting read. I am splitting this interview into two parts as it also includes a lengthy intro by the interviewer and there are a lot of questions asked.

A couple of interesting things that I wanted to point out – the author says in the beginning that despite all of Liu Haoran’s accomplishments, he’s not as popular as those who choose to star in idol dramas. That was in January (though the interview probably took place in December) – and about a month later in February, Liu Haoran’s popularity and public recognition skyrocketed to a new level.

The way the media introduces Haoran is someone who both has liu liang (popularity) and talent – so it’s funny how things changed in such a short amount of time. Also, I’m not sure if the interviewer was trying to bait LHR into criticizing idol actors/dramas or if she just feels really strongly about it, but she kept bringing it up – thankfully, he handled it pretty well.

(Original article and interview released 1.25.18)

As Liu Hao Ran explains in his new book “The Eye of the Storm”, we are constantly being blown around by the winds of fate. So for the twenty year old him, it could be said that he is borrowing the gusts of a tornado to rapidly rise in the industry.

Liu Hao Ran is experiencing smooth sailing right now as he has so much going for him – he just held his 20th birthday fanmeet, published his first book “The Eye of the Storm”; held a not-for-profit photography exhibition; appeared in highly acclaimed director Chen Kaige’s The Legend of the Demon Cat; starred in Nirvana In Fire 2: The Wind Blows in Chang Lin; and the sequel to the box office hit Detective Chinatown is about to hit theaters.

He is being pushed to new heights by the strong winds that surround him.

It’s amusing to see the bright, cheerful young man use outdated, traditional references like the concept of the “eight winds” in his new book. But when you think about his acting career thus far, it does seem to be quite applicable.

From a certain perspective, Liu Hao Ran seems to be the perfect example of a “little fresh meat”, but when you consider all the other connotations that comes with the term, he doesn’t quite fit the label. In this current era, the existence of “fan economy” has been startling – just by acting in an idol drama, you can receive so much attention and money. But after filming the highly rated (on Douban) youth drama With You, he didn’t take advantage of the momentum and instead chose to take a break.

So you’ll see a very interesting phenomenon: as someone who is widely considered to be the male actor with the most potential among the younger generation, with high quality film and television resources that are infinitely better than a whole group of idol drama stars’, he only has a little over ten million fans on Weibo. Much lower than the thirty million or so fans that little fresh meat who star in idol dramas have.

Liu Hao Ran says he doesn’t care, that he knows his direction, and is absolutely confident in his choices.

He hopes to be unmoved by the “eight winds”, and if he can get to that point where he can remain totally unaffected by the environment around him, he will have found true inner strength.

Interviewer: Since your debut, you’ve had a lot of great opportunities, especially recently. Your film and television projects are all considered to be among the best, like The Legend of the Demon Cat and Nirvana in Fire 2. And Detective Chinatown 2 is due to come out over Chinese New Year’s. Are these the “winds of opportunity” that you mentioned in your book?

LHR: I hope that I can be able to hold my ground when I’m being blown by the wind. This is how society works – when there a lot of opportunities, you will encounter high speed winds, and you will be pushed to walk faster and faster. But then the problem comes – it’s so easy to fall when you walk too fast. Teacher Ge You* once said, don’t take large steps – it’ll be easier to trip. Since everyone can walk in the wind, the next step for us to learn is how to stay grounded. I’m not someone who is running as fast as the wind pushes me – I want to stand amidst the wind and give myself time to think. I’m not in a hurry.

*really, really famous Chinese actor

Interviewer: So how do you stay calm against the storm?

LHR: In 2016, after With You and Detective Chinatown, a lot of scripts were sent to me. However, I stopped and focused on school, and didn’t film anything for half a year. Then, the opportunities for The Founding of An Army, The Legend of the Demon Cat, and Nirvana in Fire 2 came in, one after another. If I had decided to take advantage of the momentum that I had back then and accepted an offer to star in a youth or idol drama, the path that I would be on now would be very different.

Interviewer: It’s true that you pretty much have never filmed any low quality projects. At your age, that’s very difficult to achieve.

LHR: Part of the reason I’ve been able to do that is because that’s what I want for myself. But it’s also because brother Si Cheng and sister Ya Ya have continuously helped me. I might be an adult now, and have my own inclinations, but there are often times where I feel torn. I want to make a decision, but can I make the right one?

My management team, my company – they will help me filter out many things. Sometimes, my team will help me reject projects without even telling me – including those where we may have a friendly relationship with someone on the project and those offering high pay. My team does that because they worry that at my age, I might not be able to hold up under the pressure (in the case of the former) or resist the temptation (in the case of the latter).

Interviewer: So you’re saying it’s not just you who can stay grounded – it’s your entire team?

LHR: Yes. The truth is, a lot of young actors want to be able to walk steadily, but the wind that they have to deal with doesn’t blow that way, and thus they have no choice. Everyone always says, if you don’t film anything, you will be quickly replaced by newcomers, so you have no choice but to take whatever project is offered to you. I really don’t like this – you use up an actor, throw him away, and then bring a new one in.

Interviewer: Your luck has been pretty good then.

LHR: At my company – if I have a great opportunity to learn, I can stop work entirely. Back in May or June, my school organized a trip to Japan to attend the class of a famous drama teacher. The trip was for twenty days or so, and for young actors, that’s honestly a pretty long period to not work at all. But my company helped me make the proper arrangements – they will ask that some scheduled work be delayed, and will negotiate with magazines and variety shows to work out my schedule so that I can go on my trip.

Interviewer: A lot of actors will take on lower quality projects for various reasons, such as high pay, potential to be a topic of discussion, to attract fans – how have you been able to avoid that?

LHR: You have to quietly think things through and understand that how far you want to go in this industry is decided by which path you choose to take. Right now, I’m not trying to jump over a cliff – I’m taking it step by step and just trying to grow as an actor. Never put actors on a pedestal – no one will be able to pull off every single role, especially young actors. We don’t have that much acting experience, or you could even say we don’t have that much natural talent. If we are able to be guided by good production teams, good directors, and good scripts, we can maximize our skills. If we don’t have those resources, how do we proceed? It’ll just consume our energy.

Interviewer: We are currently seeing a trend where even if you don’t have any acting skills, as long as you can be a good idol, that’s enough. Do you think this is a good era?

LHR: This is a great era. There are more opportunities for you to make decisions. Every year, there are so many projects out there – films, dramas, webdramas. But maybe because of the fact that there are so many work opportunities now, we aren’t willing to work as hard. In the past, there were only so many projects available so everyone was going after the same roles. If you didn’t work hard, you wouldn’t be able to feed yourself. But now?

You have more choices. If I can’t land this role, there are always other ones. But the truth is, the number of really good film and television projects are still very limited. So you should still be working hard to land the good roles, the quality projects, and not just be satisfied because you are able to earn a living.

Interviewer: You currently have a lot of momentum – the wind can suddenly pick up, but it can also quiet down completely. Are you ever worried about that?

LHR: Relatively speaking, I’m somewhat of a pessimist and will always consider the worst possibilities. Because after I go through the worst case scenarios, i can make my peace with it and be braced for what comes. I don’t have a lot of life experience, so when I encounter lows I am probably more accepting about it. As of right now, I would be overjoyed if no one paid any attention to my life. There are so many things that I would be able to do, such as getting dinner and drinks with friends, and playing games.

Interviewer: This past year, the projects that you have chosen, the directors that you have worked with – they are some of the industry’s best. But they’re not like the big IP idol dramas that can attract you a lot of fans.

LHR: Sometimes, you can ride the wind and achieve high levels of fame very quickly. But Director Chen Kaige’s The Legend of the Demon Cat and Director Kong Sheng’s Nirvana in Fire 2 – these are works that can help you grow and mature. That’s what’s most important to me.

Interviewer: What was your biggest takeaway from working with Director Chen Kaige?

LHR: Director Kaige is so well read and cultured that it’s scary. The biggest thing that I learned from him is how to understand each scene. Normally, actors will all have their own interpretation of a scene, but after talking to Director Kaige, you will feel that your understanding is quite shallow. Director Kaige will help you dive deeper. He is very good at clearly explaining to actors what he is looking for and what he is hoping to get out of a scene.

Interviewer: Sometimes, directors who are cultured and have a lot of ideas may produce products that may be a bit controversial. As an actor, do you care?

LHR: For actors, awards and box office results – these are all elements that you have no control over. It’s not quite right if you film something with the intention of winning an award or obtaining high box office numbers. Actors aren’t gods – we can’t decide anything. What we can do is put in a good performance. Otherwise, you might be left disappointed.

Interviewer: You also worked with Director Kong Sheng for the first time, right?

LHR: Dramas and films are quite different. Director Kong Sheng is the best at controlling a drama’s tempo and the overall emotions that it will elicit from the audience. He has the right instincts, and he is very good at creating a proper working environment for actors. So even when the crew is changing sets, especially if we are filming an emotional scene, they will always move very quietly. Filming a television series is a lot tighter schedule-wise than a film, so that’s not an easy accomplishment.

Interviewer: The first Nirvana in Fire received high praise from the audience, and it’s considered to be one of the few mainland dramas where viewers don’t feel the need to fast forward. From your observations, aside from pure sentiment, what is it about the drama that has enabled it to touch so many?

LHR: In this era, it’s pretty difficult to get viewers to sit down and patiently watch a drama. Even for me, I fast forward through a lot of the dramas that I watch and will only stop at certain scenes. Director Kong Sheng has the characteristics of a Virgo* – and the actors who are able to land a role in a drama like NiF 2 are all very professional and won’t let you down. Other elements, like lighting, camerawork, the extras’ acting…just one scene is dependent on so many people’s contributions. And Director Kong Sheng and his team are very experienced.

The lasting impression that I got from working with them is that they are very respectful to the entire cast and crew, including the extras. On set, the director doesn’t just explain the scene to the main cast – he also takes the time to explain to the extras as well. Because of this, everyone is very focused and gives their best effort, so the completed scene will naturally turn out well. On some other projects, the main actors may be giving it their all, but the extras are just walking around, and may be laughing in the background, so it’s difficult to focus.

*T/N: Basically saying Director Kong Sheng is someone who pays a lot of attention to detail

Interviewer: So would you say that your biggest takeaway from working with these quality production teams is that they treat every cast and crew member with respect?

LHR: Yes. Director Kaige’s team is like that as well. Respecting every single member of the cast and crew is something that I’ve learned from them. When we have our wrap up party at the end of a project, I will always have something prepared for the crew and staff – respect goes both ways. When I was in the US filming for Detective Chinatown 2, our stunt coordinators were from the Jackie Chan Stunt Team so I had the fortune of getting to meet with Jackie once.

And you’ll discover, the respect that all the members of the stunt team have for Jackie comes from the bottom of their hearts. Their teacher is like a father figure to them. And the way that Jackie takes care of them is also very sincere. So in that kind of environment, everyone will do their part earnestly.

– continued on Part 2

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