This is Part 2 of the Men’s Uno interview from January 2018. Most of the questions here focus on how Liu Haoran views himself as an actor, his thoughts towards performance, and some of the more personal parts about him. Part 1 can be found here.
(Original article and interview released 1.25.18)
Interviewer: You’ve had some great opportunities. You probably receive a lot of compliments on a regular basis, right?
LHR: Actually, comparatively speaking, I don’t hear a lot of praise. For the films that I have done with brother Si Cheng, like Beijing Love Story and the Detective Chinatown series, I rarely hear any praise. He will just very straight-forwardly tell me what I did well and what I didn’t do well. Director Chen Kaige, Director Kong Sheng – do you think they’re the type of directors who have nothing better to do but praise you all day? One of the main reasons why I won’t lose myself is because of these directors’ reminders and suggestions.
Interviewer: But hearing praise is important for young actors right? Is that important to you?
LHR: Acting is a very sensitive career, and I can always tell when the praise and encouragement is sincere and when it is fake. I already know if I didn’t perform well in a scene. If I did well, the director doesn’t need to say anything – I can tell from his reaction and from the overall vibe on set. If you just want to hear compliments, maybe you will be able to get a lot of them, but what’s the point if they aren’t sincere?
Interviewer: I’ve heard that you often doubt your acting skills – is that still a reoccurring problem?
LHR: Yes – I sometimes think that I don’t know how to act anymore. But that could be because my thoughts on performance are a lot deeper and complex now. So it’s not necessarily a bad thing – it gives me a good goal to work towards.
Interviewer: Do you lose sleep because you are thinking so much about acting?
LHR: Yes! I will drink cup after cup of coffee, and sometimes a little beer. When I start a new project, I basically don’t have any hobbies or interests. On a normal basis, I like video games, archery, bowling, tennis, and basketball, but when I go on set, I no longer have any interests. For some people, because they will be spending so much time tucked away on the production set, they will bring all sorts of things, like an iPad or drums, to ensure that they can still maintain a proper work-life balance.
For me, I will usually bring a suitcase of clothes and daily essentials, but in a five or six month span, I end up just wearing and washing the same clothes over and over again. I rarely turn on the TV in my hotel room. I’ll have a cellphone with me, but I rarely look at it. On my WeChat right now, I probably have over a thousand unread messages. When I’m done filming for the day, I will be in my room reading over the script and thinking about my character while listening to music. It’s a little bit scary.
Interviewer: It’s hard for you to come out of a role emotionally then?
LHR: That’s just how I am. Right now, I can’t completely separate the character that I am playing from myself. If my character is constantly in emotional pain, then that will be my mood for that period of my life as well. When the director yells, “Cut!” after a crying scene, I am unable to change my mood and laugh the next second. So when I’m filming, I don’t let my team visit me – they will think that I’m crazy.
Interviewer: Since you are still young, you may encounter roles that you are not able to hold up because of a lack of life experiences. How do you make up for that?
LHR: Patience is key. Before, I would start projects with a lot of confidence, but now, maybe due to nervousness, I often don’t feel quite right. So I talked to a friend, and my friend said, “You’re only twenty years old, a junior in college. How did you think it would go? Do you really think that you can be on the same level as a mature actor in his thirties or forties? You would be terrifying if you were able to do that!”
Interviewer: How have the different roles that you have taken on affected you in real life?
LHR: You can see shadows of the real me in every single role that I’ve had, and every role has also changed me in different ways. I don’t have enough natural talent to be able to become an entirely different person when I act. The most that I can do is pick relevant characteristics of myself that would match the character, and then maximizing that.
Nirvana in Fire 2’s Xiao Ping Jing’s devotion to his country and family isn’t something that I’ve ever experienced before, so I had to think of something that I can identify with in replacement, and then expand on those emotions. That’s why my roles will always have remnants of myself in them, and simultaneously, even when I’m done with a role, I am also unable to leave all of his characteristics behind.
Interviewer: Through your book “The Eye of the Storm”, we can see how ambitious you and your team are in terms of the design, themes, and concepts used. A lot of celebrities are able to sell lots of copies of their books just by writing some simple short stories. This isn’t acting – why do you and your team still hold yourselves to such high standards?
LHR: If you are going to do something, you might as well do it well. I’ve never thought of relying on popularity to sell my books. Even though the scale of my book is very small, I hope that everyone who reads it will have some thoughts of their own about it. And maybe some of my thoughts are not necessarily appropriate for this environment. I was against the idea of publishing a book at first because normally, I’m someone who has a lot of thoughts, but I don’t like to express them, especially on social media.
So at first the idea of a book seemed odd to me. Plus, as a twenty year guy, what am I going to share? How successful I’ve been? But I don’t feel like I’ve been successful yet. So after thinking about it a lot, I decided to just write about whatever I could think of – like my journey from childhood to now, my studies, my acting experiences, some of my personal thoughts, etc. The content is a little scattered, so it reads like short essays pieced together.
Interviewer: As someone who doesn’t like to talk much, how were you able to overcome that challenge and share your stories?
LHR: I don’t want people to know me too well. My teacher and my favorite actors have said before that actors should “hide” themselves from the public. But a lot of people who like me want to know more about me, and when I hide, people are even more curious. The more you hide, the more people want to know. So instead of having people guess about me, or start rumors, I might as well tell the story myself. It’s a compromise of sorts – I will share the parts of myself that I feel comfortable sharing, and you get to know a little bit more about me. If the boundaries are crossed, we’re both uncomfortable with it.
*What he means here is that he thinks actors should retain a sense of mystery to the public – as in not share too much about their personal lives.
Interviewer: Do you enjoy reading?
LHR: Yes, I do. The so-called big IPs today – in middle school, I read most of them while hiding under my desk. The must reads at the time were the novels by Tang Jia San Shao, Wo Chi Xi Hong Shi, Chen Dong, Tiao Wu, Tian Can Tu Dou*, Jiang Nan**, etc. – I’ve read them all. I’ve also read the original novel of the recently released drama Fighter of the Destiny.
*Tian Can Tu Dou is the original author behind three major upcoming drama adaptations: Fights Break Spheres (Wu Lei), Martial Universe (Yang Yang), and The Great Lord (Wang Yuan)
**Jiang Nan is the author of Novoland: Eagle Flag – the drama that LHR is currently filming
Interviewer: Do you think it’s important for actors to read?
LHR: Acting is a very vulnerable profession. When you stand in front of the camera or in a crowd, how well read you are, how many books you’ve read – it’ll be very obvious. A lot of people think that performance arts students don’t have good grades. But I think that performance arts students need to read the most, because there is so much that we have to understand and absorb.
Interviewer: The average number of books read by the Chinese population in a year is much lower than Japan, Germany, etc.
LHR: I’ll give you a very simple example. When I was in elementary school, I would go to Xinhua Bookstore every weekend. I’d spread a piece of newspaper on the floor and consume book after book – Pi Pi Lu and Lu Xi Xi, Tiger Team, some fairy tales. When I was a little older, I read books that had more of a historical bent, like the great tales of legends. At that time, the bookstore was full of people. When you made your way around, you had to literally cross over people. My high school years were spent in Beijing, but once when I was home during summer vacation, I went to that bookstore again. In such a short time span, it had changed so much – it was entirely empty.
Interviewer: Fans say that you’re a very well behaved boy, to the point where they think you’re too mild mannered. Actors usually have some quirks, such as rebellion, stubborness, craziness, etc. Do you not have one?
LHR: That’s because you guys haven’t seen the other side of me. It’s not like I’ll do anything crazy in front of other people. The truth is I’m not that well behaved. If you and I see eye to eye, you might think I’m a good kid, but if our opinions differ, you will discover that I’m incredibly stubborn.
Interviewer: Your father is very strict with you, right? Rumor has it that when he watched you in It Takes a Real Man, there was one time when he brought out his gun because he was so angry.
LHR: My father has always been very strict with me. In elementary school, and in middle school when I was home, I was not allowed to sleep in. Even now, when I’m at home after working very late, my father will, out of habit, come to my room at eight in the morning to wake me up. And then he will remember that I didn’t get to go to bed until very late.
Interviewer: Have you rebelled before?
LHR: Like an act of rebellion? I probably never had the chance. In middle school, I was already in a communal setting and needed to get along with people. I started to learn how to behave myself in a public setting. At home when you rebel, your family can be lenient with you. But in the real world, who is going to just let your behavior slide?
Interviewer: For you to come to that conclusion at such a young age – is it because you’ve experienced personal struggles?
LHR: I learned it through lots of fights! Haha. Us dance school boys had a lot of pent up energy, and our teachers were normally very strict. So whenever we had a small conflict, we would start fights. I didn’t want to fight, so I needed to learn how to get along with people. When I look back now, it seems that when we fought, we also became a lot closer. I’m still very close with my middle and high school classmates.
There was one time when one of my high school classmates had a big stage performance, so we all went to watch. Afterwards, we spent a lot of time just talking and laughing. From ten o’clock to two or three in the morning – we had so much to say. We rarely have that kind of opportunity to meet up now.
Interviewer: You realized at such a young age that the world doesn’t revolve around you, to hold back and restrain yourself. Do you ever feel a little sad about that?
LHR: Not really. I actually think it’s a great thing, because you learn to become completely independent and make your own decisions.
Interviewer: You’ve said before that you really admire girls who are very independent. That’s pretty rare for Chinese guys – most like gentle, passive girls.
LHR:I think society as a whole is much more understanding now. Everyone needs to have their life, and not just live for others. You have to focus on yourself. I’ll give you an example. When I was little, my mom spent a lot of time looking after me. Later, when I went to school and started acting, she was able to find her own interests and have her own friend circle. Her life no longer revolves around her kids, and I think that’s great. We need to be able to rely on each other, but we don’t need to be completely dependent on one another or interfere with each others’ lives.
Interviewer: What is your attitude towards marriage? Are you someone who wants to get married later in life (at an older age)?
LHR: Just go with the flow. I think I will probably get married earlier, because my parents are older. I don’t really have any thoughts about what my other half should be like – whatever will be, will be. Just go with it.