VogueMe: I’m Only Twenty Years Old

In celebration of their 2 year anniversary in April 2018, VogueMe – a branch of Vogue China that is primarily targeted towards millennials – released four special editions of the April issue of their magazine. The theme was “boundless future” and to go along with that, VogueMe invited four of the most popular young celebrities in China right now: Liu Haoran, Wu Lei, and two of the TFBoys – Wang Yuan and Yi Yang Qian Xi. Each of the young actors got their own edition of the magazine, complete with cover, photoshoot, and mini VogueFilm. T

This interview covers a variety of topics: the roles that he has taken on (including some thoughts on Lu Gui Chen), how he’s felt about his performances, and then towards the end, he gets honest about how he’s struggling with his celebrity (he doesn’t say it directly, but it’s strongly implied).

I think this is the first interview that he did after his popularity blew up and the end of the interview definitely reflects that as the writer mentions that he seemed really worried about the “change in the wind” (him and his wind metaphors…). This is very much a young actor who had the mindset of going “slow and steady” in the business, but somehow stumbled on stardom much earlier than anticipated. Not saying it’s necessarily a bad thing – just unexpected.

This has been the hardest article to translate by far due to the way the interviewer writes, and the way Liu Haoran answered the questions, so I added a lot of translation notes because I wanted to make sure there isn’t any misunderstandings about what he’s trying to say. Sometimes I think things sound harsher in English than in Chinese haha. Please let me know if something doesn’t quite make sense and I’ll be happy to try again and update

(Original article/interview posted 3.23.18 – photoshoot was taken probably in Dec/Jan)

When he was in Beijing for his VogueMe photoshoot, Liu Haoran was constantly in motion. As he was preparing for his scene with model Yuka Mannami, he was playing and moving around, and the camera was able to capture many candid, natural shots of him, including ones with him in interesting poses. In a later conversation, Liu Haoran kept mentioning the fact that he is twenty years old.

There are some difficult questions that he cannot answer at this point in his life, and those answers will have to be gained step by step. Just like how he hands himself over to the camera, he has also chosen to give in to the flow of time. It’s very likely that the future will become brighter and brighter, and the insecurities and doubts that come with being a twenty year old will slowly subside as accomplishments accumulate on the great journey of growing up.

When we are able to connect with him on the phone, Liu Haoran, who is in Shawan, Xinjiang, has just finished a day’s worth of work. Right after Chinese New Year’s passed, he buried himself on set. This time, he is Novoland: Eagle Flag’s Lu Guichen. Although this is also the coming of age story of a young hero, he’s different from Nirvana in Fire 2: The Wind Blows in Changlin’s Xiao Ping Jing because Lu Gui Chen is a very gentle person.

When director Zhang Xiao Bo first talked to Liu Haoran about the character, this was how Liu Haoran described Lu Guichen’s gentle and peaceful nature: “It seems like everyone except Lu Guichen is full of ambitions, but does he really not have anything that he wants? The truth is, what Lu Gui Chen wishes for is far greater. He wants an utopia – a world without massacres.”

This isn’t the first time that Liu Hao Ran has acted in a drama adaptation of a novel. As a fan of the (Novoland: Eagle Flag) books himself, he strongly believes that the reason why book fans have been so outspoken on how they think Lu Guichen should be in the drama is due to their attachment to the character.

“So no matter how the character is portrayed in the drama adaptation, there are some characteristics that book fans have identified that absolutely cannot be lost.” What if the director doesn’t agree? He pauses for a moment, and then laughs, “Then I will go talk to him, or I’ll find a way to add a little something.”

As we are chatting, one of Liu Hao Ran’s other roles is currently winning the laughter of movie-going audiences through various antics, including dressing up as a nurse. The lasting impression that Liu Haoran has from the filming of Detective Chinatown 2 was the fast paced tempo, which was forced by the tight schedule.

He and the rest of the production team stayed in New York for a couple of months, but due to the US’ requirement that they gave weekends off to employees, they didn’t have a lot of time to figure things out once they got in front of the camera. As a result, Liu Hao Ran used most of his weekends to practice in front of the camera and memorize his lines.

One day after wrapping up a scene, he made his way down the stairs to the cheers of the production team – it was his 20th birthday. “I had thought about the possibility, but I didn’t think they would actually have a large cake placed right in the middle of Chinatown. There were a lot of passerbys – both Chinese ones and people of other countries. When they realized what was going on, they all started clapping. I really like New York – the only issue is that my English is not very good right now.” He grins, causing his two canine teeth to peek out.

The comedy in the film may be magnified to help spread good cheer during Chinese New Year’s, but when Liu Haoran explains the character of Qin Feng, he never focuses on the comedy parts. It’s like he is analyzing a very familiar old friend. Liu Haoran says, “Qin Feng has clearly grown up a little bit. In the first film, he might be a genius, but he didn’t know the rules. In the second film, he is able to use little tricks to achieve his goals. He has started to accept and learn the rules of society.”

Sprinting while half naked, yelling in the middle of the busy New York streets…actors don’t usually film in isolated locations. When they film, they are watched by many people who probably have their cameras out. It’s one thing that Liu Haoran has always struggled with. But after working with many veteran actors, he has learned how to put a protective net around himself. “I will remind myself, this isn’t me. I’m acting!”

The moment that the director yells, “Action!”, Liu Haoran is no longer Liu Haoran – he is that character. “I am a very private person in real life, but I guess good actors, by and large, don’t have very dramatic personalities either.” Just as audiences may overlook Qin Feng’s gradual adaptation into society due to the comedy in the film, the actor Liu Hao Ran is also quietly undergoing subtle changes due to the fact that he is constantly having to modify the way he thinks.

When the younger generation of actors start getting labeled as “mature”, “transparent”, or “veteran”, people will forget the original, most sincere versions of those actors. When we start talking about if Liu Haoran has thought about how Qin Feng will further change and mature in Detective Chinatown 3, his tone gets a little passionate. “I’m not the screenwriter!”, he says, “I’m twenty years old, still very young. Everything should be according to the script. I don’t have the authority to say what kind of character I want to play. That’s not right.”

In the recently published The Eye of the Storm, Liu Haoran uses the terms “half transparent” and “half blank” to describe his current state*. Learning and imitating is still the top priority. He writes in his book, “At my current skill level, if I were to go on set and just start randomly trying to insert my own immature, underdeveloped ideas into the performance, the results will be counterproductive.” He emphasizes his age because it’s also a reminder to himself to not overestimate his own abilities. The twenty year old Liu Hao Ran wants to learn, and will pay detailed attention to everything that happens around him.

*T/N: The “half transparent”/”half blank” basically means leaving yourself some room so that that you still can absorb and learn new things

Even though he doesn’t spend a lot of time at school now, he is still very familiar with his friends’ plans to study abroad: some will go to Russia, others will go to London. Recently, he and a group of good friends took a trip to Japan. When they’re not working, they can talk about everything under the sun. Because he has classmates, friends, video games, barbecue, and beer, Liu Haoran says happily, “I still have a life!”.

Because he doesn’t like giving fixed responses, during the interview, the young man will occasionally pause to give himself a minute to think. He had wanted to say, “Acting shouldn’t be entirely dependent on your (college) studies.”, but was conflicted over whether that was the appropriate word to use, so the words lingered on his lips for a couple of seconds. At school, you undergo training in breathing, body movement, and line delivery so that you are able to better express yourself. But on the set of a production, there is a greater emphasis on finding the right emotions.

Liu Haoran says acting as Bai Long for The Legend of the Demon Cat was really difficult, because it’s hard to make that level of infatuation convincing to an audience. After Nirvana in Fire 2: The Wind Blows in Chang Lin aired, he watched as much as he could of it, and feels that there are definitely parts that he could perform better now.

But even though he looks forward to maturing, he also treasures the fact that he is twenty years old right now. “Perhaps it’s only at this time in my life that I’m able to act as Bai Long. Four or five years later, I may not be able to give this kind of performance*. And I am very well aware of this – when I was playing Xiao Ping Jing, I put myself in the best state possible, and gave it my all.”

*T/N: The Legend of the Demon Cat’s Bai Long was praised by both film critics – and director Chen Kaige – as a character who basically embodied everything beautiful – and heartbreaking – about youth. So what LHR is saying here is that it is only now – at this age – that he is able to give the audience that kind of feeling. The part about PJ is basically him saying that even though his performance wasn’t perfect, it was the best that he could do at that time in his life, and he’s come to terms with it.

He seems very fearful of the possibility that his current state and experiences will be affected by the roaring sound of outside elements. Liu Hao Ran repeatedly mentions that he needs to maintain an ordinary life and a normal lifestyle. “What does that mean?”, we asked. Liu Haoran says, “It means having a safe environment to express your emotions like a normal person. If you constantly have to put yourself out there, you’ll no longer know how to laugh, how to cry.”

He stops for a second, and shares a story. Because the filming period is usually very long, he usually ends up getting to know the crew on set pretty well, to the point where they can relax and comfortably chat with one another. But when visiting fans scream, “Liu Haoran!” and point their cellphone cameras in his direction, the set design, costume, and props crew members are no longer able to converse with him naturally. “It’s probably because they’ve been reminded. Do you think I’ve changed? No, but the wind has.” Liu Hao Ran refers to the things that are hard to describe as “wind”. But he is so calm on the outside that even when you are close to him, you aren’t sure if he can feel the change in the wind.

Liu Haoran mentioned earlier that he is learning to put a protective net around himself. If he knows that fans are visiting the set, he needs to ‘protect himself a little more’. “I am only twenty years old,” He says again, “I don’t have the ability to bring everyone a good performance while simultaneously being exactly the person that you imagine me to be.*” His tone gets softer, “Actors and fans shouldn’t be all-consuming to each other. We can be each other’s companion on this long road – we don’t need to rush things.”

*T/N: He’s saying that he isn’t capable of focusing both on acting and also being the idol that fans want him to be – i.e. exposing more of himself and his personal life. Case in point: all the fans complaining the last few months because he’s shut himself in on the set of Novoland: Eagle Flag so they haven’t been able to see him.

That’s why Liu Haoran wrote The Eye of the Storm. In his acting projects, he is portraying a character, but the stories in the book are entirely his own. Photography is a great way to record unfiltered reality, so the young actor and his young photographer wanted to keep the pictures as natural as possible. In his book, Liu Haoran mentions that maybe in a few years, when he’s no longer as young, he will be “heavier”.

His hope is, at that time, he will no longer panic when he’s being carried by high speed, spinning winds, and that he will no longer worry about giving so much that he is left feeling hollow. “What if the wind is bigger then?”, the youth asks. But when it comes to growing up, there have never been any clear answers. The wind can enable you to fly very high; it can take you to the ocean, or it can keep you on the meadow or in the forest – it can take you anywhere.


V = VogueMe   T = Turbo

V: What kind of label (T/N: as in, being labeled or stereotyped) do you dislike the most?

T: I don’t like any kind of label.

V: What do you do when you’re not working?

T: Depends on the situation – do I have friends nearby? How am I feeling? If I’m by myself, I’ll listen to music, watch some TV, play video games. If there’s friends around, we can go out and eat.

V: Have you watched any good movies or read any good books lately?

T: Recently I’ve been mainly looking over some scripts.

V: When is the last time you cried due to a film or a drama?

T: It was a while ago, about two or three months ago.

V: What nickname do your closest friends call you by?

T: (laughs) There’s a lot that I can’t say here. Guys are pretty outspoken with one another – so I can’t say.

V: Immediately say a line that has made a deep impression on you.

T: “Surprise me!” from Ratatouille.

V: What period of time or space would you want to go to?

T: I would want to return to my childhood, around 2009. I miss that time – it was very simple then.

V: What is an odd habit that you have?

T: Ah, why is it that everyone keeps asking me that recently? Haha, I’ve been asked so many times that even nail biting has come out – I don’t have any more!

V: What’s something you know about astrology?

T: Don’t ask a Libra to order food… (T/N: He’s a Libra)

V: What game have you been playing recently?

T: The Legend of Zelda!

V: Which question have you been asked about so much that you no longer want to answer it?

T: Odd habits…

V: If you didn’t become an actor, what would you have studied?

T: Something related to finance, because I’ve been good at math since I was a kid.

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