As the cover star of the August issue of Men’s Uno and Men’s Uno Young! (photoshoot was done in Paris in June 2018 during the Louis Vuitton show), Haoran sat down and talked about his thoughts on Novoland: Eagle Flag and how the filming process has gone thus far. As always, it’s incredibly interesting hearing his analysis of both his character and his thoughts on handling popularity. And again, it leaves us wondering – are you really only in your early 20s, Haoran?! I don’t know about you guys, but I know I wasn’t even close to being this perceptive and big-picture-focused at that age.
(Original article/interview released 8.8.18)
In a lifetime, if an actor has the opportunity to take on even two roles that become classic and memorable in the hearts of audiences, they’re already succeeded. Although twenty year old Liu Haoran doesn’t have a lot on his filmography, each of his roles have been important. The shining performances that he’s left the audiences with have also been evidence of his extraordinarily quick rise. It’s just as he often states – he works hard to make sure he never wastes a role, and in turn, his roles have never let him down either.
Who would have thought that the bicycle riding youth who debuted on the big screen via Beijing Love Story would have only needed a short four years to amass a personal box office record of close to 5 billion (yuan)? His commercial value and reputation have now put him solidly at the top among the post-95ers actors.
There are not a lot of young people who have Liu Haoran’s self-awareness and discipline. As Detective Chinatown 2 continued to amass huge box office numbers, he took himself out of the spotlight and hid out in Xiangyang. He immersed himself in Lv Guichen’s Novoland universe and kept a low profile.
Now, as Novoland: Eagle Flag is only about a month away from wrapping up filming, the production team is often filming through the night. The twelve hour work days have been incredibly tough. In order to keep himself calm and grounded, Liu Haoran has been writing down parts of the Heart Sutra, while also reciting to himself, “Listen not to the rain beating against the trees, why don’t you slowly walk and chant at ease?*”
*T/N: This is a line from a poem by a Song dynasty poet. Because of course he would recite that.
Nirvana in Fire 2‘s Huai Hua General is probably what Liu Haoran will be like in the future – intelligent but grounded, open-minded, courageous, and has a deep understanding of the big picture. Simultaneously, his youthful enthusiasm and childlike innocence will also never quite fade.
MU = Men’s Uno
MU: Let’s first chat about Novoland: Eagle Flag, which you’re currently filming. Why did you decide to take on this project after Nirvana in Fire 2?
LHR: Because I’ve read the books before. To be honest, at the time, I actually didn’t want to take on a new project just yet as I was feeling a little fatigued. But I really like the series and it’s had a big impact on so many people. My brother-in-law is a post-80er and has also read the books before. So I feel that as book fans, we all feel quite nostalgic over it. So because I liked the books, and because I believed that I could give a good performance in this role, I decided to accept the project.
MU: To an actor, filming a big IP drama is a double-edged sword. On one hand, you have the book fans to support the project, but on the other, they can be very picky. There are a thousand ways to interpret one thing, after all. Before you started filming, did you consider these aspects?
LHR: I did. Before I started filming, because my own views may be too biased, I went online to the Novoland: Eagle Flag tieba to see what everyone thought about the different characters. What book fans love is the original series, and it’s pretty difficult to have a drama or film adaptation that would follow the books exactly. I’ve filmed a drama adaptation of a novel before, so I will be even more cautious. But the good thing about this drama is that Jiang Nan, as the head of the scriptwriting team, participated in the creation of the screenplay. I actually had dinner with him before and we shared a lot of our thoughts. And I felt that I could play this role.
MU: The character of Lv Guichen is not an easy one to pull off, right?
LHR: That’s correct. This type of character is usually described as being too “passive”. A lot of people feel that it’s very clear what Ji Ye desires and what his goals are, and that Lv Gui Chen doesn’t have anything that he wants. But the truth is, he probably has the most ambitions. He wants world peace, and to create an utopia. Indeed, this type of character isn’t easy to play. Because the conflicts within the drama aren’t that explosive, and at least on the surface, the retaliation might seem a little underwhelming.
If you don’t balance it properly, people will feel aggrieved. Because audiences would rather see stories about revenge, where the male lead is invincible. But I personally feel that the unbeatable hero archetype is too similar and we see it often, and that this type of character (Lv Gui Chen) is a lot more interesting. Making him likable and appealing to the audience is a challenge in itself.
MU: Would you consider him to be your most difficult role thus far then?
LHR: No, because his coming-of-age story doesn’t cover that broad of a range. The most difficult role is still (from) Nirvana in Fire 2, because you had to successfully show the transition from a youth to a general. It was quite challenging.
MU: Novoland: Eagle Flag has had a very long filming period. What have been the most memorable moments?
LHR: This has been my most time-consuming project. Before, it was Nirvana in Fire 2, which took less than five months. From the day that I entered the set to now, it’s been about seven, eight months. We still have about a month of filming before we wrap up. As for the most memorable moment, it was probably last December, when I hurt my hand during a fight scene and had to get stitches for it. Right afterwards, I had to rush to the Hunan TV New Year’s Gala, and was back to filming horse riding scenes a couple of days later. I really gave it my all.
Because this drama has a sufficient budget, we’ve been filming with real backdrops, so we’ve had a lot of different filming sites. Aside from Xiangyang, we also were in Xinjiang for about one or two months. Soon, we will be transferring to Shen Long Jia. When we were in Northern Xinjiang, we were just in time for blizzard season. And then when we moved to Southern Xinjiang, we ran into sandstorms.
Honestly, that was all okay. The hardest part was that we didn’t have access to fresh vegetables. One day, when my cousin came to wake me up, he discovered blood all over my face and my bedsheets. After we got to the hospital, we learned that my gums were bleeding severely due to inflammation.
MU: Did you rest afterwards?
LHR: No, I resumed filming in the afternoon (of that same day). Bleeding gums isn’t a big deal, though it was a little terrifying when there was blood all over the bed. I honestly don’t know what’s wrong with me. Almost every time after I wrap up filming for a project, I’ll be sick for a while. Perhaps it’s because my energy is so focused while filming that my body holds up, but because the fatigue is still there, as soon as I let myself loosen up, I’ll collapse. Novoland: Eagle Flag is unique because the filming period has been so long – I got sick in the middle of filming, on my trip to Paris earlier in the year.
MU: You’ve just returned from Paris after attending fashion week, right?
LHR: Yes. I got sick on my trip to Paris in January, so I wasn’t able to really explore the city. I ate three straight days of Yunan food. This was my second time there, so I wanted to make up for the places that I didn’t get to visit, and the food that I didn’t get to eat. Before I left, I asked a friend to make me reservations at three different Michelin rated restaurants. One of these was a Michelin 3-star restaurant.
On the day of my reservation, I was out shopping when my friend called me and said that the restaurant required formal attire. I wasn’t aware (of the rule) and hadn’t prepared anything, so I ended up buying a Louis Vuitton suit. But when I got back (to the hotel), I discovered that my team had been thorough in their personal preparations: they were decked out in three piece suits, qi paos, and evening gowns. I was totally shocked.
MU: Did going from the production set to Paris feel like you were traveling to a different dimension?
LHR: Yes, because it feels like a different world when you’re on set. Every time I return to real life after wrapping up filming for a project, I feel like I’ve been let out prison, because I feel so out of touch with society. Because when I’m on set, I tend to cut contact with the outside world, including with close friends. So when I get out, I have to spend about a week’s time trying to catch up with friends again.
MU: Aside from filming, what else do you do on a daily basis while on set?
LHR: I usually have a broad range of interests, but when I go on set I put a brake on everything. Because it’s a period drama, our work days are generally around twelve hours. You also have the one hour commute each way, and hopefully a full eight hours of sleep. The best case scenario leaves me with about three hours of personal time.
The most I’ll do is go for a swim. I’ve recently been quite lazy, but because it’s easy to become impatient after spending so long on set, which may lead to a not-so-great state of mind, I asked my company to bring me some ink and paper. Before I go to bed, I’ll copy down parts of the Heart Sutra to allow my mind to quiet down.
MU: The Heart Sutra? Are you Buddhist then?
LHR: I’m not affiliated with any religion or faith, but I respect all religions and beliefs. On the first day of Chinese New Year’s this year, we (production team) went up to the Wudang Mountains to burn incense. We left at ten in the morning, and didn’t get to the peak until about six o’clock in the evening. It felt like my legs were about to fall off. But I made a wish while I was there, and it actually came true. So I plan to go again next year.
MU: You’ve pretty much had smooth sailing since your debut. A lot of people believe that you are already the leader among the post-95ers. To be in the position that you’re in at this age… do you ever feel pressured or fearful?
LHR: I think the so-called smooth sailing is due to the fact that I’ve always been protected very well. And I’m personally someone who is good at “hiding”. For example, when one of my projects is airing and there’s a lot of interest, I’ll cut down my time in the spotlight.
When I feel like I can’t deal with everything that’s going on, I’ll focus on filming or go on vacation. When Detective Chinatown 2 came out, I hid out on set and focused on filming for about two months straight. I didn’t record variety shows either*. All of my magazine shoots and commercials were filmed before then.
The reason for this was because I feel like when your popularity is at its peak, it’s like when you get drunk. You feel very good, but the high comes with a loss of reason.
You should sit a little bit on the work offers that you’ll receive at this time, because a month later, when your popularity decreases, that feeling of disappointment, like you haven’t reached expectations, is something that everyone has a hard time dealing with. Knowing that, it makes more sense to wait until things cool down a bit and then we can have a calm and logical discussion on a possible collaboration.
MU: It’s amazing that you have realized this despite only being in your early twenties.
LHR: I have always believed that the road is long and that it’s important to tread slowly. Because I’m not a very confident person, I’ll often ask myself, “Is it okay to be walking so fast?” What happens if you are not able to hit the brakes properly? It’ll hurt a lot when you fall. So it’s probably better to take things slower. Of course, I’m also grateful to my company, because they really respect and honor my decisions. When I was at the peak of my popularity, they allowed me to remain on the production set for several months.
MU: When you look back on your past performances, will you ever feel regretful about certain parts?
LHR: When I watch my own performances, there are definitely times where I think, “Ah, I should’ve have done it this way instead.” But I won’t feel regret, because I gave the best performance that I was capable of at that point in time. It’s like how we look back on our actions as a child – we’ll think it’s funny and juvenile. But that’s what it means to grow up.
MU: What are your plans after you wrap up filming for Novoland: Eagle Flag?
LHR: I will rest for at least a month. I also have some things to take care of at school.
MU: What’s your method of resting?
LHR: Travel. I’ve already looked up a lot of places that I want to visit, but I haven’t made final plans yet. I’m a lazy traveler though. No matter where I go, I’ll throw myself on the bed and sleep until noon. And then I’ll venture out and look for good food. For me, the best way to relax is to sleep and eat.