This is Part 2 of Liu Haoran’s November 2018 interview with GQ – which essentially is a written transcript of him talking freely about his journey thus far, and how luck (and hard work) has played a huge role. Some of what he touches on was included in the full interview, but there isn’t a huge amount of overlap.
Make sure you don’t miss Part 1, which is the full interview!
(Transcript released on November 2, 2018)
In a cozy, inviting coffee shop with white, sheer curtains, white walls, and white tables, Liu Haoran sips at his white grape juice and tells us the coming-of-age story of a youth.
Liu Haoran’s rise to fame is a story that we have all heard before, but we are still in disbelief – including how he was chosen by Chen Sicheng to act in his very first film Beijing Love Story. It’s like everything just happened naturally, that everything he’s gotten is because this boy has had incredible luck.
But in the three hours that we talked, we’ realized that it’s a myth of sorts. Every person who seems to have been blessed by luck has also put in a huge amount of hard work. It’s just sometimes, they don’t think very much of it (that they’ve put in a lot), and choose not to say anything.
There Will Always Be People Who Like Your Sincerity
(Written transcript of Liu Haoran’s words)
Honestly speaking, it’s true that luck has played a huge part in my path thus far.
Even now, I still don’t understand how I was accepted into the Beijing Dance Academy (back in middle school).
I remember in fourth grade, my parents thought I was too high spirited, so they enrolled me into a ballroom dancing class. When I first started, I would practice every day. For example, tying 2 kg dumbbells or weights to my legs. In the beginning, I did my best to stick with it. Half an hour was usually my limit before I would start sliding down and plop to the ground on my butt, my legs screaming with soreness.
One day, the Beijing Dance Academy came to recruit students, so I thought I’d give it a shot and didn’t really feel pressured. Because in comparison to my classmates, most of whom began dancing when they were five or six, I was pretty terrible, so my chances were pretty low. So without really thinking about it too much, I went to my audition. When I was done dancing, the teachers on the panel all gave a small laugh.
Who would’ve known – in the end the teachers gave me two callback opportunities – one for the ballroom dancing major, and one for the performance major.
So I went to the Beijing Dance Academy for another round of auditions. I was eliminated from consideration for the ballroom dancing major in the first round, but luckily, the performance major kept me.
In the second round, at the test site for the performance major, the other students all sang very professionally, whether they were classically trained or pop trained. I never learned any singing techniques, so I was incredibly self-conscious and practiced for many days. Even in my dreams, I was reciting the song lyrics. In the end, I got thick-skinned and sang the song that I’m best at – “Let’s Pull On the Oars”. Though I was still too nervous and went off-key.
The day the rankings came out, I took a look and thought, wow, I’m in the top rankings! The fourth among males, no less. At that moment, I thought I was incredibly lucky.
Later, I participated in the casting call for Beijing Love Story. It was my very first (acting) audition, and I didn’t know anything. The director had each of us stand on a chair, facing the wall, and pretend that we were at a scenic overlook in the mountains as we yelled, “Farewell, Beijing!”
Even though I felt foolish at the time, I thought about the ‘letting go’ practices that we’ve had at school, where we had to imitate animals. So I told myself that it was fine, and not to think too much. I didn’t actually realize or know how important the role would be then, which meant I was in a much more relaxed state than I would have been otherwise.
But then the audition rules changed. Brother Sicheng said that he wanted everyone to write down the person you liked the most within the group, and after a round of votes, I got the part of “Song Ge”. I was in shock.
Another interesting thing is, my family had been worried that I wouldn’t grow to very tall, because my mom is a little over 150 cm, and my dad isn’t even 170 cm. My sister is about 160 cm, and when I got admitted into the Beijing Dance Academy (at age 12), I was only about 150 cm then. My mom would measure my height every other month to keep track.
Who would’ve thought that in the time between seventh and eighth grade, the distance between the lines that she drew suddenly grew about 10 cm. When I entered high school, I was already 181 cm. You can say it’s a miracle in our family.
After Beijing Love Story, I started to seriously study (at school). The only work appearance I took was Happy Camp. When I look back on it now, I was so homely then, and dressed very casually. And chubby. And there must’ve been something seriously wrong with my brain since I chose to perform that dance. To use the slang these days, it’s a black smear on my past.*
*I’m dying of laughter. I’ve always wanted to hear him talk about that time and it’s finally happened. To give you some background, this 2014 video went viral around Chinese New Year’s 2018, because Happy Camp co-MC Xie Na (who is also the most followed celebrity on Weibo) posted it and jokingly asked Haoran, “Do you regret it (now that you’re popular)?”. This was also right when Detective Chinatown 2 was killing it at the box office.
But that carefree dance also helped me gain some very down-to-earth fans, so I’m oddly grateful.
When I was filming Detective Chinatown 1, it was almost time for the gaokao (college entrance exams). I hadn’t been able to prepare thoroughly, so my family was a bit worried, but when my mock exam scores came out alright, my mom agreed to let me go to Thailand to film.
I spent the time filming and studying. When everyone else was done for the day, I would return to the hotel room and do practice tests. When they went to the hotel pool, I would remain in my room studying. Later, the seniors (senior actors) stopped asking me to come out with them, and would greet me with, “Haoran, study hard.”
When my test scores came out, I discovered that my academic scores were higher than the cutoff score (for the Central Academy of Drama – he scored 100 points higher than he needed to), and that my performance (yikao) scores ranked number 1 in the class. And I felt that God* is watching over me.
*Just want to clarify that God here isn’t referring to a specific deity or religion – the Chinese word used is more of a general term for a higher power.
But honestly though, luck works in mysterious ways.
Even though I have walked faster (risen faster) than most my age, but I’m only walking faster right now. We still have a long way to go. Just because you get a faster start, doesn’t mean that will always be your pace. Success is success, but you must not end up in a situation where you’re a frog sitting in tepid water on a stove*.
*Referring to the fable that tells us if a frog is suddenly put into boiling water, it’ll jump out, but if it’s put in warm water which is slowly brought to a boil, it won’t realize the danger that it’s in and will be boiled to death. Haoran is saying here that we should not allow ourselves to be in a situation where we’re too caught up in our success and not be able to perceive any threats/lack self-awareness.
When I think about the hard times before, I’ll constantly remind myself to be grateful and treasure the luck that I’ve had.
I remember that before Beijing Love Story, my mom and I lived in a small room in a basement, in a village across from Xian Mountain (in Beijing). There were about twenty rooms, and rent was 750 yuan a month. The room only had a very small single bed, and the kitchen and restroom were shared.
In my first year of high school, we moved to Xi San Huan. The rent was a lot more expensive there, and the rooms were even smaller, and was split into two levels. The first had the bathroom, a table, and a chair. The upper level was the bed. When I sat on the bed, my head would hit the ceiling.
People have said online that my family is incredibly wealthy. When I first saw that, I immediately called my dad and said, “Dad, have you been lying to me this entire time? Are we really that wealthy? Have you just been testing me?”
Beijing Love Story is when I got my first paycheck, and was the first time I felt like I was “rich”. I bought food and drinks for my family, and the remainder was saved to my mom’s bank account.
I’m honestly pretty thrifty. I just got my own bank card this year.
My biggest expense is probably food. I’ll go to many Michelin-starred restaurants when I’m abroad, and pretty much will try any highly rated locally restaurant as well. I’ll also go to the hundred-yuan-per-person hot pots (cheap – he’s saying he can go up or down). As long as it’s delicious, I’m willing to try it.
I rarely buy clothing or luxury items. Sometimes I’ll buy expensive clothes for my mom, but before I give it to her, I’ll take the tags off first.
When I think about my life up until now, the largest amount of money I’ve ever spent was two years ago, when I bought a SUV for my family. That’ll change soon, because I’m planning to buy a house for my family in Pingdingshan.
To me, financial independence means that I have won the right to make decisions, and to have relative freedom. So if a project is willing to pay a lot, but I don’t like the role or don’t think the script suits me, I will turn it down.
During military training, I sat through several lectures. The professor said, you must first have financial independence to declare that you are an independent person. I agree with that. The most obvious example of this is ever since I started making more money than our family’s Big Boss (my dad), I get to decide what to order when we go out to eat as a family.
Everyone always says that the entertainment industry is very complex, but it hasn’t affected me very much. I feel that I’m pretty laidback.
Whenever I’m feeling a bit antsy or restless, I’ll light an incense, mute my WeChat, and copy some lines from the Heart Sutra. It really helps a lot, because you don’t have to think at all when you’re doing it – you can’t understand it anyways.
It’s important when you’re filming that you stay calm and at peace. Sometimes I feel like I’m still too young, because I don’t have a foundation thick enough to help me complete my roles more easily. I’m not fond of taking on similar roles. That includes magazine photoshoots – I don’t really like using poses I’ve done before. I’ve always wanted to give everyone a new and fresh impression, but it’s often difficult to achieve this.
When I was filming Novoland: Eagle Flag awhile ago, I was so restless. I just kept thinking how I should act out a particular scene. The first half an hour, I’ll think of a method, including how I should enunciate my lines, what little movements I should include. But the next half an hour I’ll think, “That’s no good”, and then I’ll have insomnia.
Part of the drama was shot in Xinjiang. One morning, I discovered that my pillow was covered with blood. I was shocked, but later found it was because it was too dry there, and my gums started bleeding.
It’s good that we’ve wrapped up filming now. Military training a couple of months ago was basically rest time for me.
Every day when we were done with military training, the other students would be exhausted, but I’d play basketball for another couple of hours, and then lie on the sofa in the dorms and soak my feet.
Sometimes I think, even though filming is difficult, the road that I’m walking on now is really my ideal state.
Although I’m a little more popular than I used to be, I’ve discovered that, surprisingly, I can go under the radar a lot. I just biked here and didn’t have a mask on.
A couple of days ago, I got a flat tire on my bike, and I pushed my bike in Sanlitun (popular district in Beijing) to a repair shop. I asked how much it would cost, and the owner didn’t even look at me as he said it would be 60. And then I sat on a stool on the side of the road for 20 minutes waiting for my tire to be replaced. Nobody recognized me.
Just because you’re famous doesn’t mean you can’t have a normal life, that you have to sit on a throne and become arrogant.
I still often ask my friends and classmates to hang out (in public). We’ll grab a meal and chat. I’ll still ride my bike, especially around Sanlitun. In my private life, I dress very casually. I still chase my favorite anime and manga, and do juvenile things like copy their movements in front of the screen. I’m still living life.
For a lot of people, when they enter the entertainment industry, they become a lot more polished. But I believe, while some people will like a more polished you, there are also others who will like your sincerity.