Liu Haoran’s eleventh magazine cover of 2018 comes on the November 2018 issue of L’Officiel (first appearance; not to be confused with L’official Hommes, which he was the cover star twice), which is also the first cover with short-haired Haoran that we’ve seen in many, many months.
This is probably the first interview where some time had passed after filming ended for Novoland: Eagle Flag, so you get a more introspective and relaxed Haoran here, who has obviously had some time to think about things.
This interview is a bit different in tone from what we’ve seen in the past,because while Haoran does talk about acting, it’s more focused on how the profession can affect the actor in real life. There are some parts that may seem a bit confusing, but if you keep in mind that the overarching theme of this interview is that life is life, no matter what field you may be in, it might help.
Apologies for the multiple translation notes – it’s just hard sometimes to keep the original meaning and tone even if you’re translating all the words correctly, so I just wanted to make things clear.
(Article released on October 16, 2018)
Haoran looks as if he’s a lot lighter now, and his hair has been cut shorter.
We actually saw each other about a month ago and chatted a little bit then. At the time, he had just wrapped up filming for Novoland: Eagle Flag in Hubei’s Xiangyang and returned to Beijing. This drama’s filming has taken up most of Liu Hao Ran’s 2018. From the northwest to the plains, he’s been through so much sand and gravel – it became suffocating.
“I was on set for way too long, to the point where I was about to lose it,” Liu Hao Ran says honestly, laughing as he summarizes how he felt then, “I’m the type of person who likes to be in control of my state of mind.”
He says that aside from himself, he is probably only fully relaxed in front of his parents. “After I thought about it for a while, I realized it’s not a bad thing to let out your feelings sometimes. For most people, we’d rather face someone who is real, and not someone who is always super polite, with an existence where it’s like everything he does or says is mechanical.”
The word “relax” is a particularly meaningful one for Liu Hao Ran. To put it another way, the last two years of never ending work with no breaks has left him concluding just how important it is to relax.
Before Liu Hao Ran returned to school for military training, he told himself, this might be your last military training in your entire life. Treasure it.
At the beginning of military training, Liu Hao Ran was in regular training just like the other students. But it wouldn’t be long until he was chosen to be part of the national flag group as the flag bearer. “The flag group only had three people, so it was easy to be synchronized in our steps.”
However, as other students envied the fact that he didn’t have to spend as much time in the sun and could have more rest time, his eyes turned towards the neighboring group – the special forces group. That is how we have the viral video of Liu Hao Ran’s skills demonstration.
“Other people might think, why would you sign up for this when you have the opportunity to get some rest in? But to me, I know I don’t have a lot of time left at school. Most of the time, I’d rather be at school and studiously accomplish some things. Plus it’s in my personality by now – I started at boarding school in middle school, so I’m used to a communal life. It’s where I feel comfortable.”*
*T/N: Based on accounts, he was the one who persuaded instructors to let him take part in the special forces group – they were worried he might injure himself. According to him, most of the special forces group was composed of students in the martial arts performance and Peking opera majors, who would naturally be quite good at the tumbling and others moves required for the demonstration. But he told the instructor that because he’s been on It Takes A Real Man, he could do it.
If we were to say that he’s like a whole different person after a month (since we last saw him), it’d be an exaggeration. But this is what it means to grow up. He’s starting to understand more the importance of returning to his own tempo and allowing himself to bask in some mundane – but real – parts of life.
The last time we saw him, he recommended a documentary that covered the lives of several residents of a city after their homes were taken away. One of the story threads that was followed focused on a woman who looked not more than forty. Her son was in middle school, and compared to most of the other people featured, she seemed more well-educated and like she didn’t have as many hardships (relatively) in life.
When Liu Haoran was watching the documentary, she was the one who he focused his attention on the most. “You’ll discover that no matter what stage of life you may be in, when the environment or situation that you face changes, you’ll have no choice but to accept it,” Liu Haoran says, “You’ll also find there are a lot of good actors in the (real) world that you’ve always looked at as an adults’ world.*”
*T/N: Basically saying that in the world of adults, because of our environment or situation, we naturally put on a different face in front of different people and become “actors” in our daily lives.
Liu Hao Ran has seen the world of adults, and whether or not he wishes to participate is also a type of choice.
“If you think about it closely, as a regular person goes about life, they will show a different side of themselves depending on who they’re facing. Isn’t that a type of acting? But as actors, our studies and the training that we’ve gone through means that we are even more capable of pulling off different roles in front of the camera for the audience.”
So what’s different about professional actors? “I think aside from being able to adjust well with the cameras pointed at them, actors can also accept and absorb more and integrate that into their performances, which means it’s difficult for them to be 100% real (in real life). Actors may also not be the best at experiencing life.”
He surprisingly used two negatives* consecutively. Perhaps it’s because he always looks far into the future, so he doesn’t really focus on all that he has now. That’s why it’s interesting to hear what he has to say – you can see the world through his eyes, not just how he views himself.
T/N: Referring to LHR saying it’s hard for actors to be real (because they’re used to playing other characters) and to experience life. The author is basically expressing his/her surprise at Liu Haoran being so realistic about how being an actor affects him/her in real life.
“In this era, there is an emphasis on individualism. Society can accept that you can be whoever you want to be. But in the old days, if you were different, you’d be persecuted. That’s why you had a lot of martyrs come out of that period. Lv Guichen, as a pessimistic hero, would naturally have a hard time surviving.*”
T/N: I *think* what he’s trying to say here is that because Lv Gui Chen’s thought process – and therefore actions – differed from others would (particularly when it came to the future of his tribe and other decisions he was forced to make) , it made him an easy target.
What’s the difference between martyrs and heroes?
“Martyrs are vulnerable as well, but they would never let anyone see their weaknesses. Everyone knows what a hero’s weaknesses are – he doesn’t make an effort to hide it.”
As everyone knows, this drama (Novoland: Eagle Flag) took nine months to film and had many location changes, including places where the conditions were very harsh and poor, but Liu Haoran doesn’t mention it at all. He instead dives straight into what he thinks about the character of Lv Guichen.
Lv Guichen is born to the royal family of the Northern Land. At twelve years old, he’s sent by his father to the Eastern Land as a “hostage”, the place where he meets Ji Ye. The two eventually join the secret society dedicated to restore peace into the world.
“You could say that the things that others want are quite small (in the grand scheme of things), but Lv Gui Chen is different. What he wants is much too big – it’s peace. And in the beginning he refuses to pick up a sword. He doesn’t want to unify the world.*” But in the trailer that’s been revealed, Liu Haoran wears a suit of armor, and is desperately fighting among the debris and smoke.
T/N: Unifying the world aka the other Nomadic tribes = a lot of blood and sacrifices. Lots of historical examples that you could use here, but the one I thought of immediately was Qin Shi Huang (first Emperor of China), the founder of the Qin dynasty who unified the Warring States. On one hand, he’s seen as a hero (Zhang Yimou’s film “Hero” glorifies the historical figure), but on the other hand, he was also responsible for a lot of death.
“He doesn’t want to be King, and hopes that he’s able to protect everyone so that they don’t get hurt. Really, that’s all he wants. During this process, Lv Gui Chen is growing up. I think it’s like a naive child who begins to accept reality. His dream never changes, but the way he approaches it.. changes. It’s not just proclaiming, ‘I will protect you!’“.
Liu Haoran relates his statement to real life, “No matter what era you may be in, most – not all – young people will be doing something very different (as adults) from what they had imagined as kids. Like me. When I was a child, I dreamed of being a scientist, an astronaut. Look at me now – I’m doing something completely different.”
Liu Hao Ran doesn’t try to avoid the problems that he currently faces: he is unable to be like his seniors (veteran actors) – ‘On set, you’re an actor. Off of it, you’re yourself.’
“A lot of the time, in order to really get yourself in character, you look for common points that you share. At this stage, because I don’t have sufficient experience, the most realistic option that I have is to go with my gut instincts and thoughts when I’m filming and connect that with the character.” What he hopes to really achieve, though, is to be able to separate the character and the actor.
Liu Haoran’s split from Lv Guichen came after filming had wrapped up.
This past month, he hasn’t gone into the studio to look over the materials (footage from the drama), nor has he started post-production dubbing*. His reflections over the filming process have been reliant on his memories, and there is some regret there (wound up too tightly during filming).
“When I film, it’s very easy for me to get nervous and I get caught up in that state. So when I look back on a particular scene, I’ll think, it would’ve been nice if I was a little looser. But it’s hard to say without seeing the editing. Maybe later I’ll discover my interpretation at the time was correct. Nothing is set.” This is the suspense that Liu Hao Ran leaves us in when it comes to Lv Gui Chen.
He steers the conversation into Nirvana In Fire 2 – specifically, a scene between Xiao Pingjing and his father, Xiao Tingsheng.
The scene he refers to is when Pingjing returns home for the first time after leaving for the Northern borders. Father and son end up having a conversation that goes deep into the night. “In that scene, I finally let go.” What he’s referring to is restrictions that he had on himself.
“When you are in the background of a scene, you’ll add personal touches to the character. But when you’re the focus, it’s very easy to distract yourself if you attempt to do that. That’s something that I’ve had a hard time balancing before – probably because previously, I rarely had to perform so many emotional scenes.”
In the scene mentioned, when Tingsheng throws a chopstick at Pingjing, Liu Hao Han has a very subtle, fine reaction – he eyes redden as he begins to tear up, but tears never actually fall. This way of expressing emotions makes perfect sense for someone under those circumstances.
“At that time, I had been forcing myself too much, to the point where my brain was hazy. So because I was no longer capable of thinking too much, it became a very natural performance.”
“In five, ten years, if I’m still acting, maybe then I’ll have enough acting experience and the skills to be able to logically analyze a role. It’ll only be then that I’ll be able to look more at the nuanced details. For the me right now, I could give 100% of myself to a scene, but still not be able to perform it well. So if you were to ask me to separate myself completely from the character and study how I can add little details to my performance, it could easily come out insincere.”
There was once a story about Liu Haoran that went viral and is the reason why he earned the nickname “the youth who chases the wind“. The anecdote was about a time when he rode his bike for about forty minutes to attend a magazine photoshoot.
Recently, he’s started to ride his bike again.
Just a couple of days ago, Liu Haoran was on his bike running errands, and ended up getting a flat tire right in the middle of Beijing’s busiest commercial district. The Liu Haoran who didn’t have a face mask on nor staff members around ended up pushing his bike up the street to look for repair shops.
“I’m not going to be self-conscious and look left and right. So what if I’m standing there? I’m not going to take these trivial moments of life and consider it some great feat.*”
“When I wasn’t as well known, my favorite thing to do was taking taxis. If you asked me to take a taxi into the mountains, I would be able to chat with him for the entire time without any issues. Taxi drivers are willing to talk about anything, including the entertainment world, and celebrities.”
What do they talk about? “It’s so interesting because you’ll suddenly realize, oh so this is what people think about your industry. Sometimes you know he’s wrong, but you won’t refute it.” Liu Hao Ran very naturally throws himself into a normal routine and life, and will, when required to, apply these details about the everyday people that he meets into the roles that he takes on.
Q: Do you have trouble with connecting the stage performance education that you’ve received with film/TV performance?
A: It’s not an issue, but you’re also unable to directly apply one to another. What I’ve benefited from the most is that during college, I had a lot of opportunities to gain real experience*. I learned a lot during that period, like getting a feel of where the cameras are and adjusting the degree of my performance in according to that.
In theater, the actor is more distant from the audience, so your movements have to be on a bigger scale, but the artistic elements are still the same. You’ll need to make adjustments every time you make the transition (from stage performance to film/TV performance). For me, because I’ve had these experiences, I have an easier time transitioning.
*T/N: Filming experience – basically like how we intern during college, he was filming various projects throughout his college years so he was never fully immersed into just the stage acting education they teach at the Central Academy of Drama.
Q: How did you feel when you earned the title of “street photographer”? (He was asked by a group of freshmen at CAD to take a group photo of them, much to netizens’ amusement, as usually he’s the one who gets asked for pics)
A: That’s just what our school environment is like. Everyone is very close, and rarely do people treat you different just because you’re so-and-so. We are all the same.
Q: Has your college life been everything you wished it to be?
A: I think I had a great start to my college life. I was able to attend classes regularly and live a normal student life with classmates, including going abroad to study. Now I’m just thinking about how to ensure that I have a great closing chapter, because then it would have been everything that I wanted.
Q: You’ve said yourself that your insecurity has nothing to do with outside forces – where does it come from then?
A: I am someone who would never put out anything that I’m not personally satisfied with. So my insecurity comes from within. For example, if I know I have an upcoming scene that I’m not very sure about, I’ll be very nervous the night before. Or if I’m asked to sing on stage and interact with others, or if I have to memorize a whole page’s worth of contents, I’ll be going over it constantly in my head. Stuff like that.
Q: Are you jealous of the lives of any of the characters that you’ve played? Or is there a particular part of their life that you hope to have in your own?
A: No, because I’m in a good spot right now. And if you think about it, most of the roles that I’ve played have had sad endings – their lives aren’t even as good as mine is now.
Q: What kind of people do you usually become friends with?
A: I like a lot of people, across different professions and industries. I’m willing to become friends with most people – that’s my personality. And I feel that people in different industries or those with different personalities are all unique in their own way. They have their own habits or mottos. I’ll absorb these points, including how they react to certain situations.
Q: You always give open-ended answers when asked about whether or not you’ll always be an actor. So if you aren’t an actor, what would you do?
A: If I wasn’t an actor, the first thing I would need to determine is what kind of life I want to live. I saw a really interesting quote before: “It’s good that I don’t like spinach, because if I liked it I’d eat it, and I’d just hate it.*” When I saw this quote, i thought about it for quite a while. If I were to consider no longer doing this anymore (acting), I would also need to weigh what I would lose from the life I have now.
*T/N: Chinese fans did some digging, and this quote has a super long history, but Haoran probably remembered it from the 1965 film Pierrot le Fou, which recently was paid tribute to at the 2018 Cannes International Film Festival. I won’t lie – my brain hurt trying to think about what this meant. I think I get it, but I’m not quite sure if I do. If someone has a take on this, please share!
(The answer below goes hand in hand with the question above – he basically circumvents the interviewer’s compliment and refers back to why he’d have to seriously weigh the pros and cons before deciding to change careers.)
Q: Most people consider you to be the model example of what it means to be successful, the light tower that everyone else is trying to reach towards – and yet you are so calm and logical.
A: You can’t live off of dreams, right? My family is your typical working class family. I’m currently an actor, which means I have the ability to be financially independent. So if I ever decide to change careers, the first thing I need to do is make sure I can still maintain that financial independence and go from there.
Q: What does your ideal future look like then?
A: Relative freedom, I suppose. We can’t ever be completely free, no matter where you are, or what industry you’re in.