We are on our ninth magazine cover of the year with ELLE Men China’s July 2019 issue, and Haoran becomes the first celebrity, male or female, to have three separate standard covers for the magazine (ELLE Men has two editions – standard and mook. Usually, if you have more than one cover for them, one will be the mook version.)
Do multiple covers matter? Not really – it’s just more of an indication of how well you’re treated by the brands/magazine, but it’s kind of entertaining as all of his affiliated brands clearly wanted to get in on the action. Two of the covers are by Louis Vuitton, one by Tod’s, and he’s draped in Tiffany & Co. jewelry on all three covers. This is Haoran’s second time on ELLE Men, and his third major men’s magazine this year alone.
This interview was clearly done with the intention to align with Novoland: Eagle Flag promotions, as he talks about it quite a bit, but it’s also a great glimpse into Haoran’s current state of mind. He talks about his recent obsession with running, on acting, and his love and passion for movies.
(Interview released 7.1.19)
It’s been five years since debut, and Liu Haoran already has a very clear awareness of the world. Below his “good boy” exterior lies a passionate heart – proactive, full of curiosity and a willingness to take on new challenges. This is his currently state of mind – to embrace changes and new experiences.
Though a lot of people still call him “Haoran didi” (little brother Haoran), you suddenly realize that he’s already played different kinds of roles. Through his projects, his performances, more and more people have gotten to know him, and he’s become a true “professional actor”. This also indicates he’s entering a new stage of his life.
Recently, Liu Haoran has been very into running. The distance isn’t long – each time, he runs about 5km.
The reason for this is because he’s really been into a Japanese anime called Run with the Wind, which tells the story of ten college students who start from zero and end up running in the Hakone Ekiden relay marathon .
The main characters’ ages ages are close to Liu Haoran’s, and most of them don’t have any prior experience in running, but through hard work and teamwork, they create a miracle. Liu Haoran became obsessed, and described it as, “Found the same feeling that I had back in the day when I was really into Slam Dunk.”
For the marathon, only those who could run 5km in 17 minutes would qualify. Liu Haoran wanted to give it a shot, so he could understand just what this would entail. How fast would he be able to complete it? The athletic side of him was exploding with anticipation. He wanted to run, to push his body to its limit.
So he began. At the gym, on the streets, in the park near where he’s currently filming, Liu Haoran started his 5km runs.
Every time, he gives it his all, “My fastest time was on the treadmill. 12 minutes. When I got down my legs were trembling.”
It’s been painful on his body. Til now, he hasn’t reached professional standards. He doesn’t need to compete in a race, nor has he decided to participate in a marathon. However, Liu Haoran continues to run.
Run with the Wind‘s message is: the goal of running isn’t to get faster, but to get stronger. Liu Haoran’s persistence comes from a determination to reach a greater goal: when you are able to break through a particular limit, things will seem easier, because you have already become stronger.
That’s true for running, and also for acting.
Novoland: Eagle Flag has been the project that Liu Haoran has filmed for the longest. He started filming in December 2017, and wrapped up in the middle of August 2018.
Ensuring that his acting remained good and consistent through a long period of time in extreme filming conditions was a huge challenge. From Hubei’s Xiangyang, Enshi, to Xinjiang’s Shawan and Kuqa counties, they changed filming locations multiple times. The environment was extremely difficult and there was a countless number of night scenes.
Liu Haoran even experienced a scene we’ve only seen in horror movies, “One day in Xinjiang, my cousin (his assistant) woke me up, and in my sleepiness, I sensed that there was extreme alarm in his voice. Later, I learned that my pillows and comforter were covered in blood.”
It wasn’t a nosebleed – it was his gums. The blood actually started clotting, and could have caused him to suffocate. The doctor said it was due to the extremely dry and arid conditions, and a lack of vegetables and fruit, as well as stress.
That was when he was the most restless and anxious, when he was at his limits both mentally and physically. He felt he was almost at his breaking point.
As he looks back at that time, Liu Haoran feels like it’s when you’re at your limit in a long run. It’s difficult to breathe, your heartbeat is going crazy, and your chest feels like it’s been stabbed with a knife. The only way to get past this moment, when you want to give up the most, is to adjust your tempo, control your breathing, and use your spirit to push your forward.
Liu Haoran used a variety of methods to get through the hard time on set. He muted his WeChat and limited his contact with the outside world, to mute the outside noise. Sometimes, he’d light incense in his room, and copy passages from The Heart Sutra to calm his heart and find peace.
He says, “Once you are able to pass this obstacle, to conquer it, then everything becomes easier.”
Liu Haoran has already thought about it, work will just become more and more faster in tempo and frequent, especially once he leaves university and acting officially becomes his full-time job. This will be the norm. So Novoland: Eagle Flag was good practice, a period of time when he had to overcome many different challenges. He thinks of the eight, nine months on set as filming back to back dramas.
“If I’m going to be an actor, you can’t avoid situations like this.”
He doesn’t want to escape these difficulties that will arise; he wants to adjust his state of mind, and prepare for the next breakthrough.
“What do you of these five years since debut?”
“…it’s been five years? Feels like I’ve just debuted, didn’t realize it’s been that long.”
Liu Haoran was shocked to hear the number, and he murmured to himself, “It’s been pretty good.”
Those who know his story will know that this isn’t him being dismissive. Liu Haoran comes from a regular family, and had no involvement with the entertainment industry at all. The first turning point in his life was when he was accepted into the Beijing Dance Academy’s affiliated secondary school. He says, “Even now, I have absolutely no idea how I stumbled my way in.”
The second turning point in his life was attending the auditions for Beijing Love Story. “I was in a daze the whole time, from the very first audition to after the round of votes to when I got the role of Song Ge.”
He readily admits, when he first got into the industry, it really was more luck. He was shown a way in, but there wasn’t clear instructions on how he should proceed from there. You could put it this way: it’s like playing aeroplane chess, when fate might choose you and help you skip over several steps so you have an advantage. But no one can guarantee that your next step will still be as smooth.
Liu Haoran thinks luck is impossible to understand or predict. There will be one day where it might run out. Only when you treasure it, and work hard, can you help to prolong its effects. That’s why he will also push himself.
When filming Detective Chinatown 1, he was filming while also preparing for the gaokao (the academic portion of the college entrance exams), and his scores were quite good.
After getting into the Central Academy of Drama, when he was filming With You, in order to not miss classes, he took a car to the outskirts of Beijing every day after classes were done to film. And when he was done, he’d race back so that he could catch morning classes. His vacations were used to film scenes that were further away.
However, as his workload grew, he’s still felt that he hasn’t done a great job of balancing his studies and work, that he hasn’t reached the balance that he wanted. After wrapping up filming for Novoland: Eagle Flag, he attended military training with underclassmen to make up for missing it previously.
He’s always felt that the time spent with classmates living out a simple school life is what he should have as a student, and is what supports him as an actor. Because you’re only able to add more depth into your acting when you’ve experienced these every day moments.
The youthful, spirited Song Ge (Haoran’s character in Beijing Love Story) still lives in people’s minds, but the Liu Haoran in front of us has already grown up from challenge after challenge.
Novoland: Eagle Flag is also a coming of age story. Liu Haoran plays male lead Lv Guichen, who leaves his home and finds himself in a much bigger world, before eventually returning to his homeland. Lv Guichen’s life motto is to protect everyone. Whether it’s in the drama or the books, he will say, “I am Lv Guichen • Asule • Pasu’er. You can call me Asule, I will protect you.”
This role has left its traces in Liu Haoran, “Lv Guichen is a gentle, kindhearted person, so there was a period of time where in daily life, I was softer, gentler.”
He also sees the character’s strong side, “He’s not easily swayed by the opinion of those around him. In his body there lives an explosive spirit – it’s conflicting but also very attractive.” This determination and strength helped to support Liu Haoran through the nine months of filming as he became one with Lv Guichen, step by step.
He’s absorbed bits from every role he has played: Song Ge’s courage, Yu Huai’s goodness, Qin Feng’s wit and decisiveness, Xiao Pingjing’s decision making when faced with difficulties, the white crane youth (Bai Long)’s passion and persistence…these traits have made the real Liu Haoran even more rounded and complete.
During promotions for Detective Chinatown 2, Chen Sicheng had expressed that the real life youth growing up alongside the youth in the film was an actor’s blessing.
Tong Liya has also felt this. She’s worked with Liu Haoran on several projects, and is like an older sister to him in real life. She’s seen him grow up from someone who didn’t know anything about acting to someone who can now play complex roles in a big production.
She remembers the Liu Haoran who was so nervous that he couldn’t speak when they were filming Detective Chinatown 1; the him who was so stressed and lacked confidence during Nirvana In Fire 2. But by the time Detective Chinatown 2 started filming, Liu Haoran had become relaxed and calm. He started talking about acting tips with veteran actors on set, and would even offer up his own thoughts.
When filming The Legend of the Demon Cat, he treasured every conversation with director Chen Kaige and used the knowledge to portray the white crane youth that left a deep impression (on viewers). When we talked about Novoland: Eagle Flag, he voluntarily analyzed the character,
“In order to portray this role, you have to understand why he did the things that he did, what motivates him. His actions are related to his personality, his family background, life experiences – it’s not a standalone empty building. His kindheartedness can be seen from the little things, from his moral views.”
These changes aren’t easy. The outside world has also been a motivating factor for Liu Haoran, and has driven his decision making. Since luck had already helped him break through the early obstacles, then he has no excuse to not continue working hard and moving forward.
After Novoland: Eagle Flag wrapped up filming, Lliu Haoran has felt that he’s become stronger. During military filming, he felt relaxed in a way that he has never experienced before. While the other students were exhausted (from training), he head the energy to play another two hours of basketball before returning to the dorms.
He will think about life while soaking his feet, “Sometimes I think, even though acting can be very hard, the path that I am currently on is really my most ideal one at this stage in my life.” So he honestly feels, the past five years since debut have “been pretty good”.
Liu Haoran isn’t someone who needs to constantly express himself to the world, but he definitely isn’t type of person who just waits around.
When he was 20, he published a book called The Eye of the Storm. In his book, he wrote, “I choose to grab onto these winds. Even though sometimes I’m terrified and anxious, I want to see the world that the wind can take me to, to see if I can ride the wind.”
“Grabbing onto” or “seizing” is the strong will that’s buried in his heart. He has a lot of curiosity, which motivates him to look for new challenges for himself. For example, it was curiosity that drove him to start running. And another example: it was curiosity that led him to the opportunity of becoming the male lead for Novoland: Eagle Flag. *
Two years ago, he was having lunch with his agent, and mid-way through, his agent said he needed to go. Out of simple curiosity, Haoran asked, “Where are you going?” That’s how he learned that the agent was taking another actor in the company to an audition for Novoland: Eagle Flag.
That got Liu Haoran excited. He had read the original novels by author Jiang Nan back in middle school, and was quite drawn in by the universe and unique framework of the story. So, he asked to tag along.
Most of the time, his pro-activeness, his curiosity, aren’t because he wishes to gain something. It’s caused by a drive that comes from within. He wasn’t thinking about wanting a role in the drama, and didn’t have any preparation.
He just sat on the side, makeup-free and with a hat on, listening to the staff talk about the drama while simultaneously observing the set. He just wanted to know, for a work with such a large scale universe, how would they bring it to life?
He didn’t have a lot of time that day, so didn’t stay long, and it seemed like most on set hadn’t noticed this special guest. Nirvana In Fire 2 started filming soon after, and Liu Haoran had a lot of scenes so was working 12 hour days. He had long forgotten about Novoland: Eagle Flag.
But who would’ve thought that one day, the production team actually sought out his company, asking, “Was it really Haoran who came (on set) that day? Does he have any interest in our drama?”
Everyone knows what happened after that. After having in-depth meetings with the director twice and the author (Jiang Nan) once, Liu Haoran became the actor for main character Lv Guichen.
The above seems like a coincidental opportunity, but behind that the advantage of his personality at play. He admits, “I am someone who becomes easily interested in something, and am willing to try new things.” On set, he doesn’t just study his role, he also observes the entire production process.
If a friend has a great script in hand, he wants to take a look even if there isn’t a suitable role for himself. He doesn’t really care about the end results, and because his intentions are pure, he usually ends up having good results anyways.
His mind is lively, and is constantly filled with new ideas. After watching the popular American miniseries drama Chernobyl, he became deeply interested in learning more, “I went online and did research, and learned that the radiation there is decreasing, and that you can protect yourself well now (with gear). Slowly, over time, people can begin to enter the city, as long as they’re well protected. So I suddenly want to go take a look. Maybe one day I will.”
Liu Haoran is more of a risk-taker than he looks, which makes him a more interesting person. He’s not cautious and overly careful like most idols, and possesses the freshness of a regular boy.
He likes many different types of movies and dramas, and carefully collects these resources.
“I have a folder, with many different films,” Liu Haoran is absolutely giddy. It’s his treasure box, full of movies that we may never have the opportunity to see in theaters. There are also the animation films and shows that he loves, including Run with the Wind, of course.
He’s not fond of expressing himself on social media platforms, but is more than happy to share his collection with friends. Often, the following conversation will take place.
“Haoran, I want to watch this old film, called XXXX, but can’t find it anywhere. Do you happen to have it?”
“Of course I do.”
This past April, Liu Haoran was able to fulfill a dream of his. During the Beijing International Film Festival, he was able to watch the IMAX version of Mad Max: Fury Road in theaters. He was filming on set then, but happened to have some free time. He was able to obtain some tickets through a friend, and took his little buddies who he was filming with (aka – probably – at least part of the Chen Feiyu, Zhang Xueying, and Wen Qi trio, heh) to watch.
“I had watched it many times on my phone and iPad, but felt that you really had to watch it in theaters to get the true experience.” He strongly recommended it, and reminded the friends who went with him to not drink a lot of liquids, because “you really don’t have time to go to the bathroom“.
As we’re talking about this, Liu Haoran gets excited, “Every time I finish watching a film, I will do research to understand its background story. This director (George Miller) is amazing; his style varies so much (movie to movie). It’s hard to imagine Happy Feet was also directed by him.”
He’s usually quiet, a boy that doesn’t talk much, but is extremely animated when talking about things that he loves. The names of the movies and actors that he likes are also full of that zeal, like Fight Club, Pulp Fiction, or Tom Hardy, Edward Norton, Brad Pitt…
A question suddenly occurs to us – how does a celebrity with over 27 million fans on Weibo watch movies without being noticed?
Liu Haoran seems to have never had a problem, “I don’t get recognized that easily.” In 2018, he had happily recounted in an interview how when he pushed his bike through Sanlitun looking to get his tire fixed, no one recognized him. This year, he hopes he can also stay as invisible, to keep his privacy.
He doesn’t want to speculate on what the next five years will be like, “I don’t really have any particular plans. Will just keep acting, and film the projects that I like, do the work that I’m interested in, live the life that I want, watch the movies I love, buy what I like. When I’m not busy, I can go on vacation and travel. Go to different places, gain new experiences.”
It’s true – in five years’ time, he will only be 26, the perfect age for an enthusiastic youth.