Novoland: Eagle Flag ended its run a couple nights ago for VIP members (and yes – once I’m caught up, which might take a while, I’ll do a final Haoran NEF post – possibly favorite scenes/acting performances?) so thought it’d be the perfect time to post Haoran’s recent interview with The Paper.
We actually get a pretty in-depth interview this time (rare these days for non-magazine interviews!), primarily focused on Novoland: Eagle Flag and Asule/Lv Guichen. For those who had asked for a character analysis on Lv Guichen/Asule, there’s actually a pretty good one here, by Haoran himself, including on the perceived “weakness”.
Haoran also continues to very honest and forthcoming about his worries and what’s plaguing him recently – specifically, the fear of not growing fast enough (as an actor) to meet people’s expectations.
Warning: This is pretty lengthy!!
(Original interview posted 8.15.19)
Novoland: Eagle Flag is Liu Haoran’s second long historical drama in the last two years. During drama filming, the daily shooting schedule that he receives are often more than three pages long and will make everything turn dark before his eyes.
However for this drama, he was very positive, because from the moment that he flipped to the first page of the script and saw “Scriptwriter: Jiang Nan”, he was instantly calm, “Okay, it’s okay. No worries here.”
Every boy has a book where knives glittered and swords flashed that accompanied them through their youth. For the older generation, Jin Yong and Gu Long encouraged wuxia dreams. For the era that Liu Haoran has grown up in, internet novels are what held the keys to his heroic dreams, including Jiang Nan, including the Novoland universe, and Novoland: Eagle Flag.
Xiao Pingjing was full of heroic spirit, Yu Huai was the proud young master, Qin Feng the highly intelligent youth…Liu Haoran has portrayed different types of youths. Even though these roles have very different characteristics, you can see the traits they have in common with the real Liu Haoran. For example, the slight young master air* , a hint of shrewdness and pride.
T/N: The way I translated is probably gonna sound a bit like a criticism in English (just because there’s not really a fitting English word for this), but what they’re essentially saying here is Haoran has a bit of Yu Huai’s “alpha-ness” and confidence.
But Lv Guichen, who has been a novel character that’s left a deep impression on him for many years, is someone who’s very distant from those characteristics. In the beginning, he’s the heir “who looks weaker than a lamb”, and then is nicknamed “saint” by audiences.
The drama has aired 30+ episodes, and he hasn’t had many fight scenes. Whether it’s on the battleground or in the palace, Lv Guichen has more often used kindness and words to resolve conflicts.
From a world perspective that defines heroes by their successes and failures, this type of character will undoubtedly seem “weak”. In addition, in the novel series, Jiang Nan used an entire book to describe the environment that Lv Guichen grew up in and the events that shaped his early life. In the drama, Jiang Nan condensed this to two episodes.
In order to portray this “softness”, to have Lv Guichen’s coming of age story make sense, to have the audience be accepting (of the character) – this was the biggest challenge for Liu Haoran and Lv Guichen.
Liu Haoran refuses to describe Lv Guichen as “weak”. He feels that it’s more of a gentleness towards the world. He understands too well what’s in Lv Guichen’s heart, and the world that he’s going to face later. And he believes that what never changes in Lv Guichen is the gentleness and kindness he has for the world.
“This type of gentleness…it’s like Simba. Even though it’s really funny (to think of it that way)…” Liu Haoran remembers The Lion King‘s Simba, “You will discover that he actually shares a lot of traits with Lv Guichen. The environments in which they grow up, the experiences that they have in their younger years, their determination, their strength, their gentleness…”
And it’s precisely because the character isn’t a simple warrior, and this isn’t a story about level ups and turnarounds, that Liu Haoran treasures the role of Lv Guichen. And it’s also why, as he looks back on all the books in a similar genre that he read as a youth, it’s only Lv Guichen that he hasn’t forgotten about.
Throwing aside the “young master” air and choosing the gentle Lv Guichen has been a breakthrough for Liu Haoran in terms of roles. In reality, as an actor, he also doesn’t want to have a set image in the audience’s eyes, “You’ll feel it’s two completely different people when you interview me last year and this year. It’s intentional.” The Liu Haoran who’s wearing an oversized, loose t-shirt and sitting in an armchair is a little gleeful.
The last few years, among male actors in his age group, Liu Haoran’s performances have stood out. From films to dramas, he basically hasn’t had a misstep. From the time when he was still green and hadn’t entered the Central Academy of Drama yet, to after he underwent systematic training for his major, he’s continuously had representative works. But the other side of it is that as the leader, his accomplishments will also bring pressure.
“As you continue filming, you’ll suddenly find that you’ve just entered the door (of the industry). Perhaps in the beginning, newborn calves are not afraid of tigers, so you think you can act in any role, that you want to take on all kinds of roles, and that you can successfully pull off any role.”
“But once you start trying out the roles you want to play, you’ll learn that it’s not quite as you imagined. Not everything can be achieved just by giving it your all. It’s not really fear, it’s more that you’re maturing, and are gaining self-awareness.”
In the face of sudden anxiety over his career, and so busy for 9 months straight that even in Xiangyang, he didn’t have the time to go back to his hometown once*, Liu Haoran picked up new distractions. One was watching new films and dramas, and the other was calligraphy.
*T/N: Xiangyang, Hubei, where most of the filming – minus the Xinjiang part – was completed, is about a three hour car ride from Haoran’s hometown of Pingdingshan, Henan
Finally a happy topic. The heavy atmosphere that resulted from discussing a “mature male actor’s career worries” is instantly shattered. Full of enthusiasm, he immediately starts talking to this journalist about the new dramas and films that he’s watched. Proudly, he shares a list of films that he believes are lesser known and that this journalist wouldn’t have seen before (being respectful of Liu Haoran’s wishes, so won’t share the list).
Also, as a celebrity, he’ll still fight for his own tickets (for shows that are hard to get tickets for). He shares that during the Beijing International Film Festival, he was able to get tickets for Mad Max in IMAX, “Heard it was incredibly difficult to get tickets for the film!”
Calligraphy was a method to find peace, something that that he picked up during filming for his historical drama. He’s not all that particular about how good it needs to be, “I’m just letting myself enter a place of peace through this method. When I wasn’t filming, I would let myself relax, turn off my phone, and just sit there and write a page. I think it’s a way to adjust my state of mind.”
Moments where he’s needed to turn off his phone didn’t occur very often a year or two ago.
Along with the need to turn his phone off, more and more, Liu Haoran needs everyone to have a more blurred understanding of him. This is also something new in the last couple of years. Just like the English actor who he likes a lot, Daniel Day-Lewis, he understands actors need time where they disappear.
“I greatly enjoy a world where people have a more hazy impression of me. I like it this way, because I know, that means when I come out with my new role, people will have a new understanding (of me). They won’t look at me with prior impressions.”
If there’s a period of time where the people around him and the audience can start describing his personality and state of mind, he will instantly be wary, and will start preparing for a “time of disappearance”. Before this journalist can ask him why he has this kind of thought, Liu Haoran suddenly fixes his eyes upon me, his gaze solemn.
“I don’t want to become a boring person. Being interesting is too important.”
The Paper: Why did you take on a historical drama that would require so long (to film)?
LHR: Because I’m a book fan. I’ve loved reading since I was a kid, especially in middle and high school. In high school, it was very trendy to read novels in our class, and there were many webnovelss then. It was also popular to buy the physical copies of webdramas.
The IPs that have been adapted now – I’ve read almost all of them. San Da Shen, Tian Can Tu Dou (Martial Universe, Fights Break Spheres, The Great Ruler), Wo Ai Chi Xi Hong Shi, Tang Jia San Shao, including the Novoland series. I loved reading these books then. During class, I’d hide under my desk to read them. Novoland: Eagle Flag was a novel that I have a deep impression of. When I knew this drama was going to be filmed, as a guy, I was very interested.
The Paper: As a fan of the books, did you have issues with the script when you got it?
LHR: When I got the script and flipped to the first page (and saw) “lead scriptwriter: Jiang Nan”, I was instantly okay. If he changed anything, you can go after him hahaha (T/N: they’re close friends now so he’s obviously joking). So I thought, it doesn’t concern me. Right? He himself wrote so many drafts that he’s thrown away.
I think it matches what I had thought, there were going to be some changes. In the books, you can suddenly have a new character introduced in the middle of the story, and then just have him disappear once he serves his purpose, but you can’t do that in dramas.
In drama and film, you have to try and explain a beginning and end for a character. You can’t suddenly have him disappear. You need people to understand the purpose of the role, especially in this kind of historical drama.
If in the middle or towards the end, there suddenly emerged a person whose name was never mentioned prior, it’s a pretty scary thing. And sometimes there isn’t any (source) content telling you what this person is doing, so this is a very important thing for drama adaptations. You have to pave out an entire character thread, and make it stronger.
The Paper: As a fan of the books, did you have issues with the script when you got it?
LHR: The heart of it hasn’t changed, nor has the personality. When I read the books, Asule was a child in the beginning. When I started filming and we realized the child would be portrayed by me…(laughs). So there were some changes to the script then, and the age of the role was pushed up a bit.
It was pretty easy to get into the role, especially in some of the important scenes. When I filmed those scenes, I’d recall how I felt when I was reading the parts that left a deep impression on people. When you like a book, it’s very easy to get into it, no matter which character you play.
For example, the execution scene, when Asule was rushing towards his father with a knife in hand, my mind was filled with strong memories of how the scenes were described was in the book.
The Paper: If you were to rank this character from all the novels that you’ve read, where would it be?
LHR: I read so many novels during that time, so honestly I don’t recall every character, and many of them were similar in personality. They all fell under the same archetype. When the author is writing, he has his own outline and model (for characters), and then he plugs in the characters, the story.
Up until now, Lv Guichen is a character that I can still clearly remember the personality and characteristics of. I’ve even forgotten why I liked it (the book), but perhaps I felt that this was a very different story.
Its vast universe and world perspective, the interesting events that takes place within it. Of the books that I read then, it was refreshing, and different. This is also why I think book fans still have so much nostalgia when it comes to this novel.
The Paper: I bet after you portray a role, you summarize the character, his personality.
LHR: Something I do often as an exercise is to furiously try to recall a movie or drama that I’ve seen in the past that’s similar (to this one), to see characters may share similar traits. Maybe they’re only similar in a specific scene, but I will try my best to remember, and then will find that drama or film, and watch it a couple more times.
This is hilarious, but I went and watched The Lion King (cartoon – live action was not out yet)…in my mind, Simba gave me a similar feeling to Lv Guichen.*
*T/N: Interesting note, but this isn’t quite as far-fetched as Haoran may think. Earlier in the drama, netizens felt that they could see traces of Hamlet, which The Lion King is partly inspired by as well.
The Paper: Maybe in the beginning, he was a bit a bit weak, but it’s not a voluntary thing.
LHR: Because he’s too gentle. He uses that gentleness to look upon the cruel world, so he will seem different from others. The color of his personality is soft.
The Paper: So how do you see this type of weakness?
LHR: I don’t think the word “weak” is quite right. The term that floated around in my mind was “gentle”. This character is too kind, too gentle, so when he first started seeing the cruelty of the world, a world full of knives and swords, you will feel that in comparison to the others, this character is soft. But he is strong willed. Even at his lowest, he will say I will protect you, and stick to this belief for his entire life.
The Paper: If you were him, and if you were to think of the war that Lv Guichen faces like our daily lives and work, would you handle things the same way that he did?
LHR: It’s very hard to say. Before I portrayed the character, I probably wouldn’t make the same choices, but you know, once you’ve played the role, there will be traces of it that lingers, characteristics that will absorbed by you.
The Paper: What was the most difficult part about completing this role during the filming process?
LHR: It was actually mostly alright, because I did have prior experience in filming a historical, so at least it went better than before. When I filmed Nirvana In Fire 2, it was my first historical drama. It was so long, and every day when I saw the next day’s filming schedule, my sight would get blurry.
For movie, it’s usually two scenes a day. For dramas, there’s two pages in your schedule. One day I saw a hilarious post in my friends’ circle (your feed on WeChat with friends’ updates). I don’t remember who, but someone said that their next day schedule was five pages long.
For dramas, five pages isn’t that long, because it means there’s probably long parts of dialogue, which can take up 1.8 pages. There’s a saying for dramas and films, called “not afraid of 1.0 but 0.1”. 1.0 typically means a long dialogue, 0.1 means you may be running all day.
The Paper: Before, you used to recommend the actors that you liked, like Huang Bo, and said you wanted to be an actor like them. These last few years, you’ve grown up. Have your thoughts on this industry and your goals changed?
LHR: I want to be myself. I think now, I won’t really want to say who I want to be like. I do my own things, and I’ll continue filming my own projects, because I know I can never become someone else.
The Paper: When did your way of thinking change?
LHR: Probably as I’ve accumulated filming experience. I can’t remember an exact point in time. but I slowly began to understand. Every actor is different. As you work with mroe and more actors, and see more things, you’ll know that every actor is unique. Every actor has their individual way of performing, things they’re good at.
You can never be like someone else, just like how two actors’ portrayal of the same role will be completely different. You’re the one who’s acting, who’s thinking. It’s not quite possible to start imitating someone else at any time, and you won’t be able to do it.
The Paper: After undergoing systematic training at university the last few years, have your thoughts changed on this industry?
LHR: I don’t really dare to have any thoughts about the industry right now, because I feel like I’ve just started. It’s odd, because it’s only after I’ve filmed for quite a while that I’ve realized I’ve only just entered the door. As you film more projects and you learn more about this industry, you’ll realize that actually, you don’t understand anything about this profession.
The Paper: How do you deal with these worries, and adjust your state of mind?
LHR: Every time I encounter this kind of issue (worrying), what I do the most is first put it aside, to first walk out from that blind alley. Because whenever I’m in this kind of mood, I’ve already entered that blind alley. So I need to find another road to walk.
To raise a very simple example, when you’re filming, you might have tried the same scene many times and still haven’t passed. So you don’t use the same method anymore. I’ll take a break. I’m not going to try again just yet, will rest and reset. Have a good sleep, drink some wine, chat with friends, write some stuff, read some books and movies. Filming a drama may not allow that, so I’ll destroy the fixed images in my head. And I’ll discover there might be another road.
The Paper: So you don’t worry a lot when working?
LHR: No, I do, I’ll still worry…
The Paper: Is that why you started calligraphy?
LHR: Picking up calligraphy was because I’ve always wanted to. It’s not really about perfecting my penmanship though. I still use the guides though, because I have to first know how to write it. I just want to be a little more familiar with it.
The Paper: Why did you start copying the Heart Sutra?
LHR: When I was writing calligraphy, I didn’t know where to begin. Later, I was browsing online and found a lot of outlines, huge ones that maybe only contained one word per page. But I wanted to write more (than just a word). And then day I saw someone had posted part of the heart sutra on WeChat.
The Paper: So you don’t actually know what it means...
LHR: Nope, really, I was….just copying it down. I just wanted to let myself enter a place of peace while doing calligraphy. When I don’t have to film, it helps me relax. I can turn my phone off and just sit there and write for a page. It’s a a method to help adjust my state of mind.
The Paper: As you get older, are these the moments that you need more and more of?
LHR: It’s because before, most of what I was doing was what I was capable of. As you get older, you want to take on more challenges. You’re slowly growing up, and the roles that you portray will steadily get more difficult. Sometimes, the speed at which you’re growing can’t keep up with everyone’s expectations of you. That’s when you feel anxious.
The Paper: Aside from the training you receive, what else does school (CAD) mean to you?
LHR: What I think is regretful is that I don’t have that many opportunities to experience campus life. I really like school life, it’s very comfortable. But unfortunately it can’t be helped.
The Paper: Do you still play (video/computer) games with your roommates?
LHR: Yes, but not frequently. Especially when I’m filming, I don’t really play games.
The Paper: You sound quite disappointed.
LHR: Because you don’t have the opportunity to realize a joy. Or at least when you’re working, you discover that there’s no way for it to coexist with your work. So you can only find other amusements for yourself. So I’ll watch movies, read books. Recently finished watching Chernobyl and another film.
The Paper: Do you often go to movie theaters?
LHR: Not as much now, because I’m too busy, and because I can watch most of it on my phone. Most of the films I’m interested in are Oscar films. So by the time they hit theaters, I’ve usually already watched it.
The Paper: But if nobody buys movie tickets anymore and contribute to the box office, it’ll be even harder to bring good films in…
LHR: No no no, the other problem is that the version you watch on your phone has to be the same as the one shown in theaters (fighting for his point.jpg).
Recently I really wanted to see Once Upon A Time in Hollywood, but probably have to keep waiting (sad face.jpg). Recently, I saw an older film called Mad Max. It was one that I saw first on my phone, and during the Beijing Film Festival, they had an IMAX theater showing it. The tickets were very difficult to obtain! (very satisfied.jpg)
The Paper: You said before that actors and celebrities aren’t quite the same. Up until now, have you felt that you’ve fit your own definition of an actor?
LHR: I’m working hard towards it. I really enjoy disappearing from everyone’s sight. I think the difference is, I really like a world where people have a more blurred impression of me.
The Paper: What direction are you working hard towards?
LHR: The shadow that exists in my head is Daniel Day-Lewis. I will never be able to be like him, to disappear for several years and then come out with a new project to win an Oscar.
The Paper: Is this an internal struggle for you in your career then?
LHR: No, it’s not, it’s more that I feel like I really like this path, but I need to look at my own situation, my own status, and do what I can achieve. I hope that if for a period of time, people understand me too well, I can choose to be “blurry” for a while.
The Paper: What do you mean by understanding you too well?
LHR: Seeing me often, being able to summarize my personality, my state of mind. That’s the type of person I am. If you interviewed me one year prior and interviewed me again the following year, you may feel like you’re interviewing two different people. I’m adjusting myself at a fast pace. I don’t really allow myself to stay the same for a long period of time. I don’t want to become a boring person.
The Paper: What’s the definition of an interesting person?
LHR: Someone you can’t really read well. When I can’t read someone clearly, I will think they’re very interesting, so I hope that people also can’t read me well.