China Newsweek: 21 Years Old, A Lion Cub

We continue our string of Liu Haoran non-magazine text interviews with one from China Newsweek, back in September 2019, in which he covers a variety of topics and shares many fun anecdotes, some of which we’ve heard before, but some of which are new.

The interview took place when Haoran was in Japan filming Detective Chinatown 3, right as Novoland: Eagle Flag was wrapping its run, and he talks a bit more about NEF, as well as about Legend of the Demon Cat, whether he feels confined by “youth”, his luck, and more.

(Originally posted 9.4.19)

Liu Haoran is spotted on the concourse at the Beijing International Airport.

He’s near the doors, in a white shirt and with a black mask outlining the youth’s features. He holds on to the railing as his finger dance to the beat of the music playing in his wireless earphones. As he looks into the distance, he seems relaxed, but as you zoom in (on your camera), he gazes above, as if trying to avoid the phones raised around him.

After the different angles of footage were posted, netizens were shocked that Liu Haoran would ride the shuttle bus with just a mask on. But if you check, you’ll know this is already pretty good (for him). When he rides his bike in the day, he doesn’t even wear a mask.

Liu Haoran’s love for riding his bike has always been a fun topic for the media – a celebrity boy’s normal little world sounds very interesting. Looking at his 29 million Weibo fans as a reference, going out like that does seem a little daring, and also a little like he’s breaking free of restraints to enjoy the pleasures of life.

When China Newsweek holds its interview with him, Liu Haoran is overseas filming a movie. When we mention his bicycle, he suddenly gets serious, like he’s about to start a speech, “The main reasons why I like riding a bike…” His clear and strong voice pauses for a few seconds, “The main reason is because I didn’t have my driver’s license before.”

And that’s his answer. This is Liu Haoran’s interview style. He is very well aware of his age: 21 years old, not enough experience due to youth. So he doesn’t try to sound pretentious. When we keep pressing on why he bikes, he only says, “It’s convenient and comfortable.”

In regards to his life and career track so far, the word he mentions the most is “lucky”. Getting into the Beijing Dance Academy, being chosen as male lead (for his part) in anthology film Beijing Love Story, and working with Chen Kaige all fall under that.

These two years, Liu Haoran’s career continues to be smooth sailing, the degree that he “chu quans*” and his “lu ren yuan*” are all decent. There are no clear shortcomings.

He also stands out among other male artists his age, like how his hidden double eyelids and tiger tooth make him feel less-threatening and distant, and has contributed to him becoming “the class president from the neighboring class that that you feel like you can approach”.

*T/N: Article is using fandom-speak here so thought I’d explain – chu quan (出圈) means “has made it out of the circle”, with the “circle” meaning ‘fan circles”. In other words, it means that your news (and this can also include photoshoots, etc.) isn’t contained to just those who actively follow the entertainment industry and has made it into greater mainstream (internet) view.

For example, Haoran’s Iceland shoot, Africa shoot, his National Treasure performance, the recent LODC discussion, etc. are all considered to have “chu quan” due to the high level of discussion/reposts/appearances in non-entertainment “circles” of Weibo/other social media platforms. “Lu ren yuan” (路人缘) means how well liked you are in general by netizens, or “casual passerbys” – Haoran’s is considered very high.

Everything seems just right. Liu Haoran is like a circle, completely uniform; you can’t find any angles (T/N: no clear weaknesses).

The Pingdingshan Boy and His Animation

To find the depth of life on Liu Haoran is a difficult thing (T/N: lacks life experience). Similarly, his career is just starting, there haven’t been great rises and falls (T/N: as in, it’s been very smooth).

The only difficulty that leaves room for the imagination is the pressure that comes with becoming famous at a young age.

So, he uses solutions like the bicycle to deal with it, like he wrote in his book, “I hope I can be simple enough, to comfortably be like a regular person and ride my bike to meet up with friends. I have to remember, I am just like everyone else.”

There was one time where after eating dinner with a friend, Liu Haoran saw a car that was (parked) close by with a strange small red light in it. He got on his bike, and just happened to pull up parallel to that car at a stoplight.

The man in the passenger seat was focused on looking at the video camera, and when he raised his head, he “encountered” the bicycle riding Liu Haoran.

“In the ten seconds where we were staring at each other, his expression was fantastic,” Liu Haoran recalls with amusement.*

*You can find his full encounter described in his book – it’s absolutely hilarious (this took place summer 2017).

He likes to give people these surprises that come out of nowhere. It’s the occasional instance where you see that youthful personality peek out of the proper him.

To his family, the biggest “shock” happened when Liu Haoran was five.

“Mom, little brother is disfigured!”

Liu Haoran touched his face, and found his hand covered with blood. He was only five or six then, and didn’t know why he was hiding behind a stack of meat, and didn’t know what went through his mind when the butcherer stabbed through the meat, cutting him as well. But his older sister’s cries were more jarring than the pain.

Luckily, he was able to get to the hospital quickly to get stitches, and was was fortunate to have only a shallow scar there now. From that moment, it seemed like luck would continue to accompany this Pingdingshan boy. He still loved to play, loved to fight with his sister. When they fought, they would go all out, and pull each other’s hair and clothes.

Among the activities that could get him to sit still was watching cartoons.

Henan TV had a “show by request” channel, which was Liu Haoran’s absolute favorite. He would call the TV station and have them add the charge (for the show) to the phone bill, so that he could watch an episode of Tom and Jerry or Yu-Gi-Oh. Before his mother discovered this, it was “quite a frequent occurrence”.

After he was caught, he could only watch the children’s channels. In order to catch Slam Dunk, he would start on his homework as soon as he got home, without even eating, determined to finish it before the show started. “Because it would air consecutive episodes at a very set time. If you missed a day, you would be behind.”

Even now, watching animated shows is still a favorite pastime of Liu Haoran. Throughout our interview, talking about Chinese animation, American animation, Japanese animation – that was when he got most excited.

Liu Haoran likes roles that get his blood pumping. Everyone always says one’s likes can reflect their personality traits, and this is exactly the impression he has always given.

When he participated on reality show It Takes A Real Man, he was 17, and would sprint from the beginning when running laps. When he heard he’d be able to touch a rifle, his eyes began to shine.

When they began practicing the proper way to shoot, he couldn’t hide his enthusiasm, and made a “piu” sound to mimic the sound of a bullet. It ended up being heard by the commander, who punished him by having him loudly repeat the sound ten more times.

The other child-like characteristic he showed was competitiveness. One time on the program, when they were playing games, his opponent Wang Baoqiang broke his leg and needed surgery.

The Liu Haoran who stood nearby was panicked and in a daze. In the end, he couldn’t help but feel guilty, and knelt on the ground, sobbing. That was his coming-of-age ceremony.

After getting into the Central Academy of Drama, Liu Haoran really started walking on the path of an actor. The sacrifice of being someone who has always been popular is that as the amount of work increases, the expectations on the degree that he finishes them also rises.

In an extreme state, when he opened his eyes, he’d need to go on set and start filming. When he wrapped up work and took off his makeup, it was time to sleep. When he looks back on that exhaustion that came from having no gaps for life, Liu Haoran compares himself to a cellphone that has no charge: no way to work, no light.

“As an actor, a lot of the time your performances and thoughts come from life. When I’ve been acting for a long time (consecutively), and I feel like I don’t know what to act, I’ll rest and enjoy my life. After a while, I’ll discover that my condition will have been recharged, and I’ll go back to work.”

But the “Liu Haoran brand of cell phone” has a side effect while charging. When he rests, he’ll gain weight due to eating. So furiously losing weight has become an important process before resuming work.

After finishing filming for My People My Country, Liu Haoran had only two weeks until he’d start his next project. Just like the protagonist in a youth manga, he’d lessen the amount he ate during breakfast and lunch, and skip dinner.

He would also run about 5km and hit the equiptment for half an hour. (insert the inspiring BGM as you picture this image). The protagonist was successfully able to reach his goals, and lost about 5kg.

During the interview, Liu Haoran announced he’s lost a total of 10kg.

“As human beings, if you don’t push yourself, you will never really know what your limits are,” He’s still as enthusaistic as ever, but the realism in his tone has replaced the child-like zealousness.

What does he use to give fans hope? Not scripted lines

Standing at the foot of the Wudang Mountains, Liu Haoran doesn’t want to give up.

When he was in Xiangyang filming Legend of the Demon Cat, he went up the mountain with the rest of the film crew to make a wish. This time, his entire family drove to the mountain to recapture that moment.

However, because it was an impulsive decision, he forgot to check the weather. The fifth day after Chinese New Year’s, there was a lot of snow, and the mountain was closed. The buses to get up to the mountain were all shut down.

Someone suggested going home, but he refused, “We drove three hours here. What’s the point if we just leave now?”

The 21 year old young man found a tour guide, and spent 8 hours hiking up the mountain, “When I got to the peak of the mountain, it was snowing so heavily that you could barely see. There were no tourists there. That feeling, in that moment, I felt it was worth it.

The conclusion to this story of his determination to climb up the mountains is that he was stuck in bed for three days. His legs were incredibly swollen, and he admits it was very juvenile, but really enjoyed the feeling of impulsiveness.

To Liu Haoran, this was probably the craziest thing he’s done recently.

To a longtime “jiejie (big sister) fan”, Liu Haoran’s enthusiasm involves a level of self-discipline that’s very difficult to achieve.

“Self-discipline is when you have set goal and you go after it immediately, and persevere in achieving it.” She works for a product management company, and speaks on very definite terms. To her, as long as Liu Haoran continues to walk his path, he will give others a “feeling of hope”.

Every time he appears, she’ll smile despite herself. When she sees his ads on the streets, she’ll think it’s great, and will proudly recommend him to those around her. When she speaks to China Newsweek on these feelings of hope, she doesn’t pause for a moment.

Liu Haoran himself will seldom use the world “self-discipline”. As he was watching a children’s show,the tv “broke”, hindering his ability to watch. When he turned on the TV, “there were only CCTV channels and Hunan TV. It was only later that I discovered, it was my parents who got rid of the other channels.”

Though one’s life track is often forced to change, through the course of Liu Haoran’s acting career, an invisible, tightly bound string has always existed.

Novoland: Eagle Flag is an important work for Liu Haoran this year. The Qingyang heir Asule is very gentle, so the few blood pumping scenes there were really stood out.

Many viewers will deeply remember the revenge scene amidst the rain, when the physically weak youth gave it his all to get revenge. The determination and adrenaline in that scene was very touching.

However, Liu Haoran thinks the revenge scene was quite straight forward, and was easy to film. He was more concerned about the big wedding scene with female lead Yu Ran and the tiny detail that was added last minute, when Asule stepped on Yu Ran’s dress.

More than the lines themselves, he remembers that, “We filmed the scene right after I arrived on set, and it’s very obvious I was chubbier then. It was also a scene that really showed Asule’s personality, so it tested on how well you could establish the foundation of his feelings. (Was worried) I wouldn’t be able to grasp it well.”

Legend of the Demon Cat‘s Bai Long has been acknowledged by many as one of Liu Haoran’s representative roles. The youth who quietly loved Yang Guifei had both love and hate, pride and an inferiority complex. There weren’t a lot of lines, so the complex emotions completely relied on the actor to express.

It was from this that Liu Haoran learned the importance of “suppressed emotional acting”, and adjusted the position of that string in his heart accordingly.

The same condition was seen on the set of Nirvana In Fire 2: The Wind Blows In Changlin. With the gem that was the first Nirvana In Fire before it, and surrounded by veteran actors, the Liu Haoran who played Xiao Pingjing was terrified he’d let everyone down.

As he awaited for his turns, he was so worried he wanted to pull at his wig. Even when he was complimented on his performance after a scene, his heart would still be pounding. Next time, if there were no veteran actors to help guide him, no director to help explain a scene, would he still be able to act well?

It sounds like he’s lacking in confidence, but as we continue our conversation, we discover that within the self-doubt lies a youth’s determination to prove himself.

Castmate Wang Ou and a fan named Heqing see things the same way – that Liu Haoran’s zealousness as self-discipline. Wang Ou tells China Newsweek, “Dance students love to play, but when you shout, 3, 2, 1, action, they can immediately turn serious. Haoran has that tenacity too.”

“I don’t like to hold a sheet of memorized lines when I face the audience,” Liu Haoran’s tone is very determined, a side of him that’s very different from the one who was talking about animation, Legend of the Demon Cat really forced that out of me, so when it comes to suppressed emotional acting, I can control it better.”

“How did it bring that out of you?”

“By grinding it out, filming little by little, continuous studying, repeatedly watching replays, communicating with the director,” He uses four repeating phrases in the place of specific examples.

Once again, he avoids sharp answers, and pulls that string into a complete circle.

The Charm of Youth’s Tragedy

After Novoland: Eagle Flag wrapped filming, Liu Haoran entered his second extended period of rest, which would last for almost six months. The last time he was left so exhausted was the previously mentioned Legend of the Demon Cat. Bai Long and Asule were very similar – both were tragic figures restricted by fate.

Liu Haoran likes tragic characters. That was something that started when he was still watching cartoons. When he was engrossed in Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf (T/N: a very popular cartoon in China), his favorite character was the Wolf, a frustrated middle aged uncle who never managed to eat one sheep.

A youth’s tragedy is even more touching.

In Slam Dunk, there’s a classic scene where Hisashi Mitsui kneels in the middle of the basketball court, his face covered with tears, “Coach, I want to play basketball”. Sadly, at the end of the manga, his Shohoku High School lost in the national championships. Liu Haoran had a hard time letting this go.

“I think tragedy is a key theme in youth,” He says, “Because for many youths, once they grow up, they are unable to do the things they dreamed about as a kid. This kind of imperfection is very moving.”

As a youth who grew up amidst love and happiness, he was entranced by this. He would analyze every youth’s degree of tragedy. For example, no matter what Asule suffered, he was still the heir and head of Tianqi, while Bai Long was of lowly birth, so there was natural aggression in him as he was worse off.

When he did his interview with China Newsweek, he is like a youth investigator as he analyzed the innocence and charm of this age.

Because of this, pity is something often felt by Nuan Yang (Liu Haoran’s fandom name). A 24 year old fan who is a teacher tells us that she often cries because of Liu Haoran (his roles). As such, when she can, she will go on Weibo to fight antis, to protect the love and happiness of her idol.

While Nuan Yangs carefully protect his good luck and youth, this is where the outside world is still observing.

Righteous youth characters will have their similarities, and this is an era where idols are constantly and speedily changing. Liu Haoran seemingly still stands in his comfort circle with the characteristics of both a “liu liang” and “little fresh meat”.

The Liu Haoran who is at the center of this topic isn’t in a hurry. In the five years since he debuted, he’s very rarely worried over the restrictions of his identity as a youth.

To him, youth is a grand framework. Instead of playing roles that don’t match his current age and life experience, he might as well “first play all the youth characters that I can see, that I love”. “Youth is like a lion cub. One day, you’ll become a formidable lion”, there is no need to rush.

Aside from acting, he hopes, “When the wind blows, I hope that I can stand my ground, and simultaneously become someone who is a wind that blows into other people’s lives”. In his book The Eye of the Storm, he wrote down his thoughts as a fresh 20 year old.

“I hope we (our relationship) isn’t a fleeting one,” This was the quote most memorable for fans who attended Liu Haoran’s 20th birthday fanmeet in October 2017.

“I think I’m a pretty fortunate person,” Liu Haoran once again emphasizes this. Throughout the entire interview, when asked about all the obstacles and troubles one can imagine, he would always respond, “It’s actually okay“. “Haven’t gotten to the point where I can control destiny,” is the only negative answer he gave.

Because he’s only 21, still in his youth.

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