Haoran completes his second round on the Men’s 2+3 magazines with the cover of GQ China’s August 2020 issue (becoming the current youngest male celeb to do so) with a massive and fun cover campaign, centered around the famous Steve Jobs quote, “Stay hungry, stay foolish”.
This is also Haoran’s first magazine shoot photographed this year (his previous magazine covers from this year were shot in late 2019 as he was preparing for Detective Chinatown 3 road shows & promotions/Moses on the Plains in January before COVID hit and China went under lockdown).
After China’s COVID-19 restrictions loosened in mid-March, Haoran went straight to Jilin and has been filming movies non-stop while bouncing around China, often in remote areas (from the old neighborhoods of Jilin, to the mountains of Guizhou, short stops in Beijing & Shanghai, to the rural areas of Yunnan, and then to Hangzhou, in the span of four months) with just a short “break” in June to make up brand responsibilities, this GQ cover campaign, and other things that have yet to be revealed. He then started filming for 一点就到家 in July and is currently on the set of 1921 at Hengdian (Haoran’s recent Vivo press conference appearance was held at Hengdian to accommodate his filming schedule).
As such, GQ (and Vivo) seems to be helping us make up for the time we didn’t see get to see Haoran with a whole flood of new content, including an extensive photoshoot, short films, video interviews, and a packed print interview (thank you GQ).
The interview is essentially a six months worth of catch-up with Haoran – that’s how long it’s been since the media/public has really “seen” or talked to him – as the writer shares Haoran’s love for lame jokes, how he feels about the “Haoran didi” title that doesn’t seem to go away no matter how old he gets, how he’s using his wealth (including his new sports car), the quiet transition his team has been making with his project choices, his identity in the industry and his personal circle, and much more.
(Interview released 7.31.20)
Liu Haoran loves to eat. When we ate together, we turned on the gas stove. As people eat, their shields come down a little bit, and I was hoping to dig into the inner thoughts that few know about. But I was surprised to see that from the beginning, he was very candid.
The 23 year old Liu Haoran. Though Detective Chinatown 3 was not able to screen in early 2020 as scheduled, we recently got the official announcement of Moses on the Plains. He is desperate to mature, while his natural innocence still exists. As he sits in front of the hot pot, his eyebrows dance as he laughs, like a cute cat caught in an embarrassing moment.
The topic for the shoot is food. Liu Haoran emerged from his dressing room and walked towards us in a suit, “What are we eating first?” He had a clear goal, and was very professional. However, within five minutes, his clear laughter rang out from the tent, and his serious image was instantly broken.
If you talk to Liu Haoran for more than three sentences, you’ll realize he is a king of lame jokes. During the shoot, he started chatting with the photographer on Ou Hao’s English Name. Like presenting a treasure, he told us, “He really is called Oho, O-H-O. Hahaha, if it was me, I’d straight up (be) OFO.” (Haoran and Ou Hao are good friends). The photographer nodded but didn’t respond, “Haoan laoshi, for the next shot, can you turn your body a little bit to the side?”
Liu Haoran isn’t discouraged, and continues to exhibit his humor. When a colleague told him that the theme was “stay hungry, stay foolish”, Liu Haoran dramatically exclaimed, “Stop teaching me English.” He then instantly shared his recent escape room experience with friends, and how he was tested on English vocabulary. He started testing those on the set (of the shoot), “Let me ask you. What is hippo in English?” Everyone: “Hippo”. He continued, “What about owl?” Everyone: “owl”. He broke into laughter at everyone’s cooperation.
Aside from his one person xiangsheng, he also knows is familiar with memes and puns, and is full of a young person’s familiar talkativeness and internet sense. When filming a shot where he would be smelling peaches, when he used his right hand to bring up the peach to his nose, he was inspired by a small pun and instantly shared with everyone, “Look! I’m smelling pi chi (peach)!” We suggest money is deducted for this type of pun (T/N: it’s not a good one ha).
Later on in the shoot, it began raining heavily. To reassure everyone, my colleague said, “Don’t worry. All beginnings are hard…” Liu Haoran continued his sentence, “And the middle is hard, and the last part is even harder.”
There are countless moments of such humor. The staff who work with him have long been used to it. Telling jokes is part of Liu Haoran’s daily life, and is a strong characteristic of his guy-ness. Being an interesting person is his goal. If “interesting” is difficult to define, then taking a step back, it means absolutely not becoming an uninteresting person.
At Liu Haoran’s age, it’s the stage when young people want to express themselves the most. He’s not an exception, and shares similar characteristics with those his age: loves to surf the Internet, is familiar with all the popular memes, and constantly thinks of opportunities to be humorous. He is determined to be an interesting person.
He’s used to cracking jokes to break the ice, to liven up the atmosphere when things are too serious or solemn. He uses rough and cute tactics to get everyone to laugh, and secretly takes pride in his heart.
“Because I’m a sensitive person.” He can sense the changing of an environment’s atmosphere, and wants everyone to be happy, so showing his wit is just a matter of effort. This is also why Liu Haoran outputs (jokes) at high frequencies: Is this joke not funny? Then change to another.
Over time, everyone’s impression of him has stabilized. His jokes follow him like a shadow, and sometimes even when he’s very seriously talking about something, everyone will think it’s a joke. Liu Haoran’s promotions staff tell us, previously he had bout a Transformers Bumblebee helmet. When you wear it, the helmet can talk and move. His team took it as another “liquid fart”, and thought it was just another silly toy used to liven up things, but Liu Haoran seriously asked, “Do you really not think it’s cool?”
A “warm” (T/N: something that some/most people know) piece of knowledge: Liu Haoran is just a stage name. His real name is Liu Yuan. But most people call him “Haoran didi” (didi means little brother), and some fans take apart his name to call him “Ri Tian didi”. Though the Liu Haoran who turns 23 this year has been in the industry for 6 years, has come of age for several years now, and in his own words, has good friends at his age who have already married, and some already have kids – but he’s still a didi.
Liu Haoran has been a “didi” for 23 years. He has an older sister, who has recently been by his side when he’s been working to take care of him. When he was little and grew up in a relative’s home, his older cousin was also very good to him, and could be considered one of the three most important women in his life (along with his mom and sister). When he was older, he was discovered by Chen Sicheng and Tong Liya for Beijing Love Story, and became their didi. Hence, “didi” is not just a nickname, it’s become a title, one that solely belongs to the Liu Haoran who is full of youthful air.
Amidst didi roles, Liu Haoran has played the boy next door, the campus first love, the young hero. The him in his dramas who’s willful, acts cute, and matures, coincided with the him outside his works.
In the beginning, he felt the “Haoran didi” name was endearing, just like the characters he used to choose. He felt comfortable in that type of role (didi), and to the 20 year old him, it came very naturally. “I’m 23 now, this age is in the gray area. You can call me anything. Call me Haoran, call me didi, call me meimei, call me Haoran ge (but for this one you have to actually be younger than me, otherwise forget about it), Liu Haoran. Anything goes.”
But now is quite different than when he was a teenager. The Liu Haoran who used to be the youngest no matter which production set he was on is discovering more and more that there are actors who are younger than him on set. Saying he has anxiety about his age is a little early, but the “Haoran didi” title is becoming less fitting with the passing of time, and has even become a bit of a shackle.
In the entertainment circle, a 23 year old didi who wants to grow up isn’t an easy thing. Everyone’s lazy, and not interested in discovering a new you. Investors are even lazier, they just want to copy models that have proven to be successful.
Recently, Liu Haoran’s new project with Zhou Dongyu, who’s won Best Actress twice now, was announced. His management team has put high hopes in it, because “it’s a little different from before, more mature.” Liu Haoran and his team have been digging for scripts that are more mature. No one wants to play a “sweet and silly” role forever, and no one can forever play the “cute didi”. The Liu Haoran who’s been watching The Bad Kids like to grow out his facial hair in everyday life, as it’s also a sign of becoming an adult, “I hope that everyone doesn’t just call me Haoran didi now.”
Aside from filming, he is also experimenting with moving away from the mindset of a new person (to the industry). The definition of “newcomer” in the entertainment circle is a relative one, and because of director Chen Sicheng and Tong Liya, Liu Haoran’s filming circle (the people he worked with) was fairly fixed. In that circle, he was always the newcomer. But outside of that little world, he enjoys the experience of being “Haoran ge”.
At an iQiyi event previously, he had arrived very early and was happily chatting with Hou Hongliang (CEO of Daylight Entertainment) when he saw good friend Hu Xianxu standing uneasily in the distance. Liu Haoran instantly went up to tell him to greet Hou Hongliang laoshi. Though they had worked together on Nirvana In Fire 2, Hu Xianxu was a little hesitant.
The Liu Haoran who’d been there before understood, and said, “I’ll take you there.”
In that moment, the Liu Haoran who could only politely smile as he followed Tong Liya around at events, collided with the current him who’s quite at ease. This isn’t anything major, and the feeling of satisfaction is short and small, but to the him who has always been taken care of by others, being able to take care of someone else brings a feeling that’s hard to put into words.
I asked, what do you want people to call you going forward then? “Call me Haoran.” It’s not ambigious, not metaphorical, and not limiting. “What about Haoran laoshi?” (T/N: laoshi is a respectable term for someone who’s more senior than you in an industry)
He breaks out into laughter, “Am I deserving? Hahahahaha I don’t think I’m there yet.”
In elementary school, Liu Haoran wrote that he wanted to become a millionaire. That is still some distance away, but he’s partly achieved it. A couple of days before the photoshoot, photos were revealed by the media of him showing his beloved car at the airport to good friend Zhang Ruoyun. The Liu Haoran in front of us isn’t just “famous”, but also very “rich”.
Liu Haoran, who was an eyewitness to the exchange, states that Zhang Ruoyun was full of envy. He analyzes that it’s because the Zhang Ruoyun who has already married and is now a father has entered a new life stage. Two door sports cars are no longer appropriate. “He probably needs a family SUV,” Liu Haoran raises his eyebrows.
When he had first debuted, Liu Haoran’s goals were very simple: buy a new house for his mom in their hometown of Pingdingshan. Later, he gave his first big sum of earnings to his dad, and also bought him a car. Amidst fellow 23 yr olds, Liu Haoran has saved a lot more money than everyone else, and uses it for his family, for his hobbies, and for his moods.
As income and speaking rights in the family are directly related, Liu Haoran’s status in his family has changed. Before, when they went out to eat as a family, his father would be the one who ordered. “He would first order the food that he likes, and then would order food that he thought we might like.” But of course there were times where what he wanted didn’t enter his father’s eyes.
But now things are different. Liu Haoran now holds the power of ordering food. Or to put it another way, his dad has let the Liu Haoran who loves food and knows a lot about it have the opportunity. He isn’t just the one who orders the food, he’s also the person who decides where the family should go out to eat. Once everyone is seated, he’ll push his recommendations on the restaurant’s best dishes.
But eating and drinking are small things. When it comes to the bigger things, he still might not have the right to know. When he was filming Novoland: Eagle Flag, Liu Haoran’s mom got into a car accident when she was riding her motor scooter and was diagnosed with a fractured bone at the hospital.
She was in a wheelchair for two months, but Liu Haoran only learned of the accident after his mom had almost recovered. This was for his sake, and he understands that. “But I don’t like it.” This isn’t the first time. When he was (at the Beijing Dance Academy), there was one year when his grandfather passed away during finals. Nobody in his family told him, and when he finally found out, Liu Haoran immediately sought out his teacher, “I said I need to go back.”
I asked him, doesn’t this mean that to some degree, your family doesn’t think you can balance life and work? He is instantly protective of his family, “No.” He pauses, and then adds, “I think to my mother, she thinks I’m too busy – and yes, I am very busy – but in her heart, I’m even busier than I actually am.”
Whether he admits it or not, the Liu Haoran who received the news belatedly was very angry. He can justify it by saying he understands where his family was coming from, but it also shows there is some distance from him becoming the real head of the family.
He looks like he has become a completely mature man. He can take care of his own life, has a pretty good career, can buy cars and homes for his family, but if you seriously look at how he deals with family, you can see the transparent wire behind him.
Just now, his mom sent him an article called “An Actor’s Ten Commandments”. He raises his phone, “Look at this one. ‘After taking off your makeup and removing your costume, stop acting. Don’t indulge (yourself). Don’t hold your nose high up in the air. At all times, be aware of what lies at your feet. Be careful not to sink into the mud, to fall off the canyon.'”
The dish in front of us is steaming hot, and Liu Haoran laughs as he talks, happy with the taste of this restaurant.
When filming Detective Chinatown 3, Liu Haoran was very happy, because he loves Japan. The only thing was his stomach didn’t fully respond. “I have a Chinese stomach, after a while, I’ll miss the food from back home. Like noodles, stewed vegetables, etc.” Every time he wraps up a long filming project, Liu Haoran will ask his mom to make him a bowl of noodles with lamb meat at home. And also a mixed dish, with rice noodles, cabbage, turnips, meat all stewed together. This is the dish that he asks his mom to make the most, and represents the down to earth life he normally has. The person at the dinner table is called Liu Yuan.
He doesn’t really have a strict diet, nor is he a picky eater, so he won’t refuse good food. For each type of cuisine, he has restaurants that he visits often, including Chongqing hot pot. Though he can’t really eat super spicy food, he’s willing to go out with friends for spicy hot pot.
The restaurant today specializes in Hong Kong style hot pot, which he loves. “The main store of this chain was right downstairs at my old home in Xinyuan. I go often, to the point where the staff all knew me and would leave a private room for me. Sometimes I’d ride my bike over, and leave it with the front desk.” He has the posture of “I have someone above me”.
At his favorite Japanese restaurant, he can walk straight in to the bar and order food, turning from a young male actor to a regular customer. But it’s also slightly different, as Liu Haoran says, “We really are quite familiar. They have my photo.” As I was about to exclaim in wonder, his staff explains, “…they have a lot of celebrities’ photos.”
The Liu Haoran who sits at the bar doesn’t mind the restaurant staff’s looks, he’ll talk about whatever with his friends still. Talking in person is his favorite communication method: WeChat isn’t good, because words and emoticons can be ambiguous in meaning. Like when his mom often sends him the “he he” emoticon. Voice messages are slightly better, but it’s hard to communicate moods or state, so in person convos are still the best.
One time, he was talking to friends about a project. He was considering one at the time, and wanted his friends’ opinions, but suddenly realized there was someone present who was really close to the director and producer. With an outsider there, he immediately changed the topic. “When I’m seriously asking you, I hope you can also give me your real opinion. Maybe he’ll still compliment that project, but I hope its sincere. If everyone is just saying polite compliments, that’s a waste of my time, and a waste of my question.”
He is afraid that because people are familiar with each other in this circle, that they’ll just say polite, surface level remarks. He also knows because everyone is familiar with each other, they can’t avoid that. This is one of the rare times when Liu Haoran is unhappy with people. He greatly values boundaries, and also greatly cares about sincerity/realism.
“I’m a passionfruit, it’s very hard to describe what type of flavor it has.” I’m surprised at his self-assessment, because to the outside world, it’s very easy to summarize Liu Haoran: keywords include youthful aura, clean and refreshing, tiger tooth, Chen Sicheng and Tong Liya, but he doesn’t see it that way. He has always maintained that no one really understands what he’s thinking on the inside, even his close friends are still missing a bit.
I look at the him who’s currently eating fish skin. What’s missing? He’s answering readily, “The communication between souls.” His agent and staff members laugh. I ask him, “Everyone’s laughing, does that make you a little upset?” “Not really, because I think most people don’t have this.”
Another similarity with passionfruit is harmony. “It’s hard to describe exactly what kind of fruit a passionfruit is, but no matter what fruit you put it with, it goes well with it. I’m a Libra, so most of the time I don’t want to have conflicts or confrontations. I want everyone to be happy. If a cup of soda doesn’t taste good, will it be better if you add passionfruit to it? If a cup of soda is good from the start, then adding passionfruit to it can give it something extra, right?”
The Liu Haoran who was cracking jokes previously is now a philosopher in the next second.
Gaozi (Chinese philosopher from the Warring States period) once said, “The desire of food and sex is natural.” It has nothing to do with whether human nature is good or evil. Good food, beautiful people, wonderful desires and ambition, are the things that humans will naturally want to pursue.
Young beauty and desire isn’t something to be ashamed of. Liu Haoran likes beautiful things, including pretty girls, but is also very much a guy as he shows indifference when people say he’s goodlooking. His staff says, he usually takes 16 selfies from the same angle in one go and proudly waves his hand, “Choose one!”
Though he’s easygoing, he understands what angles he looks better from, so he usually takes photos with an upward angle. “Because guys will care more about their jawline, so it will add points if it looks good.” He also explains that aside from his jawline, his nose and mouth are pretty okay. I asked him why he’s happy with these two body parts. “It’s not like I can say eyes. My eyes…have their unique features. I can only describe it like that. But it doesn’t affect my acting.” He laughs, with a sly “I know” in his laughter. Aside from his strange angle and specific features, the clearness and realness of Liu Haoran’s selfies are another key trait. Whether he’s being silly or proper in his selfies, it’s always so clear that you can see the texture of his skin.
More than selfies and photos, Liu Haoran likes to observe and experience. “I think I once posted in my Friends’ Circles (on WeChat: When you see a person you like, you’ll want to pick up your phone and record their most realest side. But you don’t realize that if you put your phone down, it’s your words that are the realest.” In the next second, it starts raining on the set of our shoot, and there’s a rumble from the woods. The sky completely falls dark. The lights on set are full as they fall upon the white cloth, forming a quiet and romantic atmosphere. The Liu Haoran who just said experiencing and feeling should the top priority picks up his cellphone, and films a short video of the rain.
From when Liu Haoran debuted at the age of 17, almost every year, there are people who ask him if there are any girls that he likes, and what his ideal type is. The 19 year old Liu Haoran said a first kiss is “warm, slippery, fragrant and sweet”. 20 year old Liu Haoran suddenly covered Wang Junkai’s eyes at a movie press conference (they were watching Darren Wang’s Legend of the Naga Pearls, where Darren had a kiss scene with Zhang Tianai), because “he’s too young, he can’t watch kiss scenes.”
The 23 year old Liu Haoran is even more experienced now, and when faced with this question that has been asked a countless number of times, he responds, “There’s not a lot of point in describing a type. Maybe I tell you a type now, but by the time you publish this it’s no longer accurate.”
His answer is vague, and this is a sign of his growth. He knows how to use taichi now (dodge questions), and is no longer sentimental – he doesn’t use his feelings to do something big.
In the video edits on Bilibili, Liu Haoran has many CPs. One of the most popular is him and Jia Ling. I ask him, everyone says you match well with many actresses, what do you think? He slyly replies, “Of course I’m happy about that. It’s better than saying I don’t match well (with others), right?” He will also look at some of these video edits, and sometimes will note, so that’s what it looks like if I’m paired with this actress. “Even though they’re roles I’ve played before, you know you can get to this level. So I’ll think, if we really worked together, how would our chemistry be?”
We were asking about his relationships/feelings, but he steered it back towards work.
Taking away feelings, we finally get to ambition. Detective Chinatown 3 not being able to air as planned in early 2020 was like a stair suddenly disappearing in the air, leaving many stranded in their original position. Actors who rely on projects to do the talking for them also rely heavily on luck. Liu Haoran isn’t a youth who likes to show off, but when he filmed Moses on the Plains, he wanted a more mature role. Actor Liu Haoran’s thoughts aren’t hard to guess.
“Do you think this film will win awards?” When Liu Haoran hears this question, he answers with consideration, “Of course you want to – you worked hard filming. Of course you want to win awards, but what you can decide is very small. So just go with the flow.” He says it very carefreely, but his “of course” is very real, and reveals the ambition that he tries to hide.
His hobbies make him interesting, his work has given him fame and wealth, a sense of accomplishment. The 23 year old Liu Haoran views adults and youths this way: “A youth is someone who’s standing outside this circle. He’ll be thinking more about what will I do if I meet this situation, like taking a mock exam. You’re sitting on the outside looking at the real questions from every year, and then you’ll think of ways of answering. But for adults, they’re the ones who are sitting in the exam room.”
Liu Haoran is pretty pleased with this year’s arrangement of work . He has large blocks of work time, and then blocks to rest. It’s not like in the past, when he only had one day of rest amidst a busy schedule. When he talks about the two months break he took before, Liu Haoran says, “It’s very healthy. This way, work and life can be separated quite well, just like the part in An Actor’s Ten Commandments.”
I follow his logic and ask, “Is it like having summer vacation?”
He says yes.
But it’s actually not right. He hasn’t quite realized, an adult’s world no longer has summer vacation.