Haoran takes the cover of ELLE MEN China’s October 2020 issue for his 23rd birthday, his third time on the cover.
Amidst the recent flood of Haoran interviews, this one comes as a long form article, once again catching up with Haoran since his last magazine interview. The focus of this one is on returning to Zhengzhou as the image ambassador for the 35th Hundred Flower Awards, as well as his currently airing National Day films, My People My Homeland and Coffee or Tea?, and what his state mind of is as he turns 23 and enters his 7th year in the industry.
(Original article posted October 10, 2020)
The day of the interview, Liu Haoran has arrived very early. As soon as he sits down, he starts chatting with staff, “Have you seen the news? The new vaccine developed domestically has gone to clinical trials…” The room full of staff members are taken back by surprise, and Liu Haoran laughs shyly, his tiger tooth peeking out.
Liu Haoran’s smile is quite unique, seemingly half transparent. During the interview, he’s smiling almost the entire time. His eyes that are a little near-sighted seriously focus on everyone who talks to him. His expression is very penetrating. When you think of the name “Liu Haoran”, an image of his smile will easily come to mind.
He tells us, after the epidemic, many of his friends have changed careers, to do what makes them happy. We ask if he’s a little envious, and he shakes his head, “I’ve been doing what makes me happiest for a long time now.”
This past Chinese New Year’s, theaters in the entire nation were on hiatus, and the super popular Detective Chinatown 3, which Liu Haoran has a starring role in, could only push back its premiere. In the 180+ days that he bid farewell to theaters, Liu Haoran has been very busy. He’s gotten his diploma from the Central Academy of Drama, became the image ambassador for the Golden Rooster and Hundred Flowers Film Festival, and acted in four movies, including My People My Homeland and Coffee or Tea?, which will be fighting in the National Day slot.
My People My Homeland is the second project Liu Haoran filmed after resuming work. To be more specific, it’s one of the parts – A UFO Fell From the Sky. Director is Chen Sicheng, and costars are Wang Baoqiang and Huang Bo. Story tells of a small remote village, where a UFO is suddenly discovered. Liu Haoran plays journalist Xiao Qin, who, along with Wang Baoqiang’s Lao Tang (T/N: this is a reverse of their DC3 nicknames, which is Lao Qin and Xiao Tang), go to investigate, and embark on a bizarre comedy. From the characters to the story, it has a heavy Detective Chinatown vibe. Even during filming, everyone jokingly called it Detective Chinatown 2.5, saying that the two journalists weren’t here for interviews, but to investigate a case.
Filming took place in May, when the general environment was still quite serious, and theaters were far from re-opening. Nobody knew when this film would be able to premiere, but one thing was definite: this movie would become a sign of theaters resuming work. When cinemas reopen, it would come with it, and everyone’s regular lives “will have recovered”.
As he remembers what filming was like during that special period, what remains with Liu Haoran is more warmth and joy, because it was reuniting with friends after the lockdown, because they could still make movies. Liu Haoran remembers that at the filming site, there would always be a pot of food, with hot-and-sour fish or hot-and-sour fatty beef. Those who were filming would go film, while those who were done would come eat. This community atmosphere always gave him a lot of comfort, because where he started, the homeland where his heart is, was also that kind of lively place
The last time Liu Haoran was in his hometown of Pingdingshan was two years ago. The most recent impression he has of his hometown comes from during the epidemic, and when Liu Haoran saw it, he broke into laughter, and was also a little proud. (T/N: Henan, Pingdingshan included, got a lot of positive media coverage during lockdown in China for how well their local government, from the province governor to village chiefs, and their local people, handled everything.)
When he was 11, Liu Haoran left his hometown to study in Beijing, and only came home during summer and winter vacations. His emotional attachment to his hometown slowly began to fade, and he no longer even had close friends there. He would always think about returning to Beijing sooner to hang out with classmates, and was lonely when he came home. It was only after he grew up, and returned to this land, that he understood what “hometown” means, because it’s already changed.
Pingdingshan, as a late-comer industrial city, has speedily become modernized. Malls and skyscrapers have shot up, and it now has the textbook image of a city. Liu Haoran is both familiar and unfamiliar to this land, familiar with the place, unfamiliar with its appearance.
One time when Liu Haoran went home, he discovered that there were no longer kids playing outside after school in their apartment community. Where did the kids go? His own childhood was spent in his family building. The kids his age all went to school nearby, and when school was out, they’d all chaotically head home together. Though, they didn’t actually head home, but would hang out in the courtyard to do homework. After finishing homework, they still wouldn’t go home, and would play together.
At that time, they’d play whatever was trendy. If card games were on TV, they’d play card games, if yo-yos were what was featured, they’d play with yo-yos. Only until parents yelled for their kids to come home and eat dinner would they part. Sometimes, even if it got really late, they wouldn’t go home, and would sleep over at a neighbor’s. Liu Haoran, as a child, lived in total security. This feeling of security has become one of the things he misses the most when he visits his hometown.
Liu Haoran’s other National Day film Coffee or Tea? is also about hometowns. It’s about adults returning to their hometowns to chase their dreams. Liu Haoran’s filmed a lot of comedies, but he says the filming this time was a lot of fun. Because before, he tended to work with seniors more, but this time, the main actors and director are all young people. So when filming, there were no restrictions. Liu Haoran feels that it’s like they were filming a student project, playing together every day.
Coffee or Tea? is like a youth version of 3 Idiots, and tells of a crazy person, an idiot, and a loser, the entrepreneurial experience of three stooges. Liu Haoran plays the “loser” Wei Jinbei. When he was trying on his makeup and costume, the makeup artist gave Liu Haoran dark circles that were almost to his mouth. “What is this?“, he asked. The staff explained, because the character was always living in anxiety, to the point where he had insomnia, he has very strong dark circles. This amused Liu Haoran greatly, and he asked, “Does this mean I don’t need to sleep when filming?”
Wei JInbei has the very typical “success anxiety”. In recent years, this has become a common condition among city people, who deem “success” as their life goal. Every day, they’ll push them themselves greatly, constantly on alert for business opportunities, and fall into a ditch. Liu Haoran has a remark on this that’s right on the money: have a lot of ideas, but used to going with the wind (what’s popular), not understanding to persevere, “I don’t chase trends,” Liu Haoran will draw a line between himself and his character’s shortcomings. It’s only when he’s very serious that you see the old spirit hidden in his half-transparent face.
Liu Haoran has a natural youthful face, but his youthful aura has also become what restricts him. He is very clearly aware that he must break out of his comfort zone in roles, to have more directors and film people see his potential. In recent years, he’s experimented with breaking through in “supporting roles”. In My People My Country, people can see Liu Haoran displayed a “not clean, not pretty” version of himself. This (show of his) potential helped to open a door, but isn’t enough, “I haven’t been through enough love and pain. These things take time to experience, and it’s something that actors must feel, must do – emotions.”
For his roles, Liu Haoran has tried many things. He calls it “experimentation”. Once, he saw a John Travolta interview where the actor as talking about how he interpreted an “addict”. In order to experience a certain state, he used a pretty extreme method, and soaked in a hot bath after drinking. Liu Haoran used his method to lightly test, “When you encounter the warm temperature after drinking a little alcohol, all you can feel is that you’re about to be overwhelmed by the mist of the alcohol, and your heart feels overloaded.”
When he talks about his acting experiments, Liu Haoran becomes very excited. This was the “craziest” test he’s done for a role, but in the future, there will be more. To become an actor who can transform into different roles from styling, acting, and other aspects, Liu Haoran is willing to continuously experiment.
Throughout the interview, Liu Haoran voluntarily brings up the word “uneasy” 9 times. First is when he was recalling going to Beijing for school as a child. Liu Haoran came from a small town, and from the get-go, wasn’t very confident in his dance abilities. But when he was suddenly thrown into an environment surrounded by talented peers, it was the first time in his life that he couldn’t feel his own presence.
Liu Haoran honestly says that he was very lost at the time, “not knowing who I was”. It was the identity of “actor” that helped him to start finding himself again. However, the feeling of uneasiness continues to follow him like a shadow. To this day, when Liu Haoran films important scenes, he’ll suddenly feel anxious, just like he did as a child, when he felt invisible next to talent peers. The truth is, the “uneasiness” that Liu Haoran feels is an actor’s self-discipline.
October 10 is Liu Haoran’s 23rd birthday. The current him is in in the transition period between a youth and a man. He jokes, he sometimes feels that he’s already become a mature man, but two days later, he’s gone backwards. Maturity doesn’t seem like a very definite thing.
In a normal person’s life, 17 to 23 are the years where there are the most changes. Youth takes over childhood innocence, and ultimately gives time to steadiness, and film is LIu Haoran’s unique growing up method. Every single film is his “growth ring” (T/N: trees grow a new ring for every year of their existence, in other words, movies have documented Liu Haoran at every age since he debuted.)
Recently, Liu Haoran has liked a “lonely” game: Sudoku. He plays from the hardest level to the easiest level, from five minutes a session to two minutes, and has already gone through 400-500 games. He doesn’t need to talk to anyone during this time. “The opposite of independence is probably loneliness, but luckily, I actually quite enjoy this kind of loneliness. The more exposed I am (as a celebrity), the more time I need to talk to myself.” When he talks about enjoying loneliness, he laughs shyly, and admits that his friends all say he’s like an old man.
He’s acted for 10 years now, and has completed shooting for 20+ dramas and films. Between some of his films, they’ve achieved more than 7 billion RMB in total at the box office. It’s not an easy thing to accomplish for any actor, and Liu Haoran is when luck and determination are a match made in heaven. He’s like a seed that was accidentally blown onto the top of the mountain, and then stubbornly took root.
“I will not always hope that this wind continues to blow. Where I go in the future, I hope I can decide that myself.” In regards to luck and fate, Liu Haoran has long had his own understanding.
In Liu Haoran, the number of uncertain elements that we see is equal to the number of possibilities that he possesses. What we anticipate from him will ultimately be answered, and time will tell us the arrangements it has for him. This is a slow, long performance, and audiences must patiently watch. High efficiency is the norm in the entertainment circle. Everyone lives in the same urgent atmosphere. It’s like if you move a little slowly, the audience will run out of patience.
In the end, anyone who didn’t keep up with the speed of this huge ship will be relentlessly caught up in the propeller. Liu Haoran entered the industry at a very young age, and has long become used to this fast tempo. He says he always becomes anxious when he’s close to wrapping up a project, worrying about his next schedules. Those who have been in one industry for a long period will often be at odds with themselves.
“It’s probably a good thing as well, because it will always force me to keep going forward,” He adds, “But I’ll yell stop. I can’t continuously film project after project, because I won’t be in an alert state then. Of course, I also can’t rest too long, otherwise, I’m afraid I’ll be so comfortable I’ll just retire.” As he finishes talking, he laughs.