We welcome the first magazine cover of 2021 as Haoran unlocks ELLE China, bringing his total count on the big 10 magazines to 9! Not only is this his first ELLE China cover, it’s also their first issue of the year (one of the most important months for fashion magazines).
It’s been a comparatively quiet year for Haoran on the magazine front as it’s been an insanely busy year for him (and also because he did so many magazine covers in 2018 and 2019), but even so, he’s been on the covers for 4 of the 5 major men’s magazines this year alone, including both GQ China and Esquire China, and is starting off 2021 with a new magazine checked off. As always, magazine covers are a more “nice to have” than “must have”, but it’s good to see Haoran continuing to do strongly in this area!
Because it’s been a while since we’ve caught up with him, the ELLE cover interview is a packed one, in which Haoran takes on a number of topics, including looking back on his 2020 and how the disruption of COVID-19 changed his mindset, what it feels like to have now graduated from the Central Academy of Drama, why he tested for a government-affiliated institution and joined the China Coal Mine Art Troupe, how he’s trying to balance growing up and risk, and how that’s driving his project choices, an interesting convo on opportunity cost, and lots more.
Bonus Q&A at the end.
As a reminder, you can find links to all his magazine cover shoots as well as the translations of the interviews (where applicable) on this page.
(Original article published 12.9.20)
How accomplished are “other people’s children*”? Let Liu Haoran tell you.
T/N: A popular Internet phrase used to describe the smart and successful kids parents often compare their own kids to.
To Liu Haoran, in this “order amidst chaos” 2020, there are many changes that are still taking place, and he has slowly become accustomed to standing above uncertainty.
“I’m standing on the roof of a 38 floor building, 100 meters above the ground. At a gravitational acceleration of 9.8m/s2, I will bid farewell to this world in 4.472 seconds.” After his most recent failure, young entrepreneur Wei Jinbei has thoughts like this. If the wind blew just a bit harder in that moment, he might’ve fallen into the air like a bird. (T/N: This is a scene from Haoran’s recent movie Coffee or Tea?)
With a “pop”, the champagne overflows the bottle, but before the happy bubbles can finish a dance, Liu Haoran has received the news that his project’s premiere has been delayed, “Are you joking?” He said without thinking, and then looked at the people beside him, stunned.
Wei Jinbei went to Yunnan, and in an isolated mountain village, stayed with the coffee trees and his friends, quietly waiting for the flowers to bear fruits. He ended up staying there for three years.
Without drinking the champagne, Liu Haoran made call after call, remembering, “Was just really confused. I didn’t know anything, because I’ve never been through this kind of thing before.” It was only later, when he had resumed work completely, that he found relief. He says, “Even if it were to all happen again, I wouldn’t be able to change anything. It’s not what I can decide, so I need to not worry about it, to not think about it. Just live tomorrow well.”
He describes himself as “someone who isn’t that pessimistic”. Because of the unique nature of his career, he believes that spreading joy, showing a sunshiny side, is very important. He keeps his negative emotions to himself. But the meeting between an actor and his role is a marvelous one, and it’s why so many people in the industry are mesmerized by it – they (the actor and his role) take care of each other.
Wei Jinbei’s inner conflict exists, more or less, in Liu Haoran as well. Thus, the Liu Haoran who has been been standing at the outlet of opportunity/risk from very early on, found comfort in the story of Wei Jinbei, who persistently hunted for new opportunities.
“When did you suffer the most from inner conflict?”
In past interviews, he very rarely talked about these things (T/N: he’s talked about how hard filming was for NEF due to its length, but he’s never talked about the opportunity cost before, and how much pressure that gave him.)
Liu Haoran responds, “When filming Novoland: Eagle Flag. I was on set filming for 9 months, and it was a long time. Before that, I’ve never stayed on set for that long of a time. And that means one thing: high risk.”
He describes it as going “all in” when playing cards. The immense pressure came from uncertainty. And the reality is, the pressure was also transferred to Liu Haoran’s team. Time was like a fine web, and his team had to extend it whenever they could, stuffing the work that absolutely had to be completed in the rare gaps that appeared.
The Liu Haoran who was living the life of a young hero (on set) still received news that came from the real world. “If a pretty good opportunity came knocking on the door, they might be willing to wait one or two months, but I needed to remain on set for 9 months. So it essentially meant giving up the ability to make choices in those 9 months.” On one end, he was doing his best to complete the project, and on the other, seeing all the missed opportunities slip by. Liu Haoran says during that time, his perception of “pressure and stress” exceeded his previous imaginings.
“The things you’ve never personally experienced before, it’s all a waste of words if you say it out loud. So you can’t say it easily to others. Very few people can truly push away reality.” Through his inner turmoil and the powerlessness that he felt, Liu Haoran has become more certain about the substance of his career.
“I’ve always felt that an actor’s job is to act, to work hard in completing filming. And afterwards? Use your actions or your appeal to tell everyone, I filmed a project, it’s about to come out. Do promotions and go on road shows. Aside from that, nothing else can be decided by the actor.” Liu Haoran’s ability to let go also came from those 9 months, after steadfastly completing every shot.
The reality of 2020 broke Liu Haoran’s normal work style. In the years that he’s been in the industry, he has always followed the rules that he learned from his seniors. Before entering the set of a new project, he’ll complete a review of the script, bring up the questions he has to the director, and wait to start work as they continue to communicate. On average, he’d need half the year, and at the very least 4 to 5 months. But as Liu Haoran looks back on 2020, he describes it as, “living a life where you only think about today, and not tomorrow”.
“More and more uncertainties, and things of an accidental nature, appeared. A lot of work arrangements came up last minute. The way I worked before was fairly traditional, so with this sudden change, I really wasn’t comfortable with it in the beginning.”
The project that was supposed to start filming on the sixth day of the Lunar New Year (Moses on the Plains) unsurprisingly halted production. Liu Haoran spent the time under lockdown with his family, and even though he stuffed himself with food, it was a rare opportunity where they got to spend time together. Liu Haoran spent it peacefully, though he’d occasionally feel suffocated.
Temporarily forgetting about character biographies, putting aside elaborate and thorough thoughts and designs, and completely relaxing into the collision between partners and the scene. Though he’s still not completely used to handling it yet, and it’s yet to be seen whether he’ll need to (be used to this sort of work style), to Liu Haoran, this year of “order amidst chaos” has seen a lot of changes take place. Among these, includes the fact that he has officially completed all of his courses for his undergraduate studies, and has graduated from the Central Academy of Drama.
“Suddenly felt a little panicked, ” Liu Haoran says that he has always treated school like a “harbor for the heart“.
“Before, I wasn’t filming all year round. There would always be some time that I would spend at school. And at that time, I felt, even when I wasn’t filming, I still had another identity. I treated it as a self-protection of sorts. Now, I’m someone who has completely entered into society. It used to be that before, I would be pretty happy when I wrapped a project, but now, when I’m resting at home, I’ll suddenly feel quite down in spirits.”
Life is no longer a train that’s operating on a completely straight track.
From when he was 11, communal living has become one of the most familiar aspects of LIu Haoran’s lifestyle. To some degree, it’s his safety net, and is something that life on filming sets can’t replace.
He says, “When I’m on set for a project, daily life doesn’t really follow a routine. For example, when you begin work on a day to day basis. Even when you’re resting, everyone is hanging out together, worrying about work the next day. And we don’t even necessarily have time to hang out every day. But at school, classes are really interesting, and it’s a lot of fun after class too. I can go play basketball with classmates, go get BBQ. Even if we have classes the second day, we can still enjoy hanging out together, especially since everyone is living together in the dorms.”
There are some ideas that have taken root in his heart from a very early age. On September 8, he officially became an actor member of the China Coal Mine Art Troupe, and “Liu Haoran has successful tested for a public institution” quickly shot up the trending searches.
“It’s a concept that’s been instilled in me since I was young, it’s a very traditional (path)*. Because when I was little, it’s not like now. To us, lead roles belonged to senior actors in the art troupe who had more than 10 or 20 years of career experience. But by the time I graduate, the environment had already changed. Of course, this change is also due to the development in this era. I’m very lucky to have been in time (for this era), when there are roles that are leaning to younger actors. I’ve also been very lucky to have landed in the list of those chosen (for leading roles). But testing for an art troupe has been a goal that I set when I was very young, so it wouldn’t easily be swayed. So being able to test into a good art troupe after graduation, for me, that’s a great decision.”
*T/N: It used to be the traditional path for actors coming out of performing arts schools to test for art/theater troupes, but it’s something that’s not seen much anymore for young actors who are already well known.
The nervousness he felt during the interview was lessened by the fact that it was a “cloud audition”. But the Liu Haoran who is used to tests, when facing the exam officer on his phone screen, suddenly doubted his performance. He says, “When I did my thesis presentation for graduation, it was also through video, and I felt really strange afterwards. It was the same for the test this time. You can’t see the exam officer (when you’re performing), you put your phone there, and you’re acting to an empty room.” Liu Haoran has some regrets about it.
Testing for a public institution was decided a year before he graduated. When Liu Haoran was reaching the end of his thesis essay, he also was simultaneously weighing classmates’ suggestions and screening results to decide his target.
“I can’t really clearly express what this means to me. But maybe my decision will give everyone a different perspective.”
Liu Haoran says he’s very clear on the discussions around his successful acceptance into a public institution, but the truth is, he is no longer just purely experiencing the vastness of great heights. He has begun to understand the direction of the wind. He entered the industry at a young age, and up until now, has always only identified as an actor. Since he’s an actor, he hopes that he can earn more recognition (through his acting), that’s all.
“The work for an art troupe doesn’t require me to be in the office every day. It’s based on the performance tasks assigned in a given year. And also, I’m a newbie who just entered the art troupe. It’s not like what you think, where I can take on a lead role tomorrow. That’s impossible.”
Based on the rules, it’s highly possible that Liu Haoran will start out as an extra, and constantly changing costumes backstage. He thinks if it reall is like this, he’ll feel very happy, because this is an opportunity that he doesn’t encounter anymore in drama and film performance.
Liu Haoran says, “It’s like suddenly returning to childhood, renewing your respect towards acting. I’ve always believed in the idea of ‘inheritance’ (inherited arts), whether it was at the secondary school of the Beijing Dance Academy or the Central Academy of Drama. I know that at every stage of one’s life, there is a role that belongs to the you then.”
He is afraid that he’ll lose the reverence he has for the industry, so he’ll jump out of his comfort zone to take on more risks. Liu Haoran has slowly come to the realization that between “thinking” and “doing” something, there is a lot of courage and talent needed.
“In a project, it’s hard to consider all aspects – whether a role is interesting and fresh, whether the production team is mature, etc. A few years ago, an awkward problem that I encountered was that young directors had a lot of pressure on them, so they probably wouldn’t cast me. For me, I also felt that pressure. Of course, that’s just how it was a couple of years ago. More recently, as I’m becoming more mature in my work, I also have more increased autonomy. So when I encounter this kind of script now (with new directors), I’ll feel calmer. Before, I would be doubtful of whether I could handle this kind of pressure and risk.”
Liu Haoran has observed that there has been increased diversity in film & TV these last few years. Audiences’ vision is broadening, and they’re becoming more and more sensitive in their perception of works. This is something he’s felt strongly from reading the comments on his projects. He believes that as a creator, you can’t even slack a little, because audiences will be able to tell right away whether or not you put in effort, whether or not you truly spent time studying your role.
“And compared to previous years, they’re sharper, more accurate. So you not only need to ensure that you are growing, but also that you’re growing at a faster speed than audiences.”
It’s not just audiences’ perception that has changed. As an actor, Liu Haoran’s personal taste and judgement of projects has also unconsciously changed. He says, “I’ve discovered that when it comes to my favorite films, the ones that are purely dependent on the actor to hold up the project may no longer be in consideration.”
The integration of works is something Liu Haoran values, not only when it comes to evaluating other works, but for his own performance as well. The past to the present has formed his own unique ups and down curve, and Liu Haoran summarizes it as “back to basics”.
He says honestly, when he first entered the industry, he was still young, so he relied more on his natural personality to act. But as he accumulated experience and his own thoughts, the professional eye and an actor’s thinking gradually came together and was able to be applied during filming.
“In the beginning stages, some monologues were actually quite great as a way to practice, but as I used a particular style more and more, I needed to experiment and try other methods. Especially as your works increase, and your roles are close together, you need to try out different acting styles.”
LIu Haoran isn’t certain what these changes or improvements will be reliant on to occur. Many times, the unquantifiable changes in the industry makes him feel more illusory. It might not come from the accumulated understanding towards strangers, nor is it based on the number of views. As an audience member, Liu Haoran doesn’t like to analyze (as he’s watching something). He just wants to feel the story. Perhaps it’ll only leave something behind in his mind if he treats it like it’s naturally occurring (not thinking too much about a drama/film from the view someone who belongs in the industry).
“Many aspects of an actor’s career is decided by time. For example, getting into a character, and then coming out of it. Or things that I didn’t understand as a freshman. I might not have spent a lot of time trying to study it more, but suddenly understand it in these last coupe of years. This is what life experience brings to actors. Of course, natural talent is very important for an actor, but you have to experience the passing of time, experience life – all the joy, sadness, things that accidentally occur. Emotional fluctuations are where actors can find growth. Talent decides how much much you can absorb after experiencing these things.”
Liu Haoran sometimes will feel that his life is too comfortable, especially when his suggestions are used during a project. What he gets from it isn’t satisfaction, it’s fear. Sometimes he’ll ask himself, have I already thought everything through in my early 20s?
He is willing to work with directors that he’s worked with in the past, because next to them, he can find the older versions of himself. He says a couple of years ago, he was still probably seen as a child, as a student, to the outside world. But now that he’s graduated, not only has his mentality changed. Along with it comes more stringent requirements and scrutiny from others.
“There isn’t anything in the world that doesn’t come with a cost,” Liu Haoran says, “I often feel like I”m still someone who hasn’t been in the industry for very long. At least in my perspective, I still have a long way to go as an actor, so I”m not in a hurry.” Liu Haoran himself will decide any new starting line. Amidst uncertainty, that’s the only thing that’s certain.
Bonus Q&A from ELLE Style Awards 2020
Q: Share a story that you have that’s related to Chengdu
LHR: I haven’t filmed in Chengdu before, my impression of it comes from hearing the song “Chengdu”.
Q: If ELLE was a real person, what kind of woman would she be?
LHR: Gentle and elegant.
Q: If ELLE had a time machine, what moment would you want to return to?
LHR: To the Three Kingdoms era. Among the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature, it (Romance of the Three Kingdoms) is my favorite. Also the film and drama adaptations of it. Zhuge Liang, Cao Cao, Liu Bei, these historical figures…I’m quite interested in that part of history.
Q: What’s the post that you made recently (on WeChat) with the most likes from friends?
LHR: I recently got my graduation certificate and bachelor’s degree, so I posted it in my Moments (on WeChat). Had about 150 likes. I don’t have many friends on WeChat, about 400+.
Q: What’s the present you want to receive the most for New Year’s?
LHR: A good bottle of wine.
Q: Share your New Year plans or wishes.
LHR: Detective Chinatown 3 has announced Chinese New Year’s Day 2021 premiere, so in terms of plans, I’ll either be filming on set or running around for road shows. For a New Year wish, it would be that 2021 is different from 2020. 2020 was too scary.