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Cover story: Actor Jasper Liu on playing the perfect boyfriend and his new EP
By: Zaneta Cheng
September 30, 2020
As heartthrob Jasper Liu steps into his second decade in the entertainment industry, he’s busier than ever before. With two TV series slated for broadcast at the end of the year and his first EP about to launch, the actor shares what the past 10 years have been like, and how he has reconciled self and craft with every undertaking
While many of us were sitting around twiddling our thumbs, thinking about whether we should write that elusive novel or learn a new language during the past several months of the great pause, actor and Asian heartthrob Jasper Liu has shot two TV shows in which he plays the lead male character and took singing lessons in order to release his first-ever EP.
The first TV series, Twelve Legends, is scheduled to air at the end of the year. A Chinese period fantasy drama set in the Republican era, Twelve Legends centres on Liu’s character, Jin Xingjian, a creature born from a rock mountain that lived for two millennia, and his love story with another creature, Ye Ming, born from a night pearl.
In contrast, Use for My Talent, a romantic dramedy that will appear on screens in 2021, is set in the present. In the show, Liu adopts the persona of Gu Renqi, a child of a broken family who’s obsessed with cleanliness and falls in love with his sloppy employee.
“I had a lot of fun playing this character [ Jin Xingjian],” says Liu. “When I first heard I was going to be a mountain, I was pretty excited, because I love nature. But it was quite hard, obviously, because no one I know has lived for 2,000 years, so I couldn’t really reference the people around me for my character.
I had to feel the character out as I went along because he’s seen it all in life, having lived for so long. I tried my best to minimise his reactions to everything. That character isn’t human, but the one in Use for My Talent is. I care a lot about cleanliness in my own life, so I tried to magnify that part of myself when I played my character.”
On playing the perfect boyfriend
With almost a decade of acting credits to his name, Liu is a veteran when it comes to portraying boyfriend roles. There’s his first leading role in the critically acclaimed 2013 TV series The Patisserie with No Name, a Chinese-language drama where he plays a happy-go-lucky backpacker who gets stranded and starts to work at a patisserie, where he falls in love with the pastry chef.
Then there are his more recent roles in the 2018 film More than Blue, in which he portrays a terminally ill patient in a love story – its original Chinese title literally translates to “a story more sorrowful than sorrow” – and the 2019 TV series Before We Get Married, where his character is a morally questionable stockbroker who falls in love with another woman while in a 10-year relationship of his own.
For all the love and adoration Liu gets for his performances today, acting didn’t come easily to him. Living proof of “slow and steady wins the race”, Liu began his acting career with trepidation.
“When I first started acting, I wasn’t sure how to express myself and I doubted my abilities as an actor,” he recalls. “I never went to a performing arts school, so when I first landed an important role, I thought a lot about how I needed to act it out. I placed too much focus on how my character looked on-screen and on actions such as how long I needed to turn my head for in a scene, rather than looking within the character and understanding his personality and emotions.”
After extensive training, including taking acting lessons and gaining experience with each role, Liu’s approach to acting has changed dramatically today, though certain challenges remain.
“Whenever I land a new role, I try my best to get my script as soon as possible and carry it with me wherever I go,” he says. “This is to try and get a grasp of what it feels like to be my character in real life. Gradually, I learned how to build my movie characters and express who they are from the inside out.”
Being cast in a variety of romantic pairings, Liu feels that playing “the boyfriend” isn’t as easy as it appears. To distinguish one role from another and to bring a different tenor to each part, Liu finds himself looking in the most unexpected places for inspiration.
“Since I play a lot of boyfriend roles, I differentiate each of them by finding one distinct characteristic that makes them stand out and focus on that,” he explains. “For example, when I played Ke-huan in Before We Get Married, I focused on changing my gaze and my smile when I saw the female lead in the movie. What I had to see was not a pretty girl, but rather almost a piece of prey. The way I build each character and step into them differs.”
“I usually start by imitating people around me, observing if anyone I know has certain personality traits or mannerisms that I can borrow when I play my character,” he continues. “If not, I turn to other actors who have played similar roles. In this case, for Ke-huan, I actually looked to my director because he has this very cool presence. I remember one time he just went and casually sat on a sofa on a stage in front of 200 people with his sunglasses on. He was smack-bang in the middle and the centre of attention, but he was unfazed. That’s how my character was meant to be. So I learned from him during the entirety of the filming process.”
On getting in and out of character
Rather than having trouble immersing himself in a role, Liu found it somewhat difficult to extricate himself from his character once off-set. “Stepping out of character is easier to do now, but when I was in More than Blue, both being in and out of character was rather tough for me,” he recalls.
“I would have to film a crying scene every day and by the end of it, playing my character really took a toll on me. I was tired of crying, tired of being sad and tired of feeling that I wanted to live because my character was dying. That character engulfed me and I lost a lot of weight – I was only 64 or 65 kilograms back then. A lot of people actually came to visit us while we were filming, so the atmosphere on set was really lively, but I still felt uncomfortable because I was so immersed in my character. People told me afterwards that they all felt I was a bit off back then because I was so deeply in the zone.”
At his core, fame hasn’t really changed Liu. When asked about this inescapable by-product of the career he has chosen to pursue, Liu remains unmoved. “I didn’t become famous overnight,” he says. “So there weren’t any sudden changes in my life. I started out as a model, then I did commercials and then I went into acting. Gradually, more and more people came to know me. I wouldn’t say fame bothers me or affects my life a lot, but now when I go out for a walk or go shopping, I can’t be as relaxed as I was when I graduated from university.”
This idea of security is pervasive throughout much of Liu’s approach to life and work. “Feeling secure is very important to me. Although I’ve been in the industry for 10 years, I still get nervous whenever I start a new movie, because it means filming in an entirely new environment,” he says. “Whenever I film somewhere unfamiliar, I take a walk around the set to ease myself into the new space.”
On filming Twogether
Despite this need for security, Liu is one to throw himself into uncharted waters. Filmed in September 2019, Twogether is a travel documentary starring Liu and Korean actor Lee Seung-gi. Released on Netflix, the two actors travel to six cities across Asia where they’re tasked with completing missions together, despite not speaking one another’s language, in order to find their fans.
“I quite enjoyed it,” says Liu of the experience. “It was my first proper reality show, where nothing was scripted from beginning to end. I got to travel and meet my fans, so I was very happy. Most of the time, I didn’t know what I was doing or what to expect. Sometimes I wouldn’t even know where my flight was headed – so there was really no way to anticipate or script my reactions. They were all honest and immediate, and nothing was pre-recorded.”
Not that the experience wasn’t without its difficulties. “It was really scary – especially this one time when I had to jump off the cliff into the water. But I braved it head-on anyway because I wanted to see my fans,” says Liu, who also gives credit to Lee for being his rock during filming.
“When we were filming together, I was really thankful for [Lee] because the whole crew was Korean,” he adds. “Every time I had a question, the only answer I got was ‘I don’t know’, so I could only turn to him for help. He was my only partner.” Serving as a perfect counterpoint to one another, Lee’s openness was particularly infectious. A quick Google search of the programme yields fun video clips of Lee being playful while Liu is responsibly meting out the duo’s allowance. Rather than sowing discord, this partnership opened Liu up.
“I’ve learned from him that you just have to go forward and do things courageously without thinking too much,” says Liu. “Lee Seung-gi is a really nice person and he becomes close with whoever he meets. I’m different; I worry a lot about how I should approach different people. But he just does it without overthinking. He also takes good care of the people around him.”
The show was touted by outlets across Asia as the reality show of the year, as viewers watched the two actors communicate with one another in a mix of Korean, Chinese and English, starting off as virtual strangers except for one pre-show meeting and ultimately becoming friends. For Liu, who at the start of his career would be nervous even in interviews, the experience shows just how far he has come since then.
“I used to get really nervous during interviews and felt like I had to speak very eloquently,” confesses Liu. “I really wanted to sound smart and talk smoothly like other actors, but I realised I wasn’t that kind of person. I’m someone who needs to take time to think about what I want to get across with my words. Now I’ve accepted myself for who I am. I’ve learned to believe in myself, and I’m more at ease and comfortable in my own skin.”
On his first EP release
One of the results of Liu feeling the most secure in his own skin since the start of his career is his first EP release. For fans who can’t get enough of his TV and film performances, Liu’s singing is a true testament to his courage.
“I barely sing in real life,” he says. “I go to karaoke maybe two times a year, tops!” But during the pandemic, he made an effort to train with his voice coach daily to prepare for the release. “My EP has one fast song and three slow songs, and for me, they were all equally challenging to sing,” says Liu.
“Singing is really different from acting. In a movie, you can use different editing tools and background music. The interaction between actors helps create a certain atmosphere and a certain message. But when it comes to singing, it’s just me – and I have to express all my emotions in three short minutes.”
Liu continues: “I think as a singer, attitude is very important because I have to know who I want to be and what I want to say to my audience the moment I step onto the stage. As an actor, I can hide behind the characters I play and become whoever my character is. Maybe it’s because I haven’t been a singer before, but I find standing on the stage quite daunting.
When I film a movie, I can start over and make mistakes; it’s just a bunch of people creating and experimenting together. But when I sing, I’m really alone – no one can cover for me.” Nonetheless, Liu is determined to master the art.
“Rather than thinking about my fears, I attend singing classes whenever I have the time,” he says. “When I actually have to open my mouth and sing, I don’t have the time to be nervous anymore. I just do it – and try to do it well.” While the actor is the most thankful for the support and recognition he gets for his work and is constantly inspired by the people and talent around him, he’s most grateful to his mum and dad.
On who his #legend is
When asked who his #legend is, Liu’s response is his parents. “They were really open and gave me a lot of space when I first started out as an actor,” he says. “They’re really supportive of my career and they’re probably the first ones to see my work. My mother tells me that with what I do for a living, I receive a lot of love and care from my audience and fans, so I have to give back and help others whenever I can. I hope to become like them – a person who helps others.”
Photography / Mr. Triangle
Stylist / Eddie Yeah
Hair / Yun
Make-Up / jam80160857 美少女工作室
This story was published in the October 2020 issue of #legend magazine.