“I want to continuously break through and surpass myself, and become an actor everyone approves of. I want everyone to see my possibilities.”
Xiao Zhan learned how to draw from a young age, and he especially loved to draw planets and monsters. When he watched movies as a child and saw the Martian monsters, his imagination would start to run wild as he would begin to battle these monsters. Back then, he was a boy who loved outer space; he firmly believed in the existence of aliens. When he saw UFO related news, he was excited, curious, and scared: will aliens be nice to us?
Later when he read “The Three Body Problem”, this feeling became stronger. He would exclaim about the scale of the author’s imagination and the universe, while doing research to understand the elements of physics and astronomy in the novel. Xiao Zhan would also imagine the appearanceS of the characters, “A science student, he might be wearing glasses, he definitely has a very high IQ, and has the ability to take decisive action. But he’s an idiot when it comes to life, just like Sheldon in The Big Bang Theory.”
A Lively, Excellent Youth
Wrapped in a thick winter jacket, Xiao Zhan sat in front of the window in the hotel room doing our interview after having just finished filming for the day. His eyes are long and slender, and filled with passion. His attitude was polite and humble, and he was overflowing with liveliness which left a strong impression.
He has had his own studio since his second year of university, and became a designer after graduation. As an excellent student, Xiao Zhan felt the strongest sense of accomplishment when he participated in a logo design project together with his seniors during his internship, and the client chose his design. His career as a designer continued until 2015, when he joined the variety show “X-Fire” off of his university professor’s recommendation. He made his debut, his life went a different course, and he became a popular idol.
In reality, the challenges of being an artist is no less than battling aliens. The flowers and applause go hand in hand with rumors and slander. This troubled him, as his life has been smooth sailing until this point, “When the competition had just ended, there were some voices of dissent. Back then I couldn’t understand it well. Now I’m more at peace; because you picked this path, you must learn to endure. There will be people who like you, and there will be people who dislike you.”
This cruel logic behind the spotlight would have been unimaginable to him before. “The audience don’t see what you’ve experienced, they will only judge you from the end result.” He’s currently filming his first historical period movie, it’s a daily task for him to film in the mountain outdoors in -15 °C weather. “We’re filming by the lake, and every day we can see the lake water slowly turn to ice. Today it’s totally frozen, and you can walk on it. After every scene, I have to put hot water packs on my face, or my face would become frozen and numb, and out of my control.” Because there were scenes where he had to shout, Xiao Zhan’s voice is already hoarse.
Xiao Zhan overcomes such bitterness and tiredness well, but the monster he wants to defeat the most is self-restriction. “When I was getting my makeup done earlier, I was thinking, a celebrity is like a product. Hair and styling are the packaging on this product that gives it bonus points. I will show everyone the best side of myself, but I don’t want to be overly packaged, it has to contain my real personality. I hope that everyone will accept my flashy appearance as a public figure, but also accept my shortcomings and minor problems, because I am a real living person.”
This kind of sincerity and clarity is where Xiao Zhan’s wisdom lies.
A Reliable Sense of Security
2018 was a year in which Xiao Zhan grew at a rapid pace. He starred in several dramas including “The Wolf”, “Joy of Life”, and “The Untamed”. He honed his acting, and shined brilliantly.
As a lead male actor in “The Untamed”, Xiao Zhan had many scenes with few breaks in between. He filmed continuously in the extreme heat of Hengdian, and he remained tense as a cord the entire time. The temperature on set went as high as 50 °C, the makeup on his face didn’t hold at all, and he was more or less just filming bare-faced. The most unforgettable moment was a crying scene, the explosion of emotions for Wei Wuxian portrayed by Xiao Zhan after the destruction of Jiang Sect. They started filming this scene from early morning, he and “Shi-jie” were crying since 7AM, and their eyes were swollen like goldfish after filming. When he filmed “The Wolf” before, he attended acting lessons systematically, and grew rapidly on set. “I became familiar with the atmosphere, and learned how to adapt to the tension in the air. After all, there are more than 100 people working on set because of you, you can’t make any mistakes.”
Xiao Zhan has a sense of security about him. “The Wolf” was his first time taking on the second male lead, and he had a lot of pressure during that time, to the point of often dreaming about filming. Every time after filming, he would ask people to give him feedback, and he continuously learned and analyzed then quickly made adjustments.
Later on, he started raising a cat, a munchkin cat named Jianguo. After the acting teacher found out, the homework he assigned to Xiao Zhan was to observe his own cat. As a cat slave, he enjoyed the process, “I can discover some things I would normally miss, for example how her purrs are different when she’s angry, attached to you, or asking for food.” Xiao Zhan loves his cat a lot. After work, the first thing he does is go home to play with her. His private life is quiet and simple, and he just always stays at home. “Staying at home is like falling into a cloud, you can toss and turn, and there is no stress.”
“My life has no exaggeration.” That’s what he thinks gives people this sense of security. While his parents support him in his career path, they do have worries. Xiao Zhan often communicates with his parents, and shares his accomplishments with them so that they can feel at ease.
In this entire interview process, Xiao Zhan has an air of purity and vigor that are unique to youths, and he feels more real as a person than what we’re used to. “In our lives, we will experience different stages, and each stage will have a different goal. In the future, I want to continuously break through and surpass myself, and become an actor everyone approves of. I want everyone to see my possibilities.”
“I don’t have a choice in whether or not I’m an idol, that label is already stuck to me. But I want to slowly take off the idol label, and become an actor that people will approve of, and I hope that people will see more of the inner me.”
ELLE: It’s almost Valentine’s Day, what kind of boyfriend do you think you are?
Xiao Zhan: I’m the type who will think of the other person. If in the future I find my other half, whether she’s busy, sad, or happy, I’ll try my best to interact with her in a way that she likes.
ELLE: Would you be the gentle puppy type of boyfriend?
Xiao Zhan: I definitely have a strong side as well, but if you’re like that all the time, how do you live together? If I have my other half, trust and responsibility are most important.
ELLE: What kind of girl would you most want to date?
Xiao Zhan: I’ve said several times in previous interviews that I like the gentle type, but I think it depends on the feeling, you can’t say for sure.
ELLE: If you bid farewell to your single status, how would you want to spend a romantic Valentine’s Day?
Xiao Zhan: We’ll stay at home, and cook together. There’s a saying, if you love the right person, then every day is Valentine’s Day. You don’t have to go and join the party on that one specific day. Being a celebrity already comes with a sense of grandeur, so we need to go back to being ourselves, and experience life. If every day is grand and spectacular, it would be very tiring. No one can act every day, and I really don’t like the kind of thing where you confess in front of an audience. I think ordinary life is timeless.
ELLE: If you could take a vacation now, what would you do?
Xiao Zhan: Stay at home, keep my mom and dad company, and play with my cat.
ELLE: Are you a typical Libra?
Xiao Zhan: I’m not, I don’t have problems making decisions. When I shop, I buy things immediately. But sometimes I feel conflicted over things I care about. For example, today I filmed this scene, and I wasn’t completely satisfied with it, so I’ll think about it from morning to night, and talk about it to the point of annoyance for people around me.
Notes from Author:
On a winter day in December of 2018, a group of us went to a hotel near where Xiao Zhan was filming, and talked with him for an hour. Then we progressed to the photoshoot, and spent another night with him. The theme of the magazine was “Science Boyfriend”, so the questions we asked were with that in mind.
Frankly speaking, this interview with Xiao Zhan was the most fun interview I’ve done in December, or even in the past few years; maybe because we’re both cat slaves.
The interview took place in his hotel room. As the skies were dimming, the staff led me through the hotel hallways until we arrived at his room. He wore a warm jacket over a white bathrobe, and his hair and makeup were already done, he was bright and energetic.
Unlike young celebrities who stopped going to school early on, Xiao Zhan has his profession beyond the skills of this industry. He is good at design too, and everything about his way of speaking and mannerisms seems like what you would expect of a good student.
His sincerity. He shared with us the things that troubled him as a rookie who stepped into the entertainment industry and rose rapidly, like how he filmed in the dead of winter next to a frozen lake and needed to use warm water packs to unfreeze his face so that he can continue filming. He said, it’s unfortunate that the audience can’t see this side. He’s able to look at the entertainment industry from the perspective of an ordinary person while being in the industry himself; only Xiao Zhan can do this so accurately, precisely, and honestly.
There is nothing exaggerated about him. His parents used to worry that this career wasn’t stable or not even enough to feed him, so he sent them all his income. He also put a lot of thought into his imagined girlfriend; he doesn’t like the performance-style expression of love like confessing in front of an audience. When he’s not working, he likes to just stay at home and play with his cat.
His understanding of an idol is, “I don’t have a choice in whether or not I’m not an idol, that label is already stuck to me. But I want to slowly take off the idol label, and become an actor that people will approve of, and I hope that people will see more of the inner me.”
I used “eyes alight” to describe his beauty, and the reflection of his gaze. His handsomeness is a school of its own, and a part of him.
During breaks in filming, we shared our cat pictures with each other. His short-legged cat Jianguo is very cute. He doesn’t feel like a distanced celebrity.
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