Kris Wu: Living For Myself
GQ MAGAZINE OCTOBER 2016
Entering the industry at age 17, debuting at 22, and returning to China at 24 to further develop his career. After two years, Kris Wu is standing once again at another juncture of his life. Going forth, taking on the vast road ahead; looking back, he does not seem as clueless as he was in the beginning, like a blank canvas.
He has always said that, the first triumph in his life, was when he was one step away from being a professional basketball player; and the first defeat in his life, was when he knew that his dreams of continuing a professional basketball career were dashed. The harshness of competitive sports had resulted in him landing in the entertainment industry, taking on challenges, changing, confronting difficulties, and similarly, it was necessary for him to face them as well.
Whether he was popular or not, it was not uncommon. Be it good or bad, maintaining status quo until losses were faced. “In this industry, the passive competition is rather excessive,” Kris Wu said, “People should live for themselves.”
Kris Wu had given himself a long vacation. Along with his best friend outside the entertainment industry, Kevin, he made a trip to Los Angeles, for an entire 15 days. He found out that there was a new change in the city - Passers-by all had their heads lowered, focused on their mobile phones, totally immersed in a certain mobile game.
He drove to the Los Angeles beachside, where there were rollercoasters and ferris wheels, with plans to host a lively party. Just as he stopped the car, a group of people frantically rushed past them towards the beach. Kris initially thought that a superstar had suddenly appeared, but in the end found out that it was because a rare Pokemon had suddenly appeared. Recalling this incident, it was hard for Kris Wu to conceal his excitement. “When I witnessed this in person, it genuinely shocked me, I even used my phone to record the moment on video.”
Kris Wu felt that this kind of game was a type of “phenomenon” in society, whereby within a short span of time, everyone and everything would be unable to shake it. He then excitedly recounted an incident. Justin Bieber was also an avid player of this game, and one day when he was outside, it just so happened that there were rare Pokemon in the area, and with a burst of energy he immediately sped towards the crowd, battling alongside a group of strangers. The people around were oblivious to him, but only after catching the Pokemon did they asked out loud as an afterthought, “Was that person Justin Bieber?”
Thinking back on this trip, Kris Wu evaluated that it was happy, relaxing and satisfying. In his opinion, with passers-by all around completely immersed in the game, led to him having an unimpeded trip, as there were very few instances he encountered the “famous people problem” of fans recognising him. Going unnoticed in day to day life, this popular celebrity repeatedly expressed that this was his genuine wish, he looks forward to having such moments of freedom where he can walk on the streets and not be eyed, and hopes that in the later days to come there could be more of these.
“Not having freedom is extremely terrifying”
After a day of shooting for GQ, Kris Wu immediately changed into his most comfortable, loose-fitting T-shirt, got into the back of the car, his tall frame leaning backwards into a comfortable position, as he stretched out his long legs and rested them on the back of the seat in front, getting into the most comfortable position. He pulled his collar open, pinning the recording device at a spot next to his collarbones, and patted the seat next to him, turned towards the reporter and said, “Let’s start.”
He has always said that his personality is “one that finds it hard to bear a moment without freedom.” Therefore, no matter how nervous he is during work, he absolutely has to have a music player by his side, to use music to change the working environment. The many years of living abroad has led him to be enamoured with hip hop culture. At the press of a button, as the music starts up, each muscle immediately moves to the beat, a complete change to the working attitude he has maintained all day.
After having returned to China for over two years, the biggest change that has happened to this 26-year-old is – Initiative. “Only when you treat the movie crew as your family, will you then be able to act well.” This was what a director had told Kris Wu previously, and it has imperceptibly become his belief at work. The same goes for interviews, it is as if he is receiving a guest in his own living room, and as the host, taking the initiative to bring up topics, express feedback, and control the entire flow.
From 2014 to 2016, he took on 8 films non stop. As with other top artistes, every minute counts. His time is counted by the hour, fuelled by efficiency, he moves on swiftly from one job to another. The day before shooting for GQ, he was in Shanghai for an event for an alcoholic product, and after completing a shoot for another magazine in the middle of the night, still had to rush down for another movie character costume fitting. There were close to twenty sets of outfits, and he practically did not sleep the entire night. The next day was yet another day packed full with magazine shooting. Before the camera, he appeared glowing, but it was only upon being seated in the car, did he allow traces of his exhaustion to show. Despite this, he maintained a professional attitude, answering speedily without delay.
“What is it like to be busy?”
Kris Wu paused, and answered unexpectedly: “Numb, I just feel numb towards the perception of time.”
As a result, this sparked a conversation on how to manage life as a busy artiste who works round the clock. “After working in this industry for so long, it’s still rather saddening, I don’t have much friends. Slowly, I’m getting farther and farther away from real life, more and more distant.”
After having returned to China for two years, he is warmly welcomed and many are drawn towards him. Naturally, his number of friends in the entertainment industry has increased. Friends that he had heard so much about yet not met up with, after the initial meeting would warmly arrange to meet up again for a chat, but the truth of the matter was that, this would usually happen a year later. In the entertainment industry, “See you next time” has gradually held the meaning of never seeing one again, not even having an opportunity to pass by each other at the airport.
“It is not that I wish to enjoy and have a good time, it’s just that the timeframe which I wanted that the most, has long since passed.” Kris Wu said, when he was eighteen, just as his friends were becoming of age and enjoying the joys of life, he was alone in Korea, practicing long and hard for the chance to debut as an idol group member.
The Kris right now, is even more in need of a peaceful mind. “Stop, and wait for the right time.”
But, who is able to stop first?
“Whoever is first to escape this, to complete this task, whoever is first to say that, I won’t do this anymore, I’ll have a break, I want to settle down, I want to relax, I want to experience life, I want to learn… But who will be able to? It’s hard, extremely hard. This one thing, if it was simple and profitable, everyone would have done it. But, the competition in the entertainment industry is incredibly stiff, whether you think about it or not, there will always be various voices of comparison and competition.” He admitted that in his heart, there was also a sense of anxiety that was spreading. “This is a very real problem, no one would know how the next day would turn out to be, so, everyone will rather act on the present, instead of looking at the future.” During the time of this interview, Kris Wu’s new film <Sweet Sixteen> was screening in cinemas. He had planned to watch it in cinemas in secret, but after consideration, eventually gave up – at a height of 1.9m, even in the dark cinema theatre, it would be hard not to attract attention. He would rather opt to stay at home and play online games.
“Freedom is what people long for the most, not having freedom is extremely terrifying.” From this perspective, he feels that his life has nothing to be envious of. However, he admits that to a certain degree, this is fair, as when there are gains there will be losses. “Since I have already chosen this path, I ought to bear responsibility, I can’t be a certain way one day, and then want to have it my way the next, then something must be wrong, right? How can it be? Isn’t that so? Then it would be better if I had not started out at all.”
“What I’m most afraid of, is that my life will be totally consumed by work, afraid that I will continue to exist but not know my reason to live.” On the highway, the car continued to drive on, not too fast nor too slow. Kris Wu also went on unhurriedly, “So that’s why right now, I have an increasing desire to regain what I felt when I started out at the beginning, the feeling of playing basketball with friends, gaming together, traveling together.”
"Only when my works are truly good, would I have the right to speak.”
At an indoor basketball court of a university in Shanghai, Kris Wu completed a special cover shoot for GQ: 1 basketball court, 21 basketballs, 46 third, fourth grade children also appearing in the shoot.
These young children knew who Kris Wu was, thus making the shooting process harder, and more complicated – While waiting, the kids lined up in a row, standing at the viewing section on the second floor, shouting clearly in their childlike voices, totally not shy in the slightest, to Kris Wu who was in the court. “Kris Wu, throw your ball up here!”
While the lighting was being fixed, the children all “clung” onto him, some grabbing his ears, holding onto his clothes. Like a parent, Kris Wu constantly kept on a coddling smile, and during the break, wore loose fitting trousers and played basketball with the little boys.
Kris Wu saw his younger self in the little boys. Eleven, twelve year old Kris, living in Guangzhou, after which, migrating to Canada with his mother. At that time he had just started playing basketball, heading upright, ever dreaming, even dreaming to grow taller – but with his young, untrained hands, lacking in skill, no matter how he threw, was unable to make any baskets.
Basketball was Kris Wu’s first dream, till this day, he wears a proud expression when talking about all his victories on court, but ending off with some humbling words. “Of course, if today’s photoshoot will enable the kids to start liking basketball, that would mean a lot to me.”
What kind of person is Kris Wu? All those who have worked with him before have praises for him – very clear on what he wants, professional.
What kind of actor is Kris Wu? – This is a question for which the answer is still in progress.
“When you ask me to rate my acting, I feel that it is incredibly hard to answer. I have always told myself, acting is a profession for a lifetime, if I were to speak about this now, it would be too early. I still have a very long way to go before becoming a good actor.” He said.
After having returned to China for two years, be it satisfaction or disappointment towards his film works, Kris Wu has experienced it all.
Changing the topic, he began to elaborate on himself: “Whoever’s work it is, they should be the one to bear (the results).” “You cannot guarantee that every piece of work will be that outstanding. At the very least, I can say with a clear conscience, that I have done my best in every work. I will always place my works at the top place of utmost importance, this you can believe, I will never change in this aspect, because without works, everything else is just nonsense. Only when your works are good, do you have the right to speak.”
“I’m really used to accepting that there will be positive and negative evaluations.” Having different reactions towards a movie is just something minor which is not out of the ordinary. “Society is so harsh, it is required of you to perform to the absolute best standard. If you are unable to do so, you will forever have to continue climbing upwards.”
During our conversation, Kris shared that as much as possible, he would use acting theories to improve his performance. He was willing to admit that being an actor who did not receive professional training, his acting relied on his intuition instead of experience.
In the ending of <Sweet Sixteen>, when male lead Xiamu was standing behind prison bars as he confessed to his beloved, he never gave an over-elaborated description of how much time he took to get into character, because from what he remembered, after reading the script, he stayed up the entire night, not even shaving, before going straight off to act. “I just felt that, the moment the director yelled "Action”, I was immediately Xiamu, the moment the director yelled “Action”, I was immediately Cheng Zheng, that’s all.“
When it comes to music, Kris Wu would point blank tell anyone collaborating with him, who planned to give him suggestions, "I’m sorry, this is my music, it has to go according to my plan.” When it comes to fashion, he is a “self-willed kid”, whichever piece of clothing looks good, the way it was to be matched, all along it would be decided based on his sole decision. However, just except for movies, “I would have to learn with an open mind”.
Not being confident in this field, Kris Wu decided to leave the choice to the director, because films are a director’s individual art. Even if the audience does not think that the character should be like that, but at the very least, as an actor, I have already given the director what he wants.“
Due to his self reliance, this has caused Kris Wu to feel that as an actor, the anxiety and feeling of not having much "artistic development”, has caused him to be an actor to get in and out of character quickly. “Because I feel that, when the acting for this role has wrapped up, I have to do something, I can’t let myself stay in one character for too long. I know that I am not that person, I am myself, I have a very strong sense of self-awareness, and I feel that I would be able to clearly differentiate each and every character from Kris Wu myself.”
So, be it self-contained Xiamu in <Sweet Sixteen>, sunny Cheng Zheng in <Never Gone>, ashen faced Tang Sen in <Journey to the West: Demon Chapter>, or the DJ in <xXx: Return of Xander Cage> who is able to use various objects as weapons, they are all him, and also not him. Every script is chosen by him, and as long as it was a repeat of a previous character, he would immediately turn it down, but he felt that this kind of refusal was not because he especially wanted to do something different. “When one leads a fulfilling life, a really good life, then it is being accountable for oneself.”
“Losing popularity is a very normal thing”
In the darkness of the night, the interviews and photoshoot have already come to an end. Kris Wu’s driver already got off the highway, into Shanghai city.
Outside the window, The Bund’s neon lights, and the outline of the Oriental Pearl Tower, all seem so close within reach, and yet their destination is still far away. At this point, he took the initiative to speak. “You can ask any question, I wouldn’t want the staff to have any regrets.”
“Yes, any question.”
“What do you think of fans leaving you?”
“It’s a fast food era now, even more so for the entertainment industry. Today you like someone, tomorrow you’ll like another person, this is really common. Especially when the person you like is someone very far away, actually you have a protective layer, and you are in control of this situation. There will always be fans who leave, and there will also always be regular people who turn into fans. People are constantly changing in various degrees, and I will never be able to suit everyone.”
"Then will you be afraid that there will be a day when you are not popular anymore?” The question was posed suddenly.
“Why should I be afraid that there will be a day when I am no longer popular?” The reply came equally fast.
In his eyes, in his own life, he has already once experienced missing the peak of his basketball career, which he regards as his highest achievement personally. “Upon losing something, there is nothing more to it but two emotions. "I previously had it, how could I have lost it”, or, “It’s gone, this is very normal”… I would be willing to choose to be the latter.”
Basketball used to be where Kris got his highest level of accomplishment from. Since starting to play basketball at age 11, every day for 24 hours, he could not wait to hug his basketball to sleep. He would not do any other sport, he wholeheartedly put his all into his dreams of playing basketball professionally.
“Times have changed.“ This is what Kris Wu constantly says. He recalls that for his mother’s generation, consumer demands were still very shallow. At that time the national idol was Andy Lau, at most, fans would buy a ticket to watch his concert, and it even had to held in their city for them to attend it, as it would be inconvenient to travel by train to other cities.
And as for his childhood years, an era when computers and mobile phones had yet to be popular, the only form of entertainment was to go to gaming centers and play street fighter games. None of his relatives were interested in the entertainment industry, and he himself had never liked any celebrity before – His life only consisted of basketball.
But as for the post-1995, post-2000 generation, their family conditions were getting better and better, practically being able to use iPads and mobile phones at birth. With the prevalence of consumerism, this led to fans’ power being further propelled to the very forefront, together with the development of the internet, this resulted in the distance between artistes and fans being shortened. He knows that he has benefitted as a result of the favourable changes. "The economy has all along depended on its sources, and when fans’ buying power increases, fans’ market will naturally become a huge force of support for the person(s) they like.
Kris Wu turned out to benefit from this new era’s star-making system. But this does not mean that he would compromise on his position as an "idol”. In fact, step by step, in the process of understanding his own place in the industry, Kris Wu has become his own greatest opponent.
“I’m no longer young right now, up till there comes a day when I am no longer like what I am now, when I am no longer popular, it will be really normal.” He said.
“Kobe Bryant too has his peak period, after losing it, how would it be? That would mean a loss, a loss forever. So, if there comes a day when I am no longer popular, if I say that I would not think back to the days when I was popular, that would not be possible. But, after thinking back, then what? I’d be pained, and do everything that I can to become popular again? If that is the case, right now I would still be playing basketball non stop, without sense of day or night.”
In his eyes, people would do different things at every stage in life. For example, during their youth they may do some crazy stuff, intensely liking someone, or an idol. When he was young, he liked Kobe Bryant, till the point where he wanted to watch one of his matches. His greatest dream was for Kobe Bryant to sign a basketball for him, and he hoped that one day, he could become like Kobe Bryant. However, this fondness that he possessed when he was young, would change as he grew older.
“10 years later, I would be 36 years old. My fans would also be 10 years older than they are now, and would get married and settle down, have children. At that time – Would they even do the things they do now? Perhaps, the answer may be no. Therefore, even if one day I am no longer popular, I will still be living, and will be living for myself.” His answer, as always, was short and simple; and on his face, an unassailable expression.