INTERVIEW: The Cast of 'Us and Them' on Chasing Dreams and Working With Director Rene Liu

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For those who are looking for a good tearjerker to watch over the weekend, fret not, because Us & Them is set to launch globally on Netflix today! 

Directed by singer, actress, and first-time director Rene Liu, the film follows two strangers who meet on a train while traveling home for the Chunyun Period. They become close to each other, and together they go through their stages of realizing their dreams, love, and breakups until they parted ways. Ten years later, they reunited on a plane, and they pick up where their stories ended. 

The film which stars Jing Boran and Zhou Dongyu is said to be at the top of the Chinese box office, making Rene Liu the highest grossing female director for Chinese films. 

We got to ask a few questions to actors Jing Boran who plays Lin Jianqing and Zhou Dongyu who plays Fang Xiaoxiao before the film officially streams in over 190 countries. Check it out below: 

1. Describe your characters in three words.

Jing Boran: Faithful, caring, and a little bit of misogynic or macho.

Zhou Dongyu: Stable, precise and ruthless.

2. Do you relate to your characters in the film? How are you the same or different to them?

Jing Boran: I’ve got nothing in common with the character [so] that I’m so curious about it. I launched my career at a young age, so I spent most [of the] time working and never have much time for love life. But I believe that many men see themselves in Lin Jianqing. Through the romance, they would recall the time when they loved someone with such burning passion and total devotion.

Zhou Dongyu: What I [have] in common with Xiaoixao is that we dare to love and hate with passion and have strong personalities. Xiaoxiao is a very real character; so many people can relate to her experience of leaving her hometown for Beijing and fighting to gain a foothold in society since countless people must have built their lives from scratch. But I was more fortunate than Xiaoxiao. My experience of coming to Beijing isn’t typical. I lived in a bungalow like the one I lived when I was little. The condition was not that different from the basement Xiaoxiao lives in.

Photo: Zhou Dongyu as Fang Xiaoxiao | Netflix

3. What were your reactions when you first knew that the film would be streamed globally via Netflix?

Jing Boran: Of course, I was very happy. It’s a great thing that a good film can reach a large audience. Besides, I believe that every man in the world has or will have gone through a stage as Lin Jianqing – a time when you’re green and yet completely, selflessly devote yourself to a woman.

4. How was it working with Rene? Did you ever think that the film will be as successful as it was received by the audience?

Jing Boran:  First of all, Rene is a very nice person. From an actor’s point of view, I feel very happy working with Rene since she really loves her actors. So, every time when I’m asked how I feel about working with Rene, I always say that Rene is someone I would devote myself to; since she loves me so much, I love her very much too. Secondly, Rene is full of sentiments, just like the story she wrote for the film and I don’t know why. The shooting went very smoothly from beginning to end. We had a rapport that I didn’t think of before. As for the success the film enjoys, I guess no one really expected it. Back then I just did my best to bring the character to life, and I didn’t think about how successful it would be.

Zhou Dongyu: Rene is a director who carries out every task with attention to detail. She has taught me what paying attention to detail means. She wants her actors to look extremely good; not only our acting; for example, she would pay attention to my lashes and brows and see if they look good in the shot. I’ve learned a lot from Rene, and I guess a woman director is more emotional. Actually, I didn’t expect the film to do so well; I feel very happy for the film and for Rene too. The emotions that we try to convey to the audience have been received. I feel very happy that so many people love our film, even happier than that they like me.

Photo: Zhou Dongyu and Jing Boran | Netflix

5. Do you have any songs that you could associate to your characters? Anything that helped you get in character during the filming?

Jing Boran: Indeed, I love associating a character with a certain song. The song, “Hereafter” (Chinese name: Houlai), by Rene is perfect for describing the film. I’m a lightweight drinker and allergic to alcohol. But when I need to get emotional in a scene, alcohol could be used as a weapon because when I drink, I relax and stop thinking too much. Everything, including all the stories and the character’s emotions, accumulates in my heart. So what I pursue is a relaxed state, and in such a state, I can play the character more naturally, instead of pretending or deliberately thinking about it. That’s what you call “to hear, see, feel and drink for real.”

Zhou Dongyu: It has to be “Hereafter”(Chinese name: Houlai)! Even now when I see Rene, I think of the song. I must sing it when I go to the KTV. In fact, when I was reading the script, I had some idea. Then I talked to Rene and we had a good rapport with the crew. It was easy for us to get into our characters.

6. What was your favorite scene from the film? What was the hardest scene to shoot?

Jing Boran: The scenes that left me with the deepest impression are those set in 2018 because before 2018, both characters share so many beautiful memories and experiences. In 2018, it’s more about saying goodbye, and for me, it’s what left me with the deepest impression and what I remember most. It doesn’t matter whether as Lin Jianqing or myself, you grow up when you say goodbye.

The period which the character I play goes through in the film is the longest so far. It’s very difficult to play someone in his mid-thirties because life experience in one’s early to mid-thirties is something that I haven’t experienced yet. But I’d been young, so I remember what it was like to be in your twenties. Nevertheless, the most difficult part is to capture the growth that goes in his mind when a boy turns into a man, and how his ideas of love, family, and home have evolved. 

Zhou Dongyou: The scene in which Xiaoxiao and Jianqing cry in the car. I remember it very well. At that time, I thought the scene felt too sad and people don’t burst into tears when they are truly upset. But Rene patiently explained to me that we had to cry our eyes our to show our emotions. So, I cried as hard as I could, the hardest in recent years. The character I play goes through ten years in the film. Since I’m not thirty yet, I was worried that I might not get the character in her thirties right, and it was really difficult. So I tried to make Xiaoxiao in her twenties livelier so it serves a sharper contrast to her in her thirties.

Photo: Jing Boran as Lin Jiangqing | Netflix

7. Would you have done the same thing as what your characters did when they met an ex randomly on a plane?

Jing Boran: I don’t think so since I’ve done it in the film and I don’t want to experience such pain again.

Zhou Dongyou: I’ll just say hello as usual. I’m quite frank and honest.  

8. The film also focused on chasing dreams even if that means moving to a big city. Do you have any advice for those who want to do the same?

Jing Boran: I feel that it doesn’t matter if you go to Beijing or any other cities, the most important thing is to be persistent. I started my career as a singer and moved on to acting, I believe that everyone has to be persistent. If you insist on what you look for, you’ll make it in the end.

Zhou Dongyou: Don’t be impulsive. Don’t make decisions when you’re angry. Grab very important moment in life and don’t miss any that will make you regret.

9. What should your fans expect from you after Us and Them?

Jing Boran: To see how Lin Jianqing has grown and to see themselves in him. To learn something from either the love between Jianqing and Xiaoxiao or between Jianqing and his father.

Zhou Dongyou: I hope that after seeing the film, people would appreciate what they have more, either people around them or their lives. Or you’ll regret it when you’ve lost them.

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Us And Them launches globally on Netflix today, June 22. 

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