A few days after the photoshoot, the pictures are released on the drama's official weibo, to mixed reviews.
Yao Shen knows he shouldn't spend so much time online looking up what people are saying about him, but his lack of other commitments until shooting begins leaves him with nothing to do but idle about.
And idle minds make bad decisions.
Some novel fans are happy with the way costumes look.
They praise the expensive fabrics and the attention paid to detail, some of them even find it in themselves to admit that while they previously couldn't imagine Yao Shen as Yan Shuyi, seeing him in character actually changed their mind, and they now think he has the right look for Frozen Peak's sect master.
This change of tune by a very small contingent of people only serves to enrage the vast majority.
Case in point:
Da Wang: "Not bad! This Yao Shen actually looks like Shizun!"
Flying Kites: "@Da Wang, idiot, with the kind of money this production company has, they could probably make you or me look like Shizun."
Ji Li: "That's right, this guy only got the role because his agency wants him to make it big in the industry! They said this was going to be a drama with real actors, but it's turning out to be an idol drama after all. Disappointing."
Da Wang: "How can it be an idol drama with Xin Hulei playing one of the leads? Let's save the judgement until the drama airs."
Unfortunately for Yao Shen, there are very few people like "Da Wang" -- willing to give him the benefit of doubt.
It makes him feel anxious that so many people are against him being cast for this role.
Does it even matter if he does a good job, if so many expect him to fail?
He's been reading the script non-stop ever since the photoshoot, trying to acclimatize himself to Yan Shuyi and the plot. He even got started on a character sheet for Yan Shuyi where he writes down all his personality trails, goals, motivations, likes and dislikes, but he keeps getting sidetracked and second-guessing himself.
The worst part is that he knows he can do a good job, he's a good actor, he just hasn't managed to have a role that allowed him to show that.
How can an actor show their talents if the script they're given is nonsensical?
Everything else can be absolute garbage: the camerawork, the costumes, the wigs, the sets, but if the script sucks, the best actor in the world can't save it.
Yao Shen is sure of that, not only because it's his own personal experience, but because more veteran and more talented actors than him have said as much.
The script for "Shizun, this disciple will have to kill you!" isn't a world-beater, but it does its job, it tells a logical story, where character actions have internal coherence.
More importantly: it's finished way ahead of filming and written by a single person.
Which means there won't be scriptwriters on set changing it every day, according to the internet's reaction to the newest leaks, the position of the sun, and the direction in which the wind blows, all the while bickering among themselves like toddlers.
Yao Shen is pondering the unfairness of the universe over a bowl of instant noodles while watching some videos on his mobile, when the gameplay stream he's watching is cut short by an incoming call.
He accepts it and sets the phone on speakerphone so he can continue eating.
"'Lo?" he asks, slurping down a mouthful of piping hot noodles noisily.
"Laoshi, have you seen the latest posts?" Bi Jialu asks, possibly the only person who's keeping even a closer watch on what the internet is saying about him than Yao Shen himself.
Yao Shen hums in assent.
He can almost picture Bi Jialu biting her lower lip as she says, "I was talking with Boss Huang, and both of us think it would be a good idea if laoshi made a few posts online, maybe showing his interest in the original novel and the character. Book fans would appreciate it, and maybe some of the vitriol would die down."
Yao Shen thinks that's very optimistic of her and Boss Huang, as if a post as ever been able to change the course of online discourse, but it's not like they have any alternatives.
Besides, maybe the production team is getting anxious. It still isn't too late for them to replace him, say he had a "family emergency" or something, and won't be available at the start of shooting. It wouldn't be the first time a big drama backtracks on a casting choice.
It usually happens due to terrible scandals, but still, Yao Shen is clearly unlucky enough that it could happen to him just because the fans of the original novel don't like him.
He sighs into the styrofoam bowl of noodles. "What did you and Boss Huang have in mind?"
What they have in mind is for him to take a casual selfie at his place, maybe show the front page of the script, and quote a famous line of the novel in the description.
It's the world's most scripted photo-op, but Yao Shen grins and bears it, and hopes for the best.
He takes it standing up in front of his balcony's glass doors, with the sun shining down on his face, making his skin look smoother and shinier than it is, and his eyes glow in the warm sunlight.
The front page of the script is barely visible on the dining table behind him.
Yao Shen snaps a couple of shots and then chooses the one where he isn't squinting -- good enough.
As for the caption, he goes with one of Yan Shuyi's most iconic lines, the kind that gets plastered all over fan art and unofficial merchandising:
"The Path(1) stretches before me and Xie Huan's hand is the one I hold as I tread it."
He doesn't allow himself time to overthink the quote before posting it, remembering to tag the drama while he's at it.
His phone blows up with notification alerts almost instantly, and Yan Shuyi disables push settings for weibo, because he's in no mood to handle the thousands of vicious comments he's sure to get and goes do something else.
It's only after a few hours of playing video games that he thinks he has blown enough steam to brave his weibo account.
He expected his selfie to get some millage, but he's shocked to see that it became a trending topic at the 17th position.
How can people have so much to say about an unpopular actor's selfie?
He checks the original post, his heart drumming violently inside his chest.
It's only when he sees the most voted comment that all the excitement becomes clear:
Xin Hulei: "I'll cut down all the shadows in Shizun's path, and hold his hand for eternity."
Yao Shen can't believe Xin Hulei actually commented on his dumb selfie, and with Xie Huan's equally iconic reply to Yan Shuyi's declaration.
Somehow, he thought this kind of marketing strategy was below Xin Hulei. The novel fans are already ecstatic that he was cast to play Xie Huan, he doesn't need to ingratiate himself to them -- not like Yao Shen does.
The second most voted comment is a reply to Xin Hulei.
Leilei's lap dog: "I can't believe Leilei's first comment on weibo is a reply to this guy."
(1) the Path here refers to the Dao, from Daoism, which literally means path/way.