Donnie Yen is likely the biggest celebrity in Rogue One. He is already a huge action star in Hong Kong and now he’s joining the Star Wars universe too. During the Rogue One press event, we spoke with him about his character in Rogue One, how it evolved and the challenges involved with filming.
Who is Chirrut Îmwe
Chirrut, he’s blind but spiritual. Kathy Kennedy described it, he’s the spiritual center of the team. He’s the Force believer. He preaches this and he’s got a little bit of a sense of humor. And he beats up all the Storm Troopers.
Chirrut didn’t start out blind
I don’t want to take any credit. I think it’s the collaboration of both. That’s the nature of being an artist. You express your takes on your character. So in the beginning when I was discussing my character with Gareth and I just felt it would be so much cooler to make him less of a cliché character, like, a warrior monk. How serious is that, right? How about give him a little bit of vulnerability, you know, like disabled-ness. How about being blind? And a little bit sense of humor? That was always been my persistence in keeping him grounded, having that sense of humor so the audience can relate to him a lot more. So I suggested it and he was cool with it and Disney loved it and here we are.
Challenging himself as an actor
That’s funny, funny question, right? Because I’ve been in business for quite a while, 70 movies, right? It wasn’t so much of what I’m gonna do with my body each time, but what different character that I try to take on. Besides action movies, I’ve done comedies, romantic, all kinds…I played a monkey king where I insist on not recognizing my face. I just wanted to take challenges as an actor. I don’t look at myself as this guy who does really good in the action field. But I want to be perceived as a good actor and striving to be a better actor each time. I never played a blind person before. That was another reason why I wanted to do something completely different, challenging. But it was really challenging and I underestimated the difficulty of playing a blind character because it was hard.
Acting with impaired vision
Having those contact lenses looks interesting but having to take them off every three hours and let them rest because it irritates your eyes. And every ten minutes, I needed drops because it bothered me and was very irritating. And you can’t really see, everything was blurry. Even with the technology today, they still were not able to make a blue pair of contact lenses with that specific look and give the full clarity of sight.
(The most difficult part) was more as an actor I couldn’t look at my fellow actors in their eyes and I couldn’t get to all their reactions when I was talking. I’d have to look at a point. It was quite frustrating as an actor, especially (because) you feel like you’re not in control of yourself. Where you’re supposed to have all these years of experience being an actor, so that was quite difficult.
Keeping Star Wars Secrets
It’s funny when my fans found out that I was gonna be in this movie, everybody thought I’m gonna be a Jedi and have a lightsaber and go against Darth Vader. But it eats me up. I couldn’t really say anything so I couldn’t tell anyone that there would be no Jedi in the movie.
Giving Castmates Pointers
Not so much! I recall I gave Felicity a few pointers here and there but I didn’t want to interrupt what they were doing. I didn’t want to overwhelm them, bombard them with, “Oh, this is what you need to do,” because you can get really technical with these type of specific knowledge, right? So general kind of directions like with safety and some pointers here and there. But I didn’t want to interrupt anybody from, from them crafting their own character.
His initial hesitance to be in Star Wars
Oh my goodness. My agent called me and they said, “Disney want you to be in Star War.” And then Gareth called and I was hoping for an answer and I got it. Because I didn’t really want to be (cast) because of the China market or (to just) kick some Stormtroopers ass. He really felt that I have the persona of portraying this character in his mind. And that was the answer I was looking for as an actor.
I know it sounds crazy, but in the very beginning, I was hesitant with coming on board. I know Star Wars! But I didn’t want to leave my family, my kids and be in London for five months. I just got off from another movie and I live in Hong Kong. I said, “I don’t know.” Then I went to my kids, Jasmine and James. They were 12 and, at the time maybe 11 and 7, 12 and 8. I said, “Do you want Baba (papa) to be in Star Wars?” Without a doubt, they said, “Star Wars!” So then all the family members and friends and all the fan voices came out of nowhere and say, “You gotta be in Star Wars! You gotta be in Star Wars!” I realized that I’m making history here, you know? So I’m so glad.
ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY OPENS IN THEATERS ON DECEMBER 16TH!
Disney hosted me during the #RogueOneEvent press event. As always, all opinions, and experiences are my own.