Donnie Yen of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story #RogueOneEvent

Donnie Yen
Photo Credit: Louise Bishop/momstart.com

Rogue One Event

Did you follow along last weekend? So much fun! Read all about it in the Rogue One Event posts.

Skywalker Ranch/Lucasfilm HQ | Felicity Jones | Mads Mikkelsen + Alan Tudyk | Diego Luna

Donnie Yen Rogue One

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story opens in theaters December 16!

ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY follows a group of unlikely heroes in a time of conflict who  band together on a mission to steal the plans to the Death Star, the Empire’s ultimate weapon of destruction. This key event in the Star Wars timeline brings together ordinary people who choose to do extraordinary things, and in doing so, become part of something greater than themselves.

ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY is directed by Gareth Edwards and stars Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk, Riz Ahmed, with Jiang Wen and Forest Whitaker. Kathleen Kennedy, Allison Shearmur and Simon Emanuel are producing, with John Knoll and Jason McGatlin serving as executive producers. The story is by John Knoll and Gary Whitta, and the screenplay is by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy.

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Photo Credit: Louise Bishop/momstart.com

Donnie Yen (“Chirrut Îmwe”)

We were able to sit down with Donnie Yen last weekend during the Rogue One Event at Lucasfilm HQ. He had quite a bit to say about his role of Chirrut and how difficult it was to use those contact lenses. I learned about those challenges and more during our interview.

When talking about his character he says that “Chirrut Îmwe is blind but, spiritual.  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.  Yeah, and he beats up all the Storm Troopers.”

[Tweet “”He’s the spiritual center of the team.” -@DonnieYenCT on his #RogueOne character Chirrut #RogueOneEvent “]

Did he have a hand in changing his character?

He didn’t want to take any credit for changing his character. He felt is was more of a collaboration. “That’s the nature of being an artist. You express your takes on your character. 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, a warrior monk.”

It was discussed giving “Chirrut” a “little bit of vulnerability”. Both being blind and having a sense of humor.

That has always been my persistence of keeping him grounded, having that sense of humor so the audience can relate to him a lot more.  So, I suggested it and he’s cool with it and Disney loved it and here we are.

How much of the story had to be changed to accommodate your blind character?

How much of the story?  I don’t think much.  That was months before I was on the set, filming.  So I think that goes with anything about filmmaking.  You make adjustments on a day-to-day basis, even with the lines.

We revise it and obviously we need approval by the studio, especially dealing with Star Wars.  There’s a lot of responsibility on our hands.  But we do get that kind of freedom to shape our character along the process.

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Photo Credit: Disney/Lucasfilm

You have an amazing fan base of fans that love seeing how you stretch yourself to the limits with martial arts.  Do you set yourself, do you set a ceiling as to what you’re gonna do in movies or do you just go with it?

He’s been in 70 movies and has different sets of fans. He says that he has “straight action fans and Donnie Yen fans, but without realizing the changes of every film in the past decade” of his work.

It wasn’t so much of what I’m gonna do with my body each time, but different characters 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 oh, this is this guy who does really good, he specializes in the action field.  Right?  But I wanted 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.

It was really challenging and I underestimated the difficulty of playing a blind character because it was hard.  Having those contact lenses you think, it looks interesting but having to take them off every three hours and let it rest because it irritates your eyes and every ten minutes I needed drops.  It bothers me.  Very irritating.

And you can’t really see. Somehow they couldn’t manage to, I know with technology today, they still were not able to manage to make a blue pair of contact lenses and having that specific look and giving the full clarity of my sight.  So I was having difficulty measuring the distance. But, more difficult wasn’t even about the seeing clearly. It was more as an actor I couldn’t look at my fellow actors in their eyes and I couldn’t get to all reactions.  When I’m talking I have to look at a point.  And that was very, very frustrating because I didn’t wanna look, without the complexity of each line and the emotion.

So I was fine-tuning my acting every single day.  It was quite frustrating as 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.

Did that make you feel like you were able to portray the character better because you were actually blind?

Actually, in that perspective yes.  In return certain benefits were given because of the fact that he’s blind, he has to feel, he has to use his heart to feel it and that puts my character even closer to the Force. Supposedly he’s the spiritual center and he practices The Force but being this blind person, he has to feel The Force.

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Photo Credit: Disney/Lucasfilm

Would you prefer, in character to fight The Empire with a bow caster or a lightsaber?

He said when his fans found out that he was going to be in the movie, they thought he would be a Jedi and “have a lightsaber and go against Darth Vader.” He couldn’t say anything while filming so he couldn’t tell anyone about his character. Although, he does think if you give him a lightsaber he could probably beat Vader.

The other cast members have talked about how physically grueling this was.  Because you have a background in martial arts , did you feel there was a difference in what you do every day?  Or did you change anything?

I just do it.  It’s like a musician.  You play music all your life and it’s just jump in there. I actually play music myself.  I play piano. As an actor who specializes in physical expressions, for me it was just dive in…

Photo Credit: Disney/Lucasfilm
Photo Credit: Disney/Lucasfilm

Did you give anybody pointers on what to do?

Not so much!  I recall I gave Felicity 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 types of specific knowledge.  So I shared general kind of directions, especially with safety and some pointers here and there.  But I didn’t want to interrupt anybody from them crafting their own character.

[Tweet “”I realized I’m making history here.” -@DonnieYenCT #RogueOneEvent “]

How did you become part of Rogue One?

My agent called me and they said, “Disney wants you to be in Star Wars.”  Then Gareth called […] He really felt 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 coming on board.  I know “Star Wars,” I mean 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.

And 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, do you like Baba’s […] serious?”  Because I’m kind of known to make a lot of audiences and fans as the man, Ip man.  “Or do you want Baba to be in Star Wars?”  Without a doubt, they said, “Star Wars!”

Then all the family members and friends and all the fan voices came out of nowhere and say, “Oh!”  They found out about it and said, “You gotta be in Star Wars!  You gotta be in Star Wars!” I realized I’m making history here, you know?  So I’m so glad.

During the 28 minutes of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story that we were able to watch last weekend I can tell you that Donnie Yen’s character is bad-ass. Even blind, he can still kick major butt.

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ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY arrives in theaters everywhere on December 16th In RealD 3D and IMAX 3D!

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