The Art of Random Willy-Nillyness: The Spiritual Center of Rogue One: an exclusive interview with Donnie Yen! #rogueoneevent
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Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Spiritual Center of Rogue One: an exclusive interview with Donnie Yen! #rogueoneevent

Disclosure: I attended the #Rogueoneevent and my expenses: flight, accommodations, transportation and some meals were be covered by Disney. All opinions, however, are always 100% mine.

You might not recognize the name but you would recognize Donnie Yen. Donnie Yen is an International Superstar and has made a over 70 movies. I know Donnie from movies like Once Upon a Time in China and Shanghai Knights and Blade II! He is a martial arts master and action star. When I found out he was cast in Rogue One I was excited because I knew there would be some amazing fight scenes. But there is more to Donnie Yen than action and martial arts.

When we interviewed him, he was low key, thoughtful and humble about his superstar status. He had some insight on his character Chirrut Îmwe, his character being blind and his body of work. I have to admit sitting so close to Donnie Yen left me a little starstruck.

In this interview Donnie talks about his character, how he got the role in Rogue One and the challenges of playing a blind character.

Q: So, can you tell us about your character?

Donnie: Chirrut, he's blind but spiritual. He's the spiritual center of the team. He's the Force believer. He preaches this (yet he has] a little bit of a sense of humor. And he beats up all the Storm Troopers.

Q: I read that you changed your character. He originally wasn't blind but you changed it.

Donnie: I don't want to take any credit. [It’s more] a contribution. I think it's the collaboration of both. That's the nature of being an artist. You express your take 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.

How about give him a little bit of vulnerability? How about being blind? And a little bit sense of humor? That was always been my persistence of keeping him grounded, having that sense of humor so the audience can relate to him a lot more. I suggested it and he [Gareth] was cool with it and Disney loved it and here we are.

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

Donnie: I don't think much. I think, months before I was on the set [and] started filming. I think that's just part of filmmaking. You make adjustments on a day-to-day basis, even with the lines.

We revise it and needed approval [from] the studio, especially dealing with the biggest I.P. in the film industry, 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.

Q : You have an amazing fan base. Fans who love seeing how you stretch yourself to the limits with your martial arts. Do you set a ceiling as to what you're going to do in movies or do you just go with it.

Donnie: That's a funny question. Because I've been in the business for quite a while. 70 movies. I have different set of fans. Straight action fans and Donnie Yen fans. I've done action movies. I've done comedies, romantic, all kinds [of movies]. I played a monkey king. I just wanted to take challenges as an actor.

I don't look at myself as this guy specializing in the action field. 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.

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

And you can't really see. Everything was blurry. I know with technology today, they still were not able to manage to make blue pair of contact lenses and having that specific look and giving the full clarity of sight. So I was having difficulty measuring the distance.

But difficult was as an actor I couldn't look at my fellow actors in their eyes and I couldn't get all the reactions. When I'm talking I have to look at a point. And that was very frustrating.

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

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

Donnie: I just do it. To me 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 specialize in physical expressions, for me it was just another [day].

Q: Did you give anybody pointers on what to do?

Donnie: Not so much! I recall I gave Felicity a 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, with this type of knowledge. So general kind of directions like especially with safety and some pointers here and there. But I didn't want to interrupt anybody from, from them crafting their own character.

Q: About how you came to be part of Star Wars and how you.

Donnie: My agent called me and they said, "Disney wants you to be in Star Wars." Then Gareth called and I was hoping for an answer and I got it. He really felt I had 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 of coming on board. I know "Star Wars. I didn't wanted 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 8. I said, "Do do you want Baba to be in Star Wars?" Without a doubt they said, "Star Wars!" 

All the family members and friends and all the fan voices came out of nowhere and said, "You gotta be in Star Wars! You gotta be in Star Wars!" I realized I'm making history. So I'm so glad.

What a thrill it was to interview Donnie. He was a joy to talk with and, yes, I am still a little starstruck! I cannot wait to see him in Rogue One!!

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

Interview photos by Louise Manning Bishop -
Other photos courtesy of Disney. 

1 comment:

  1. I'm really enjoying the diverse cast of the latest Star Wars. Can't wait to see this movie!