This post is part of my all-expense paid trip to San Francisco, CA provided by Disney. However, typos, misspelled words and opinions are 100% mine.
Today we will be covering our interview with Donnie Yen who plays “Chirrut Imwe”. Hearing his thoughts on his character, Chirrut Imwe and the film was an enlightening experience.
A Deeper Understanding of Chirrut Imwe
Donnie’s character is sort of a cross between a samurai and a Jedi. In the body, he’s a physical fighter. Spiritually, he’s a Jedi sans Force powers.
According to Donnie, Chirrut Imwe is “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.” (One of my favorite parts of the 28 mins footage we saw).
Donnie on the Character Development of Chirrut Imwe
We all knew that Chirrut Imwe as we see him in the movie is not how he started out. In fact, it was Donnie’s idea to make him blind.
When we asked about the change in Chirrut’s development and if he felt he had a hand in that development, Donnie was very humble and described it as a collaborative effort.
“That’s the nature of being an artist,” he said. “You express your takes on your character. In the beginning when I was discussing my character with Gareth, and I just felt like it would be so much cooler to make him less of a cliche character – a warrior monk.”
Making Chirrut Imwe blind, and infusing a little bit of humor into him helped keep the character grounded with a bit of vulnerability.
“That has always been my persistence of keeping him grounded,” Donnie said, “having that sense of humor so the audience can be related to him a lot more. So I suggested it [blindness], and he’s cool with it and Disney loved it. And here we are.”
Donnie on Changing the Story to Fit the Change in Chirrut Imwe
“How much of the story,” he said when asked. “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.”
His Characters and How He Approaches Them
Donnie has been in over 70 movies, and he has a wide following from “straight action fans” as he put it to “Donnie Yen fans”. So when he was asked about his approach to his characters and what he thinks about going into them, he had a lot to say on it.
“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,” he said. “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 it. 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 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.”
Playing Chirrut Imwe While Actually Being Sight Impaired
One interesting thing that popped up in his answer about approaching his characters was the fact that his contacts made him vision impaired while he played the role of the blind Chirrut Imwe. One of the bloggers asked him if the sight impairment of the contacts made his performance better.
“Actually, in perspective, yes,” He said. “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 the blind person, he has to feel the Force.”
The Physicality of the Film
As you know, the other cast members we interviewed talked about how physically demanding the film is. We asked Donnie his thoughts on the physical aspects of playing Chirrut Imwe.
“I just do it,” he said. “It’s like a musician. You play music all your life, and it’s just jumping in there. I actually play music myself. I play the piano. As an actor who specializes in physical expressions, for me, it was just diving in.”
When asked if he gave the other actors any input on how to approach the stunts, Donnie said, “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 kinds 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.”
How He Got the Part of Chirrut Imwe
The real heroes of the story of Donnie and his part as Chirrut Imwe in the film are his kids. Donnie said that at first, he didn’t want to do the film because it would take him away from his family for an extended period. He recounted how his kids encouraged him to be a part of the film.
“I said, ‘I don’t know’,” he said. “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 Bab to be in Star Wars?’ Without a doubt, they said, ‘Star Wars!'”
Physical and Emotional Performance Breathes Life Into Chirrut Imwe
In the 28 minutes of footage that I and my fellow bloggers go to see, I saw a deep understanding of the character and acting ability in Donnie Yen. His portrayal of Chirrut Imwe, the spiritually centered warrior was absolutely amazing. It was a joy to watch.