Donnie Yen plays a blind martial arts super-fighter in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story — and in real life, the contacts he wore to simulate his character’s blindness made it nearly impossible for him to see at all.
The actor and Chinese martial arts expert, who plays the blind Force-specialist Chirrut Îmwe in the film, recently explained what it was like working with those whited out contacts in PEOPLE’s Star Wars: The Secrets of Rogue One Special Issue.
“That was difficult, a lot more difficult than I expected,” said Yen, explaining that the contacts made him nearly as blind as his character.
“How do you find the confidence [to deliver] the character’s performance when you’re losing the security of being personal? And how do you interact with other actors?” he added.
Ultimately, Yen said it took a “whole week of adjusting my facial expressions and body movements” to get used to them. But the most difficult part of wearing the contacts, Yen explained, was interacting with his cast mates. “For example, [when] I was acting with Felicity Jones, I couldn’t look at her in the eye, I couldn’t draw stimulation or reaction, I have to look straight because I can’t see.”
Without the ability to react to his his cast mate’s facial expressions, Yen said, “You can easily come out where you’re only looking at one spot. Expressionless.”
In addition, the actor said “the contacts themselves are not very
comfortable.” He explained, “In spite of the Hollywood technologies, I could only wear them no more than three hours each time. And each hour, the eyes get more irritated to the point where I can no longer endure.”
But once Yen took the contacts off, he was forced to take a 30 minute break before putting them back in. “And even with taking that break, the eye loses clarity from just overworking your eyes. So the whole thing you have to endure, irritated eyes and not able to see clearly. Not a very comfortable process.”
During a recent sit down with People Now, Yen opened up about his excitement to be a part of the Star Wars universe.
“Let’s just put it this way, after 30 years of acting, I never expected to be in Star Wars, and here I am,” Yen told PEOPLE.
Raised in British Hong Kong, the actor, 53, is often credited with popularizing the martial arts style known as Wing Chun. The multiple-time world wushu tournament champion starred as a Wing Chun grandmaster in his hit 2008 film Ip Man.
While Yen is considered to be one of Hong Kong’s top action stars, the actor admitted that joining the Star Wars franchise was a dream come true. “Harrison Ford, Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, just every character, they are so memorable and we grew up – and grew old – with them,” he said. “So it is such an amazing journey for myself to be able to be part of this universe.”
Rogue One tells the story of a band of rebel fighters who embark on a desperate mission to steal the plans to the Death Star before the Emperor can crush the rebellion — the plans Princess Leia would end up hiding in R2-D2 at the beginning of 1977’s Star Wars: A New Hope.
Come back to People.com every day until Rogue One: A Star Wars Story hits theaters Dec. 16 for more exclusive videos, photos and secrets from the year’s most anticipated movie. Check out all our coverage at PEOPLE.com/starwars.
- Reporting by CHRIS TAUBER