Jolene Purdy Almost Quit Acting Over Donnie Darko's Near-Kissing Scene

At first glance, Cherita Chen might seem like the kind of character you put into a movie just for laughs. Played by Jolene Purdy, Cherita is the less-than-popular outcast that goes to the same high school as Donnie (Jake Gyllenhaal) in the 2001 film, "Donnie Darko." Fans will most likely remember her for constantly telling anyone who bothers or makes fun of her to "Chut up!" (In the film, Cherita is Chinese, though Purdy herself is actually part Japanese-American). However, her role in "Donnie Darko" extends far beyond comedic relief.

Search the internet for fan theories on Cherita's purpose and you will find everything from speculation that she was sent here by aliens to spy on Donnie to more meta ideas that she is actually the one writing the very movie we are watching. Her presence in the film is so minimal that it's easy to come up with seemingly limitless possibilities for her significance, though probably the most logical is that her character is meant to represent innocence as well as provide Donnie with an opportunity to show care and compassion for another person. 

In fact, in one of the more touching scenes in the film, Donnie and Cherita share an exchange in a school hallway where Donnie holds her head in his hands and tells Cherita that "one day everything is going to be better for [her]." Though the scene is brief, it still packs a punch, as we are left to intuit (after glimpsing Cherita's dropped books, one of which sports Donnie's name doodled lovingly on its cover) that Cherita has a crush on Donnie. But Cherita isn't the only one to be flustered by Donnie's presence. Purdy herself was also actually nervous to film this emotional scene in real life.

Fulfilling a contractual obligation

Cherita Chen is the outcast amongst the students in "Donnie Darko," often bullied relentlessly by her peers who pick on her for her weight and her accent. Donnie is the only character that shows her empathy. In an interview for Stumped Magazine, director Richard Kelly said, "She's the whole point of this horrific environment that high school creates where kids are so maliciously cruel to each other." In the scene between her and Donnie, because Cherita is constantly picked on, part of the reason she runs away from him is that she's unable to decide whether he is being kind or cruel to her. Donnie's hands on her face also make it seem like there's a very real possibility that he's going to kiss her, which, even though she seemingly has a crush on Donnie, seems terrifying to Cherita in the moment.

Though no actual kiss transpires between the two characters, the scene is still very intimate, and Jolene Purdy remembered being extremely nervous to film it. In an oral history for The Ringer, she said, "I remember looking at the script and being like 'I don't think I can do this.'" She went on to explain, "Up until that point, I had never been kissed. And so I just remember telling my mom, 'I can't do this. I give up. I'm done.'" Thankfully, Purdy's mom helped give her the push she needed, gently reminding her that while she may want to quit, she was contractually obligated to do the scene. Talk about motivation! In the end, though Cherita's part in "Donnie Darko" may feel minimal, she really is at the heart of the movie's message about empathy, and that's really not something to "chut up" about.