Dave Bautista is reaching the end of another long tour in support of a dream he finally realized after chasing it down for years. Sipping on a much deserved black coffee in a downtown hotel room, Bautista speaks softly, humbly, and thoughtfully for someone with such an imposing and heavily tattooed figure. He’s been working non-stop for months and he looks ready to get straight back to work as soon as he can. After all, long weeks and months on the road aren’t anything new to him.
The 45 year old actor and former professional wrestler/sports entertainer (depending on which term you prefer to call it) finds himself at the end of a press tour promoting his role as a comic book hero in Marvel’s hotly awaited and heavily buzzed about Guardians of the Galaxy (opening officially tomorrow with early screenings tonight). It’s his second major supporting role in a studio film (previously appearing in RZA’s directorial debut, The Man with the Iron Fists) and part of a handful of onscreen roles that don’t require the six time WWE champion to hit the road to give and get beatdowns on a nightly basis.
Following a return to the WWE briefly at the start of this year, Bautista jumped right into promoting his role as Drax the Destroyer, a colourful and also heavily tattooed warrior with a tragic backstory and revenge on his mind that joins a crew of intergalactic misfits and castaways attempting to unload a powerful and potentially planet destroying artifact. It’s a part in director James Gunn’s summer blockbuster that Bautista never expected to get, but is eternally grateful and humbled by the opportunity to work alongside the likes of actors like Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, and dozens of other established high profile actors and skyrocketing emerging talents.
We chatted with Bautista about joining up with director James Gunn, his experiences in acting thus far, why he’s disappointed with his most recent stint in the WWE, his co-stars, Drax’s lengthy make-up process, why this marks the first time he’s felt like he can make it as an actor in Hollywood, and much more.
I heard you collect lunchboxes. Do you have any with your face on it yet?
Dave Bautista: Yeah! I’ve got a Guardians lunchbox and I have a lunchbox with me and Eddie Guerrero. Both of them were made for me, but yeah, I do have a couple with my face on them. (laughs)
So did you start off as a comic book lover as a kid?
DB: No, this is completely new to me. I’m still that guy who if I pick up a comic I’ll just look at the pictures. I’m totally perpetuating a stereotype with that one, but I’m mostly drawn to artwork for some reason.
So when you left wrestling behind were you drawn to the fact that you could be somewhat physical in this film?
DB: Nah, it was actually the character I loved. When I left to sort of pursue acting I never intended to be an action star or anything like that. I just found out by chance that I had a passion for acting that I wanted to purse. But really what drew me into this was Drax himself. He’s a complex character with a lot of different layers, and that’s what I really liked about him.
So when you get a role like this and you become Drax and you never started out as a comic book guy, did you feel the need to go back and start reading up on the character you were going to be playing? Or did you just go from the script that James Gunn had written?
DB: I did go back! When I first decided to audition I was given sides, and they were very limited sides because Marvel doesn’t just give their info out to everyone who’s interested. They definitely aren’t giving anything away. The sides that I had been given were just bits and pieces of different scenes that were thrown together. It didn’t tell me anything at all about Drax, so I had to go back and do all the research I could on Drax. And that was rough because Drax has changed so much throughout the years and there have been so many different versions of the Guardians in general. It was kind of rough because I really couldn’t fully put my finger on Drax until I got the whole script, and that wasn’t until I got the part. After the first audition, that was about four months later that I got the script.
Did having to wait that long for a full script with a character you were still trying to figure out make you hesitant at all?
DB: No, not really, and first of all that was because I didn’t really have too high of hopes for getting the part. Even when I went into the first audition my agent was telling me that it was a real longshot. He built my hopes really low. (laughs) So I was nervous for my first audition, but it was even worse when [casting agent] Sarah Finn asked me to come in and read for James. That was when I really got nervous. As soon as I read for James from those limited sides and he explained a bit about what it would entail, then I became intrigued. That was when I really started to want it instead of thinking it was just another audition that I was going to get turned down for. (laughs)
What’s it like working with someone like James Gunn as opposed to working with someone like RZA, who directed your last major role in a film in The Man with the Iron Fists?
DB: Well, first off, RZA’s my boy. We’re always hanging out and I mean that, really. But James is someone different and every special. I guess you can sort of imagine the differences between them just by looking at them and listening to them. RZA can be cool, but he’s very serious. James is a geek, man. (laughs) He’s really quirky, funny, energetic, he likes to laugh a lot and joke a lot. He’s always fun.
And RZA, he’s just… [looks very serious without saying anything]. (laughs) He’s Mr. Wu Tang. He’s a philosopher and everything he says is really deep and thoughtful. He can say the most serious thing and you really have to think about it, and be, like, “Yeah, okay.” (laughs) RZA can be playful, but he’s also a lot like me. He can be really internal and analytical without saying a lot. James I think just thinks out loud.
Are you going to get a Drax tattoo to add to your other tattoos?
DB: I actually am! Yeah!
DB: (laughs) That’s one problem. (laughs) I’m going to pitch something. I have an idea for a Drax tattoo, and I’m going to see if they go for it, and if they do I’ll go for it, and if not I’ll go through the other ones and try to figure something out.
But actually, and there’s a little bit of insight here, there was at one point a scene in the film where we explained Drax’s tattoos, and they didn’t use it in the film. It was really just a pacing thing. It was kind of a slow, sad, sad story, but I’ve been told that’s going to be on the DVD extras, so that’s going to be a cool thing to share with everyone.
When you’re wrestling, you’re performing to a crowd of thousands of people, so it’s really easy to get your energy up in a situation like that, but what’s it like trying to translate that to a sound stage where you have to do the same thing over and over again to a crowd of maybe forty to fifty people at the most?
DB: That’s a good question. You really can’t compare it. I try to explain it to some people and often they’ll think it must be a really easy transition. They’ll just say “Oh, you’ve already been in entertainment, so this should have been easy.” The difference is that it’s such a broad spectrum. In wrestling there are so many people inside and outside the ring, and it’s so live, and it’s this whole adrenaline thing. Whereas you move it into this more intimate thing, everything gets all quiet, someone says action, and you have to make these words your own. It couldn’t be any more different and it’s weird sometimes trying to explain that to people. When I tell people that acting is much more terrifying to me than going out in front of ten thousand people, they don’t quite believe it. But that intimacy is just terrifying to me.
It’s been a hell of a year for you so far. You started off going back to the WWE for the Royal Rumble, you were in the Wrestlemania main event. You were away for four years, and coming back there’s this instant gratification that must have come from all the work you did while you were away. And you shot this a while ago, and you get to have that same gratification that you got for something you did while you were away. You were kind of nervous about both of those things, so does this in a way feel like the proper culmination of four years of really hard work for you?
DB: Honestly, this feels much better. The reason is that I had wanted to go back to wrestling for such a long time. I had never wanted to leave. I only left because the company really gave me no choice. I went back on kind of a sour note. It was a really weird reaction from the fans, and the company wasn’t really working with me as far as what creative had in mind. They wanted me to do stuff that I just didn’t agree on or believe in. It wasn’t a great run, and I was a little disappointed with it. But, I mean, it is what it is and I did what I could.
The opposite end of that is coming into this, where I do believe in it and I’m so proud of it. It’s just so refreshing to have this breath of fresh air coming out of that atmosphere and into this. It seemed like that atmosphere was all hate, and this atmosphere is all love. And it feels fucking good. That’s how this feels.
Before coming into this I watched the Blu-Ray that was produced by WWE that documented your return at the beginning of this year and one of the things you said in there that was really interesting is that you refer to yourself as your own harshest critic. So coming from an experience like that where things didn’t plan out like you thought and then going into something like this, is there any real validation to be able to run with this whole new talent and that see you as an actor?
DB: It’s not a self thing. It’s a negative thing what was happening (in WWE). I just don’t like being surrounded by all that negativity. It sucks, man. I just don’t like it. It’s not the kind of person I am. And it’s weird, and I don’t know if you’ll get this, but it’s like when people bash you and bash you and bash you and the moment you start acting like you don’t give a fuck is the moment they start bashing you more. And the reason that I don’t give a fuck is because there’s no way they could criticize me more that I criticize me. It’s whatever, man. You can hate me for this, that, or the other reason, but I have one life to live and I’m going to live it as full as I can whether you like what I’m doing or not.
That was hard for me because I really love pro wrestling, and it was like the company was just constantly working against me instead of working with me. I started off so excited to be going back. It was something where when I went back, I was disappointed. They took the control completely out of my hands, and I really didn’t have a choice except to go with the flow as best I could. But yeah, that was kind of as heartbreaking as this is great.
Some of the stuff with the WWE thing that stung was when I came in, a lot of the things that I wanted to do right off the bat, they just said “No, no, no.” They were really working against me, and then what they gave me wasn’t working, so they went back to what I originally wanted to do. That kept happening over and over and over again. There finally came a point where they started teasing the return of Evolution, and I said “Well, that sounds interesting.” Then they came back and said they wanted to reform Evolution as just a one-off, and I said, “I’m not really interested in doing that. If we’re going to do that, then let’s run with this.” So they did it, and then they went back on their word. They did it as a one-off and they cut it. And I said, “Well, if you’re going to cut it, then I’m not going to stay.” So they agreed to stay on with it for a bit, and I agreed to stay as long as they ran with it. It just didn’t make any sense to me that as soon as they were so excited to put it together that they couldn’t wait to disband it. It didn’t make sense to me. I just could never wrap my head around it.
So would you say that you had a bit more creative freedom with a character within the Marvel universe than you did in your most recent WWE run?
DB: Well, the tone is completely different between the two. I wouldn’t say I have a ton of control over a Marvel character at all. This here is James Gunn’s baby, and I wanted to play Drax like how he wanted me to play Drax. We had a lot of freedom when it came to doing improv, and a lot of that improv actually made it into the final edit. But to say that I had any creative control over Drax would be a lie. (laughs)
Was there ever a moment when you knew you could make it as an actor and that you didn’t have to rely on wrestling as a profession?
DB: It really was when I got the role of Drax. Before that I had tried and struggled to get roles, and I still struggle to get roles, actually. I’m hoping this will open up a lot more doors for me, but I’m still auditioning and getting turned down for roles. So I think some people still aren’t aware. Maybe they’re aware that I’ve been cast in this role, but I think they still expect Drax to be just this one noted character: the menacing musclehead who cuts people’s heads off, or as Jason Momoa describes these kinds of roles, a shirtless character who doesn’t say much. But, you know, surprise, surprise. (laughs)
Had you seen any of James Gunn’s films prior to coming to this film?
DB: I had seen Super. I was a fan of Super, but I am also a huge, huge fan of Slither. But for people who have seen Super, that’s kind of why this film has a lot of Kevin Bacon references. (laughs) They really comes from that. But for people who aren’t as familiar with him, if you see those early movies of his, you can really see his sense of humour. It’s cool that for this they didn’t need to go for this big huge director, and those were the movies that really showcased what made James really special. He’s just so creative.
Talking to you it seems like you have a lot in common with Drax as a character. You don’t seem openly aggressive, you’re very mannered, and you also don’t really take any shit from anyone. So was that one of the things that you saw that made you excited to take this role on?
DB: Yeah! What’s really cool is that James just said something to me this weekend that hit me really hard and it made me so eternally grateful and really put things in perspective. He said that he feared that Drax was going to be the one character he was going to have to “settle” on, and he was so relieved when he finally met me. He said right off the bat, he was going to convince Marvel that I was the guy. That really put things in a whole different perspective for me, and yeah, I guess that’s because that’s just who I am. I guess that’s why he saw me as his Drax. But seriously, thank God that we found each other.
You’ve talked a bit in other interviews about the make-up process that you had to go through for hours and hours each time to become Drax, so were you jealous of Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel that they didn’t have to spend hours in make-up to become their characters?
DB: (laughs) Well… (laughs) no. Well, I was warned way before hand what this entailed. They wanted to make me aware that this was going to be a really lengthy make-up process. Honestly, once I was Drax I was grateful to be there. I never thought, “Goddamit, I have to be in make-up four hours at a time and so-and-so doesn’t have to be.”
But the best perspective I can give you on it is this: If you can imagine hanging out with four or five of your best friends for four hours and just listening to music, it goes by pretty fast. That’s what it was like for me. My make-up team was five people, and I just stood there and they did all the work. All we did was talk. Sometimes we didn’t talk and we just listened to music. Either way, it was just like hanging out with my friends. It was cool. I actually built some really strong relationships with my make-up team. Almost all of them came to the premiere in London as my guests. Some of them were even to make it over to Wrestlemania last year, and that was really cool.
So since cool mixes are a big part of the film, if you were just hanging out getting your make-up done, what was your cool playlist?
DB: Oh, man! It was so funny because the first time they said we could listen to music they told me to bring in whatever I want. So I bring in my iPod, and I had a bunch of playlists on it, but I had this one really old school hip-hop one. It was all Public Enemy, BDP, Wu Tang, Method Man, all that stuff. And that was the last time they ever let me play my iPod. (laughs) They always had their iPods in there from then on out, and it was always classic rock like The Rolling Stones and stuff like that. It was always good stuff, though.
So the first time you didn’t have to go through the make-up process was it a relief or were you kind of nostalgic for it?
DB: You know, it was weird, I think about a month and a half for two months into shooting, I wrapped early one day and they were still shooting. I wanted to go and watch and see what they were doing. I went on set without my make-up, and there was a bunch of people who I talked to day in and day out over months that had no idea who I was. That was weird.
But it really was a sad thing, man, having to wrap and say goodbye to my make-up team. I had to say good-bye to the lead make-up artist a bit early because he actually had to go to Hong Kong, but it was kinda sad.
Then again, it felt good to be clean once again. (laughs) Even after I left the set for that last day, it still took me a good two weeks to get rid of all that residue from the make-up. It was just constantly turning up. There was grain still coming out of my nose, and it was just everywhere.
You’re good now, though?
DB: I’m pretty clean right now. (laughs)
I know you don’t get a chance to interact with Bradley or Vin really, but I love the dynamic that you have with Chris and Zoe. You guys are all hard working performers, and you’re all playing characters with different personalities and really easily relatable reasons for wanting to join forces. What was it like creating a team with them on a daily basis?
DB: It was fun, man! It was weird because we all had really great chemistry right from the start. I think that’s what made it work. I think a lot of that was because James really put a lot of thought into that when he was casting. I think he wanted to make sure everyone got along and there wasn’t going to be any ego on the set. That’s sort of what it was.
I’m usually a really quiet guy. I’m usually the quietest guy in the room, and a lot of times my favourite memories throughout filming were just sitting back and watching Chris and Zoe interact with one another. They’re both kind of hams. (laughs) They’re both really motivated, energetic, and outgoing. It’s really slow in-between takes while we’re waiting for camera angles to change and new set-ups. They would just randomly start telling jokes, or breaking out into songs, or dancing, and that was just so ridiculous. For me, it was a lifetime worth of entertainment, though.
It must be hard to play a character that’s a comedic straight man that takes everything literally against someone like Chris Pratt.
DB: Oh, God. It is, man. Chris is just so goddamn funny. A lot of the stuff he says isn’t on the page, and sometimes James would call out to us over the microphone and tell us to say something else. It all stays so fresh at all times, and if one of us got the giggles, then everyone was going to get it. But usually whenever things would break down into laughter, it would be from James telling us to do something or say something differently. Zoe was always the first person to start laughing out loud, and then Chris would get going, and when he gets going, he really gets going. Sometimes it wasn’t easy. That’s when you thank God for editing. (laughs)
There was a scene in the prison with a scar faced prisoner, the guy that I take the knife from, that I hope makes it to the gag reel on the DVD. We did a whole bunch of stuff with him, and he had to deliver everything the same way as me and just be so deadpan, and that was SO funny. All of us were spitting from laughing so hard. I hope some of that stuff makes it to the gag reel.