From Wrestling To Acting: An Interview With Dave Bautista
Before Guardians Of The Galaxy was released, there was a lot of early press surrounding the fact that comedian Christ Pratt underwent a major physical transformation to look like an action star. There were no such stories about Pratt’s co-star Dave Bautista because no such physical transformation was necessary. Six foot six and sporting the type of body mass that could destroy a mid-sized SUV, Bautista has always been a walking comic book character just waiting to be cast in a movie that could contain him. He began his career as a professional wrestler tearing up the WWE, but in recent years he’s left that behind to pursue film acting. He landed a few roles playing traditional heavies in movies like Riddick and the Rza’s directorial debut The Man With Iron Fists, but it wasn’t until he landed a role in the latest Marvel production that the man’s movie star potential was properly tapped.
This week, Dave Bautista will slide his way into audience’s hearts as a member of the Guardians Of The Galaxy. Bautista plays Drax The Destroyer, a character who has dropped in and out of the Marvel comic book universe for years. The film version of Drax is something special though. He’s been reinvented by writer/director James Gunn and Bautista as a hilarious alien muscle man on quest for revenge who simply can’t comprehend non-literal thought (you’ll understand how when you see the movie and you’ll be crippled by laughter once it clicks in). As part of the whirlwind Guardians Of The Galaxy press tour, Bautista came to Toronto this week where he chatted with CGM about his exciting new role, transitioning from wrestling to acting, how he got through his daily five-hour make up routine, and why he would describe the Wu-Tang Clan’s Rza as “his boy.” For such a physically imposing man, Dave Baustista surprisingly proved to be humble and thoughtful delight.
Comics Gaming Magazine: Did you read comic books as a kid?
Dave Bautista: 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.
CGM: Did you feel like you needed to go back and familiarize yourself with the old Guardians Of The Galaxy comics to play Drax or did you just look at this as a role in a movie and try to shake that from your mind?
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. 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.
CGM: Did having to wait that long for a full script make you hesitant at all?
DB: No, not really. 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 got my hopes really low. (laughs) So I was nervous for my first audition, but it was even worse when [the casting director] 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)
CGM: Since you obviously have a background in wrestling, were you drawn to the fact that this was a fairly physical role?
DB: Nah, it was actually the character I loved. When I left to 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 pursue. 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.
CGM: What’s it like working with James Gunn on Guardians Of The Galaxy versus working with the RZA, who directed you last major role The Man With The Iron Fists?
DB: Well, RZA’s my boy. We’re always hanging out and I mean that, really. But James is someone different and very 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… (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 that 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 just thinks out loud.
CGM: Are you going to get a Drax tattoo to go along with all the others?
DB: I actually am! Yeah!
DB: (Laughs) Well, that’s a 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.
CGM: How would you compare the experience of wresting in front of thousands of people to acting on 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: 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.
CGM: Was there a specific 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 note character; the menacing muscle head 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)
CGM: Did you have a bit more creative freedom playing a character within the Marvel universe than you did in the WWE?
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)
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CGM: Had you seen any of James Gunn’s films before you started working with him?
DB: I had seen Super and I was a fan of Super, but I am also a huge, huge fan of Slither. For people who have seen Super, that’s kind of why Guardians has a lot of Kevin Bacon references. (laughs). For people who aren’t as familiar with James, 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. 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. 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.
CGM: You’ve talked a bit in other interviews about the make-up process that you had to go through hours and hours of make-up each day to play Drax. Were you jealous of Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel since they didn’t have to spend any time in make-up to become their characters?
DB: (Laughs) Well… no. 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, “God damn it, I have to be in make-up four hours at a time and so-and-so doesn’t have to be.” 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, which was really cool.
CGM: What was on your make-up 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.
CGM: The first day that you didn’t have to go through the make-up process anymore, 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, so 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 kind’a 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.
CGM: You’re good now, though?
DB: Yeah, I’m pretty clean right now. (Laughs)
CGM: I love the dynamic that you have with Chris and Zoe. What was it like creating a team with them for the film?
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. 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.
CGM: 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 was, man. Chris is just so God damn 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 the 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.