Last September, CBR took part in a roundtable interview session with Dave Bautista, former WWE World Heavyweight Champion wrestler-turned-actor who brings the character of alien powerhouse Drax to life in the forthcoming Marvel Studios movie “Guardians of the Galaxy.” Despite cutting an imposing figure, Bautista was soft-spoken and humble, and it was clear he was a genuine fan of the comics even before he got the part.
Coming straight from set, Bautista answered our questions in full Drax make-up, looking every inch the part as we discussed his introduction at last year’s Comic-Con International in San Diego, how he gets into character, battling with Chris Pratt for 22 takes in a row to get their big fight scene just right, finding his niche as the ‘shirtless guy’ and his excitement at being immortalized in LEGO.
Before we start, we have to say how great you were on stage at Comic-Con.
Dave Bautista: Yeah, my favorite part of Comic-Con this year was me on stage. [Laughs] This was only my third Comic-Con, and two years before I went as a spectator with my girlfriend and we both dressed up so we could walk the floor and really experience it. Then two years later, I was in Hall H on a “Guardians of the Galaxy” panel! How weird is that? It was an amazing experience.
Especially since we’d just seen the footage.
Yeah. And we hadn’t seen any of that, either. I don’t even watch my playbacks because I hate to see myself act!
In the comics, Drax is mainly focused on Thanos, but in the movie it’s more about Ronan. What’s it like having such a particular goal?
It’s easy. This is the one and only reason Drax is alive: To avenge the death of his family, so it makes it easy for me to focus as a character.
Does the physical transformation you go through help you focus your head and get into character?
It’s weird — I keep hearing people tell me I was born to play this part. I love putting on the make-up and stuff, but I can relate to Drax so much it’s not even funny. Even just the simple things, like the tattoos, and the tragedies he’s gone through. There are so many coincidences, even Drax using two knives – I’ve done Kali for years just by chance. Actually, the first time I read the sides for the audition, I didn’t get Drax at all, then I saw a picture of him and I was like, “Oh, right — it’s me!”
Obviously, Drax is quite a physically active character, so how did you prepare for the action scenes?
We did a lot of stunt training before we started filming. Luckily for me, as a lifelong athlete, I can adapt really quickly. Chris [Pratt] and I rehearsed for this fight scene we had together for two months, then the Friday before we shot, it all went out the window and we got one look at the new version. Basically, James [Gunn] decided that the original version wouldn’t look right and we needed to simplify it. We didn’t think it was nearly as cool until we actually saw it. Because it had to be one shot, it took us 22 takes to get right. It’s a hell of a scene.
What’s it like working with James? If you don’t watch the dailies, you must have a huge amount of trust in him.
Yeah. Not only that, but he’s so much fun. He’s hilarious and chilled and relaxed. It just feels like we’re hanging out, and that’s what the atmosphere has been like. We all trust his vision so much and he has a clear idea of what he wants, which makes it very easy on us.
As a fan of the comics already, what was your favorite moment?
Oh man, that’s such a huge question, I hardly know where to start. Everything, from being a comic book character, to seeing the sets, to the make-up, seeing everyone else in their make-up. Especially on days where we have a big cast with extras and everyone on board. The geek in you just sits around going, “Oh, that’s so cool!” at everything. Even the prison set they had is so amazing, it’s so much bigger than anything I’ve done. It’s overwhelming. I wouldn’t know where to start saying what was my favorite. It’s how I stay young. Maybe the action figures, I had action figures and games when I was in the WWE, and even though I’m not a gamer, I’d go out and buy the games just to play myself. So I knew we were going to have “Guardians” action figures, but I didn’t know we were going to have LEGO! Drax LEGO! Stuff like that is what I really love.
Who’s your favorite character, other than yourself?
If I had to say, it’d be Rocket Raccoon, just because I find him so interesting. I don’t know how it’ll be once they put Bradley [Cooper]’s voice over it. It’s such a shame that Shaun Gunn, who’s doing the placeholder work, isn’t going to be Rocket Raccoon, because to me, he absolutely is.
What’s Drax’s relationship to the other Guardians?
The way we start off is that we don’t care for each other at all, then we come together, then we split apart. Then, when we come together again, that’s when we’re really the Guardians of the Galaxy. And you totally feel it. We’re just a jaded band of misfits, except Groot, he’s so lovable. But we all discover a bigger reason for living, something bigger than our own pain. And you can feel it in the scenes. It’s made it pretty easy for me because I don’t have a whole lot of experience in film, but if the actors are there, in that moment I can do it.
How many fight scenes are you in?
There’s about four major fight scenes, but a lot of action and different physicality here and there. It’s a fun movie.
We heard that Drax’s tattoos all have stories linked to them, so were you told those stories or involved in developing them at all? How did that work?
That was James’ idea. I don’t want to give too much away, but there’s a lot of comic relief to Drax. He doesn’t realize it, but he sees something in the tattoos that others don’t see. And that’s all I can say about that without spoiling anything! But no, I didn’t have any specific input in them.
How has the make-up process been, generally?
It’s been all right! They actually set a new record today. When we started, it was 4-5 hours just to put on, and 90 minutes to take off, but today they got it all on in 2 hours, 47 minutes, which is obviously a big difference. They’re incredible. They’re going to be the unsung heroes of this film. It’s never boring in make-up, they keep it fun.
Do you ever forget it’s on?
No, never, because I constantly feel sticky, even when I take it off. I’m grey from the waist up. And it tastes like rubbing alcohol.
What’s it like being the only shirtless actor?
Oh, it’s okay. This is my second movie as the shirtless guy, so that’s okay. I’ve found my niche. I totally get it, and there is going to be a little humor thrown in about it. When I first read the script, there were a few lines that weren’t in there regarding my distaste for shirts, and then one day I turned up in rehearsal and they’d been added in. I looked at James and he was just sitting there, smirking.
Expanding on what you said at Comic-Con, your first big movie is the next big Marvel franchise, so what’s that process been like for you?
Actually, my girlfriend just came over to the UK, and she was there the day I found out I’d got the part, and I literally just broke down on the side of the road. I was going to the gym and I got the news on my phone, so I drove home and I walked in and I was a total mess. And now she’s come over and we were talking about it, and we both still can’t believe I’m here. It’s the weirdest thing. We’re less than three weeks from finishing, and when we started, I thought five months would be a long time, and it’s just flown by.
Did they make you sign the standard Marvel contract for multiple films, and if so, are you excited about the idea of the Guardians potentially running into the rest of the Marvel Universe at some point?
So — I’m not going to answer that. But I will say that I’ve heard the rumors, and if we go there — [Laughs] I want to go there! Just as a fan. I want to be a part of that. I was a wrestler for a long time, and I worked with Triple H and Ric Flair, and when I heard we were going to be in a group with them, it was just a rumor and I just prayed and prayed it’d happen. And that’s the exact same feeling I’ve got here. And — I hope that it happens.
“Guardians of the Galaxy” debuts August 1.