You might assume that the guy who played Drax the Destroyer and has been WWE World Heavyweight Champion would be more than a little cocky. Not Dave Bautista, however. But don’t let his humble, soft-spoken, gentle-giant demeanor wrong: He does plan on conquering Hollywood, even if its in a manner different from what you might expect.
The 45-year-old pro-wrestler-turned-actor, whose size is slightly less Olympian now that he’s no longer bulked up for his role in “Guardians of the Galaxy,” admits that his primarily shirtless role as Drax (in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a literal-minded alien warrior pursuing a bloody vendetta against the Kree leader Ronan the Accuser) is probably the best action role he’ll ever take on. Which only motivates him further to move toward the dialogue-heavy, character-driven, auteur-helmed movies the self-professed film buff says he’s dying for.
In a one-on-one conversation with CBR News, Bautista revealed his plans to use his spacefaring stint as Drax to body-slam Hollywood into submission, why he doesnt; really think a solo Drax film would work and the unabashed pride he has in his “Star Wars” collection.
CBR News: As you act more and more, how much is it becoming second nature and what you want to do — something you know you’re good at?
Dave Bautista: Um, I’m not there yet. [Laughs] I watched the film yesterday for the first time, and I don’t like watching myself on film. I don’t like watching playback, so I just cringe — I get inside my head, and I think, “Ah, I know that’s not the best take.” So yeah, I’m not there yet. But I think that’s what made me want to be an actor, made me want to pursue it, because I realized how bad I was at it, is, it’s challenging. I’m that type of person that when I find challenges, it just makes me want to do stuff more. It develops into a passion. It really is, at this point, a strong passion. I want to be working more. I want to be acting in more diverse roles and stuff like that.
You’ve done effects-heavy movies before, but this had to be pretty challenging because two of your main co-stars literally aren’t there on set. What was it like to adjust to a movie of this scale, with that level of effects work?
It actually wasn’t that bad. I mean, it was weird, but because the sets were so huge and so elaborate, it just made it real easy. Plus, the actors I was working with are so talented, it was kind of easy to get sucked into it. We didn’t do probably as much stuff in green screen as you would think. Just because the sets were so huge and elaborate, like the Kyln scene, the prison scene — it was a real prison! That was like a 360 degrees prison. It was crazy!
The overwhelming thing was walking on the set because I thought it was going to be something like that — a lot of green screen stuff — but you walk on these sets, and they’re huge. It makes it really easy to get kind of sucked into that world. Even with the actors, the two that weren’t there, we had stand-ins, like the Rocket guy was a stand-in, and he was actually in character — he was Rocket Raccoon, so it was kind of easy to bounce off him.
Did you have to do anything different for your workout regimen to be Drax, or was it something you do pretty normally?
It was pretty much what I do normally, and it was weird, because I had dropped a lot of weight — pretty much like I am now, because I wanted to get more roles and thought it would be easier to fit into more roles if I was a little trimmer and less muscle-bound, which is very easy for me to be. I get muscle-bound really fast. I went and auditioned for it, and then months later when I finally got the role, I asked them, because Drax is pretty big and menacing, if they wanted me to put a little weight on, and they said, “Yeah, 10 or 15 pounds would be great.” It’s like, “No problem!” I increased my calories a little bit, started lifting weights again, because I don’t lift weights all that much anymore. That’s kind of what I did
Were you much of a comic book fan prior to the gig?
No, not much. I’ve not been the biggest comic book fan my whole life. I was more a TV and movie guy. That’s kind of where I got my superhero fix. I’m really a huge fan of cinema, of film. I’m a movie buff.
What are the movies that were the most inspiring? Or the ones that kind of fired your imagination, in the way that this movie is going to do for kids today?
“Star Wars.” I hate to be generic, but it’s totally “Star Wars.” I’m a “Star Wars” buff. I still collect the action figures and light sabers and stuff. Easily, it’s “Star Wars,” which you’re probably going to find that everybody’s going to have the same answer.
What’s the pride of your collection?
Well, probably my lunchboxes. I have all, I think, 27 original action figures, but probably my lunchboxes. I’m a lunchbox collector, so I’ve got all three of them, the film lunchboxes.
When you looked at Drax, both in the script and maybe the comics, what intrigued you and got you excited to be him?
The emotional range Drax has, just because I wanted a character that had some heart, wasn’t just kind of one-noted, one-leveled, and Drax is so multi layered. Also, he’s just kind of a mess! I wanted that for a lot of different reasons, but that is what really made him interesting to me — which is something I didn’t get when I first read the sides for the audition. I didn’t get it at all! I was totally confused. But I called my acting coach, and he eventually was the one who explained the whole background of Drax, and just something kind of happened.
When the cameras weren’t rolling, what was the worst part of being in the makeup and prosthetics? And was there a best part?
There wasn’t, really. [Laughs] I mean, the only thing — and it’s not really a complaint — is when I was in makeup, I was in makeup. I mean, I just had to be very careful with the makeup throughout the day. Like, I couldn’t really lay down. A lot of times, I couldn’t even lean back on anything. It was kind of hard to relax, but I mean, it wasn’t horrible. Nothing seemed horrible. The best thing about it was it was just very easy to get into character. [Laughs] Like, you’re completely transformed into a different being, no special effects — it was all makeup, and they turned me into Drax. The best was part was, when I was in makeup, it was all great. But when they put it in the contacts, man, it was like that final touch. It was like, yeah, I was gone. It was just Drax there. It was really cool when they put the contacts in.
Tell me about what you want to do as an actor? We’ll hopefully see Drax again — but before that?
I want to do stuff that’s very dialogue-driven, that’s very story-driven, that’s very character-driven. Quentin Tarantino, Guy Richie, Martin Scorsese — those types of films that I love and I’m a fan of, and that I would hope to be a part of some day. That’s kind of the stuff I want. Real character stuff, real acting.
You’re going to get movie work offered to you as a result of this, including half the action films in Hollywood, but are you going to be selective?
I will be. I will be very selective. It’s one of those things where we’ve gone about my acting career in a certain way, and we’ve been picky about choosing certain jobs. They weren’t even the best jobs, but we took them for very particular reasons. I’ll continue to do so, and I think that as far as my action fix, for me, it’s not going to get any bigger and better than this. It’s not. Honestly, it’s not. I never set out to be an action star, which I think will surprise most people because they think when I left wrestling, that would be my niche and that’s where I want to go. But that’s really not. I love acting. I want to be a better actor, and get those dialogue-driven movies.
As a wrestler, you see the effect you can have on fans, especially young fans. Now, you’re going to be this outer space superhero. Is that something you’ll get a lot of gratification out of when kids recognize you?
It’s weird, man, because we just started press a week ago for this in Singapore, so it’s just starting to hit me how big it is. So yeah, I don’t know. It’s going to take some getting used to. It’s always an odd thing for me. Even with wrestling, with having fans and stuff like that, signing autographs — it’s very strange to me. It feels weird. I always try to tell people that sometimes when I do it, I feel like a fraud. Like it doesn’t feel right. I don’t know why these people want my autograph. I feel like I’m a fraud, like I’m passing myself off as a superstar or a movie star or a wrestling star, because I just don’t feel that way. I feel like a regular guy. I live in Tampa, and I live a very normal life. I live a day-to-day life. There’s nothing extraordinary about my life. It’s going to take some getting used to.
Tell me, what’s been the most unexpected cool thing about this job?
You know what it is? Getting to work with people like James [Gunn] and Chris [Pratt], who are just amazing. They’ve become very close friends. I think that’s what it is. That’s the best part about it. I think they’re really good people, and when I watch them I’m kind of in awe of just how talented they are and how creative they are. It’s really kind of awe-inspiring. I love being a part of it, and I love being included and kind of getting to witness it firsthand. To be a part of these peoples’ lives is pretty cool.
And as you look ahead, is there a side of Drax that you would like to explore?
Yeah, there’s certain things and stuff that actually didn’t make the movie that I hope sooner or later they’ll touch upon. I think a lot of Drax’s past, his family life and stuff like that, because I love the character, I hope they go into more detail of his past and his life.
Let’s do a reverse “Avengers “where everybody in “Guardians” gets their own solo movie after “Guardians.”
Yeah, I thought about that. I always thought that would be cool, but I don’t know how much fun Drax would be if he didn’t have Star-Lord to play off of.
It really is about the strength of the group dynamic.
Yeah, it totally is. They all bounce off each other, and they’re pieces of a puzzle that when put together, they just complete the puzzle, and they work. I don’t know how entertaining Drax would be by himself or around a bunch of other people that take everything literally. It wouldn’t be as entertaining.
Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” arrives in theaters August 1.