He’s back as an avenging warrior in ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’ but, really, Dave Bautista is a sweetheart deep down
Dave Bautista — former mixed martial artist and wrestling champ, currently the terse, tattooed Drax the Destroyer in “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” – would love to play Shakespeare.
Go ahead. wanna laugh at him?
I’m not going to – and not because he’s 6’6″ and built like a boulder. It’s because the quietly determined Bautista has a steady habit of sticking to his plans and proving people wrong.
He grew up poor in Washington D.C., and ran with a tough crowd. His name was not unknown to the police.
But he found comfort in the gym, and eventually, a career in the ring. And now, at 48, he has a second career as an actor – a breakout fan favorite in the two “Guardians” films, and with a strong role in the upcoming “Blade Runner 2049.”
He’s having a terrific time, too — even if “Vol 2” didn’t give him the chance to show off any of his signature moves, like the Batista Bomb.
“Yeah, it was mostly guns and wire work — I didn’t have one real fight scene in this one,” he says, sounding a little disappointed. “Well one, at the beginning, but it was with a giant monster.”
But for a lifelong superhero fan, the film was still a kick. And the soft-spoken actor was happy to take time out from a busy day to talk about his ideas for Drax, his time in the ring and his hopes to brush up his Shakespeare.
Q: The “Guardians” movies are full of great characters, but I think Drax was one of the nicest surprises. You expected this Conan the Barbarian type – but there was a real humor to him, and sense of honor.
A: Yeah, and that was one of the things I was pleasantly surprised by – there were some layers to Drax. I didn’t want to get into that rut of playing muscleheads who just growled at you. It went in a different direction and I give all credit to James (Gunn, the filmmaker). The first one was written before I came on board, but the second was written for me as a person, and Drax has changed a bit – he sees himself as the big brother, and he’s kind of appointed himself mentor to Mantis. Of course, he’s not really qualified to give anybody advice, but he has a good heart.
Q: The character kind of flips this stereotype of big guys as being bullies, which is great. Because I think a lot of big guys are very sweet. They’ve got nothing to prove.
A: That’s the thing, I always tell people – it’s a strange conversation to have, but upon first sight, a lot of people expect me to be this Type A, aggressive, assertive person. But you know, I look this way because I’m the opposite. As a kid I was looking for my comfort zone and I found it in the gym, working out. That was my therapy, lifting weights. So that’s why I look this way. It’s weird, and it’s been a hard thing to live with sometimes, looking like this, because it’s closed a lot of doors. People had this preconceived notion because of it, or who I was in wrestling — although that was just another character I was playing. It was “Guardians” that kind of broke that for me. Doors have been opening and I’ve been getting some great roles. Normal guy roles. You know, where I actually wear a shirt, and speak.
Q: You’ve said you like being surprised seeing where the “Guardians” scripts take you, but where would you like to see Drax go? Have a relationship with Mantis? Get his own movie?
A: I would love to see Drax get his own film. If that never happens I would love to see him tell still more of his backstory — what his family was like, putting a visual to match what we’ve heard about his past. The Mantis connection – I don’t think that’ll ever blossom into anything romantic. I don’t think, since his wife was killed, he’ll ever have room in his heart for another woman. And besides, Mantis, being an empath, she’d always know exactly what he was feeling – ‘Hey, I know you’re missing your wife right now!” I don’t think it’d work.
Q: Were you a comics or sci-fi fan before this?
A: I was a geek growing up. I didn’t get my superhero fix from comics, though. I mostly got it from cartoons. When I was a little kid, I was obsessed with TV. I would always watch these superhero programs before I went to school and…
Q: Who were your favorites?
A: Oh, man, I was hoping you wouldn’t ask. (Laughs.) But I’m always honest so, yeah, when I was a very young kid I loved Aquaman, and Batman. I know, I know. Both DC. But you gotta understand, when you’re a superhero fan, you’re a fan. It’s not, this company’s better than this, or I hate that, or anything. It’s all great stuff. It’s just, right now, Marvel is putting out the best stuff.
Q: So you’ve done these Marvel movies, you did the Bond picture, “Spectre,” and you’ve got “Blade Runner 2049” coming out. That’s a pretty impressive string of properties. What can you tell us about the “Blade Runner” sequel?
A: Well, I’m a little under wraps here, because of an NDA (non-disclosure agreement). But I can you tell you my part is a great part, a real acting role. And the film itself is going to be amazingly beautiful. Roger Deakins’ cinematography and the lighting, it’s just captivating. I think it’s going to be an incredible movie. Honestly, I think it’s going to be better than the first film. The script will answer a lot of fans’ questions. It’s really deep and dramatic.
Q: Going even deeper, I’ve read that you’d love to do more serious things, even Shakespeare.
A: It’s on the bucket list. I mean, that’d be the biggest challenge. I worked with an acting coach when I was starting out and he would have me do scenes from “Measure for Measure” and “Taming of the Shrew” because, he’d say, ‘If you can do Shakespeare, you can do anything.’ And I see people do Shakespeare on stage now, and I’m in awe – I have trouble remembering movie dialogue, and, you know, if you’re on stage doing Shakespeare and you forget a line, you can’t improv. You really have to be on it, all the time. So I watch those people and I’m a bit envious – those are real actors, you know, top-of-the-food-chain actors, and honestly, I want to be there. Doing theater? As an actor, that’s real street cred.
Q: The stage can be really tough, though, especially for movie actors. It’d be a big risk.
A: Yeah, but I’ve always been willing to be embarrassed, always been willing to fail. If you don’t risk failing, you’ll never achieve. I left wrestling (in 2010) without any other offers. I could have stayed, I was fine, I could have been secure for the rest of my life. Instead I let my contract run out. But there were things I wanted to do, opportunities I wanted to pursue, and the company was saying ‘No’ so I walked. It was a little bit out of spite, maybe, but when I fall in love with something I have to go after it. The hardest thing is just taking that first step, making yourself leave your comfort zone.
Q: Like the gym back in D.C.
A: Exactly. I could have just stayed there forever, working out. It’s scary to pursue things. But I got over that, and since then I’ve never let my fear stop me. That’s kind of how I live my life. And you’ve got to realize, there are always different avenues – if one doesn’t work, take another. My success in acting, I took the long way about, I turned down a lot of cheesy straight-to-DVD action roles. But I just decided, no, I’m not going to do it, I’m going to wait, and hold out, and find something where I’ll be working with better actors, and I can be better. It was a gamble and it’s just in the past couple of years it’s paid off. But if I’d never taken any gambles, nothing ever would have paid off. I’d still be a gym rat. I’d still be working in a bar somewhere, bouncing drunks.