You never quite know what you are going to get when you walk into an interview with someone. Despite being a larger than life badass on WWE programming for years, Dave Bautista is a mild mannered dude who is pretty damn interesting to talk to. When he came to town to promote his role as Drax in the upcoming blockbuster “Guardians of the Galaxy” we got a unique perspective on the difference between the set and the ring, how long the makeup took, if he has always been a comic book guy, how disappointed he was in his run back in the WWE earlier this year and getting the ‘giggles’ while on set.
Dave Voigt: 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 ugly face on them. (laughs)
DV: Did you start off as a comic book guy when you were a kid?
DB: No, this is completely new to me. I was never that guy and I’m still that type of person who if I pick up comics I’ll just look at the pictures. I’m totally perpetuating the stereotype of the big muscle bound dude with that one, but I’m mostly drawn to artwork for some reason.
DV: And as a wrestler you obviously have experience of telling a story through action, is that something that drew you to the role of Drax?
DB: Nah, not so much because it was the character that I just loved and less so the physical side of it all. 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 and that I wanted to pursue it. Drax is this interesting character with a lot of different layers, and that’s what I really loved about him.
DV: Not being a comic book guy, stepping into a role like Drax, 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 and that was part of the challenge! 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 research on Drax. And that was just rough because Drax has changed so much throughout the years and there have been so many different versions of the “Guardians”. 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 finally got the script.
DV: Did that make you hesitant to accept a big role like this considering the hard time you had finding the character in the audition process?
DB: No and I mean it was a little weird because first of all I didn’t really have very hopes going into the audition for getting the part. Even when I went into the first audition my agent was telling me that it was a real long shot. He built my hopes really low. (laughs) So my first audition, I was nervous and everything as expected 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 the part 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)
DV: How would you compare working with James Gunn as opposed to working with someone like RZA, who directed your last major role in “The Man with the Iron Fists”?
DB: Well, first off, RZA’s is definitely my boy. We’re always hanging out and I mean that, really. But James is someone different, I guess you can sort of easy to imagine the differences between them because RZA can be cool and funny, but he’s very serious sometimes too. James is a geek, man. (laughs) He’s really quirky, funny, very energetic, he likes to laugh a lot and joke a lot. He’s always fun and very animated while RZA, he’s just… (Gets very quiet for a second and then 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 likes to think out loud
DV: Are you going to get a Drax tattoo?
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 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.
DV: When you’re wrestling, you’re performing to a crowd of tens of thousands of people, either cheering you or booing you depending on the scenario so it’s really easy to get your energy up in a situation like that. However what’s it like trying to translate that to a sound stage where you have to do the same thing to a crowd of maybe thirty to forty people?
DB: That’s a good question, because you really can’t compare it. That really is the big difference and 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 this type of entertainment, so this should have been easy.” The difference is that 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 say the lines and make the 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 because for some reason that intimacy is just terrifying to me.
DV: It’s been a hell of a year for you. 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 and electricity while you are there. And on top of all that, 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. In a way feel like the proper culmination of four years of really hard work for you on all sides of the spectrum for you, how does it feel to get the gratification and the payoff not only from your work in the movie but in your return to the ring?
DB: Honestly, this feels much better. The reason is that I had wanted to go back to wrestling for such a long time, I mean I had never wanted to leave and I only left because the company really gave me no choice. I went back on kind of a sour note and it was a really weird reaction from the fans, and the company wasn’t really working with me in terms of the creative side of things. 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 my job the best I could.
The opposite end of that is coming into this, where I do believe in it so much 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 f***ing good, that’s how this feels.
DV: Before coming into this I watched the Blu-Ray that was produced by WWE that documented your comeback 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 come out of something that you were a little sour on and be able to run with this whole new experience and a new group of fans that really see you as an actor?
DB: It’s not a self thing or a self gratifying thing. What was happening (in WWE) was just such a negative thing. I just don’t like being surrounded by all that negativity, It just sucks, man, it really does and I don’t like it. It’s not the type 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 f*** is the moment they bash you even more. Ultimately the reason that I don’t give a f*** is because they could never criticize me more then I criticize me (laughs). You can try it if you want but you just have to say 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 was so excited to be going back and I wanted to make it work but it was just one of those things where 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.
DV: So would you say that you had a bit more creative freedom with a character within the mechanism of the Marvel universe than you did in your most recent WWE run or is it just a question of tone between the two worlds?
DB: Well, the tone is completely different between the two. I wouldn’t say I have creative control at all. This here is James Gunn’s baby, and I wanted to play Drax the way 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.
DV: Control may have been too strong a word…
DV: Just from talking to you it seems like you have a lot in common with Drax as a character a guy who just tells it like it is. You don’t seem openly aggressive, you’re very mannered, but you also don’t really take any s*** from anyone. So was that one of the things that you saw that made you excited to take this role on?
DV: 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 thought 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 he knew 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.
DV: 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 were CGI characters and they didn’t have to spend hours in make-up and what did you end up doing that all that time?
DB: (laughs) Well… (laughs). 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, “Damn, 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. The 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 some of 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.
DV: Obviously mixes and playlists were such a big part of the film, when you were just hanging out getting your make-up done, what was your 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.
DV: 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 kind of sad but 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.
DV: You’re good now, though?
DB: I’m pretty clean right now. (laughs)
DV: I know you don’t get a chance to interact with Bradley or Vin really, but I love the core 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 and sympathetic reasons for wanting to join forces. What was it like working with Zoe and Chris on a daily basis to create that dynamic?
DB: It was fun, man! It was weird too because we all had really great chemistry right from the start. I think that’s what made it work, 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. For me, I’m usually a really quiet guy, usually the quietest guy in the room even, 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 kind of 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 lighting set-ups. They would just randomly start singing or dancing, and that was just so ridiculous. For me, it was a lifetime worth of entertainment.
DV: It must be hard to play a character that’s a straight man that takes everything literally against someone like Chris Pratt.
DB: Oh, God. It is, man, it really is because 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 and it all stays so fresh that if one of us got the giggles, then everyone was going to get it. 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. 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 very 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.
DV: You mentioned before that you never really wanted to leave the ring, but there is such a long legacy of guys who have made the transition to acting and you had to give it a try. Was there ever a moment during this whole experience in Hollywood when you said to yourself that hey I can make a go of being an actor full time?
DB: Yeah, it really was when I got the role of Drax. Up until then I had really struggled to get roles, and I still struggle to get roles. 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 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)
“Guardians of the Galaxy” is in theatres now…go see it. Check with your local listings for show times.