When Dave Bautista first appeared onscreen in Guardians of the Galaxy, I was terrified. “Good hell,” I thought. “I have to interview him tomorrow.” Fortunately, he is a much gentler presence in person. Bautista plays Drax the Destroyer, one of the titular heroes. Huge, currently bearded, and until recently a professional wrestler by trade, he is eager to position himself as a serious actor, but in a way that is endearing, rather than annoying. He enjoys talking about Drax’s emotional journey. I spoke to him a couple weeks ago about Chris Pratt the movie star, crying on set, and what Marvel tells him about their upcoming projects.
You were probably asked this a hundred times, but you were a super successful professional wrestler. Why did you want to make the jump into movies?
Because I fell in love with acting and the WWE told me that I couldn’t make films. Laughs. Well, because they have their own film division, they still do, at the time they were really starting to really dive into it, but none of their films included me. And I’d done a small part in a film called Wrong Side of Town as a favor to a friend, and I really kind of fell in love with it, and I wanted to pursue it. So I understood that they didn’t want to include me in any of their films, but I asked for permission to go and do stuff outside of the company and they wouldn’t let me, which I thought really sucked. Because it was one of those things where they decide who their superstars are going to be and they kind of push them accordingly, and their plans didn’t include me, and I thought it was kind of unfair. You know, why can’t I have these opportunities, it doesn’t seem right. So I said, well, if you’re not going to let me do it then I’m just going to leave the company, and so I gave them about 9 months notice and I left. Kind of went out on a limb and took a gamble.
And you seem to have done okay so far.
Yeah… It’s bigger than anything I’d ever planned on doing. It’s kind of crazy.
What drew you to Drax? Why did you want to play this particular character?
Well, what I really loved about Drax was he wasn’t so one-noted, you know, was kind of a multi-layered, kind of a range of emotions character, which I really wanted and needed for my career. But that’s what made him interesting because I didn’t want to be Henchmen Number 3. I wanted to be someone with a heart, and that’s what I loved about him. Drax is such a kind of emotional roller coaster.
On that [Major spoiler redacted.] He is so bent on revenge, what happens to the character when he achieves that? What do you think he does then?
You know, I don’t know. It’s probably one of those things where, I think he’s searching for a way to get past the heartbreak, but my opinion would be that Drax will never get over the loss of his family. Nothing is going to cure that. I think he’s searching for it, he thinks that something might make him feel better, but my opinion is that he would never get over the heartbreak.
He has an interesting emotional backstory, but he’s also — he’s not dumb, but he’s really kind of limited mentally by his literalness. Was that fun or challenging to play, or both?
It was, you know, it was fun, and it really wasn’t challenging, and that’s mostly because of Chris Pratt. It’s just so easy playing a straight man to him. So it just — it was one of those things that if the timing was right, which again, made it very easy working with Chris, because he’s just witty and talented. And we had chemistry because basically our first screen test together was just a chemistry test. We didn’t have any dialogue, you know, we just went on and did a bunch of improv stuff to see if we did and right off the bat we just had chemistry. So in the end it wasn’t so much of a challenge.
That’s good. What was the set like? Because in the movie you guys are building a team, was it like that on set or did you guys keep to yourselves?
No! It was — actually, we were never by ourselves we spent most of our time on set, because once we were on set and in makeup and stuff it was long days. We didn’t have a lot of breaks and if there was downtime we just stayed on set. But it was just a lot of fun, a lot of chemistry, but a lot of chemistry was I think already built with casting. I think James [Gunn] kind of had a certain goal of making sure that we all did have good chemistry and there weren’t going to be any prima donnas on set. So I think that was one of his major goals, and it showed. I think right off the bat we kind of gelled right off the bat. We were over there months early for preproduction and spent a lot of time beforehand before we even got to filming so I think that was already kind of built in so once we got on set it was like a bunch of kids.
You are very tattooed and so is Drax. Did you have any input in the character design at all?
No, I went up there, you know, Drax went through a bunch of different versions. They kept, they would do makeup tests and decide they weren’t happy with certain things and then they’d do it again. But no, it was — that stuff was so far over my head anyway, because the makeup team, who was led by a guy named David White, was just so creative, man. I mean they came up with stuff that I was looking at and [was] just kind of in awe. ‘Cuz they had this big, kind of, it was a body molding where they put the tattoos on our skin, and I was looking at all the details, just so crazy, man. So that stuff’s like, I would have sounded like an idiot trying to tell these guys how to do their job.
Okay, fair enough. Do you know the plot of Guardians of the Galaxy 2?
I don’t know if there’s going to be a Guardians of the Galaxy 2 [Editor’s note: There is]. I would assume that there is going to be, and that’s really based solely off of my opinion of the film, because I think it’s great.
It’s really fun.
Yeah it was so much fun I just don’t see how they’re… when I first started watching it I was really kind of, as you would expect for me to be: looking at my performance, kind of analyzing it, and just kind of cringing, just like oh, man… But then I just got sucked into it as a fan, and I just want more, man. I just want to see more. So yeah, no. Obviously I don’t know the plot, but I’m assuming that there is going to be more to come.
So I’m assuming you don’t know when the Guardians are going to team up with the Avengers?
Laughs. And again, that would be along the line. You know, Marvel’s pretty hush-hush with everything, so like, I get wrapped up in the rumors, too, and I wanna know more, but they don’t tell me anything. Laughs
What was your favorite thing to film? What was your favorite part of the movie?
Um… Long pause, heavy sigh. It’s such a toss-up because you know, like, the Kiln, the prison set, was so amazing and you just kind of get lost in it while you’re there. So it was a lot of fun filming, but there was certain stuff we did on Knowhere — the gambling scenes — with all the extras, it was just a lot of fun. There were, like, we did a crash-site scene where there were so many extras it just felt like you were on a different planet. I’m sorry, I know I’m stretching this out, but it’s just a hard question to answer because there was just so much…
So all of it? All of it was your favorite?
Laughs. I know! It’s so uninteresting to say that. It was so much fun. It’s just hard to narrow it down to a favorite moment or a favorite scene.
No, it’s okay.
Only because this was over five months of shooting, so… There’s just a lot of good times, a lot of good laughs, and a lot of tears. Some of that stuff, like, there was a scene where, oh, you saw the film?
Yeah, I saw it last night.
Yeah, so at the end of the scene where [slight spoiler redacted, basically Star-Lord gives an inspiring speech]. But that whole scene, that was the first time I had really experienced Chris Pratt’s acting range. I had only, you know, we had done the funny stuff, but you know, he really sucked everybody in, like emotionally. You got invested. And I was sitting there thinking, this guy’s really good, really talented and kind of inspiring, and there were a couple of takes where he just kind of let it go, and it was very emotional and I started shedding tears, man. That day I was like, this guy’s a movie star, man. He’s a bona fide movie star.