In the world of professional wrestling, Dave Bautista dominated the square circle as “The Animal” by becoming a six-time WWE world champion. He also appeared in a number of films and television series, but his latest role as Drax the Destroyer in “Guardians of the Galaxy,” the latest film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise, will definitely put him on the map as an actor. Directed by James Gunn (“Slither,” “Super”), the movie is about a ragtag group of losers that includes a thief (Chris Pratt), an assassin (Zoe Saldana), a maniac (Bautista) a smart-mouthed raccoon (Bradley Cooper) and a talking tree (Vin Diesel) reluctantly joining forces to stop a psychopath (Lee Pace) from destroying their world with a mysterious orb. Examiner.com had the opportunity to speak Bautista about shifting focus from acting to wrestling, his recent return to the ring and the biggest challenge of playing Drax.
How did it feel going from one form to entertainment (WWE) to another (acting) and then coming back to WWE earlier this year?
Dave Bautista: It felt good (laughs). My latest run with the WWE was weird because it wasn’t what we set out for it to be. You kind had to roll with the punches. I’ve wanted to go back for a long time. I wanted to go back since the moment I left. I didn’t really want to leave because I love pro wrestling so much. It felt good because I went back and I went back on my terms.
Were you taken aback from the fan reaction you received when you returned?
Bautista: Yeah. It was weird, but I was kind of expecting it to be a little rough. When I went back, they wanted me as a babyface. I told them, “I’m not a babyface. They either hate me or love to hate me. It’s not going to work” (laughs). They said, “No way! They miss you. They love you. They are going to being excited.” I said, “It’s not going to last.” They were so many weird things happening at any given moment and it wasn’t just during my match. I was watching some of the shows and people would start chanting random stuff that made no sense or had nothing to do with anything. I just don't get it, man. I'm a fan first and foremost, and if I went to watch a show, I'm there to watch a show. You have to really pay attention to what's going on and get involved with the show. I’m not going to watch somebody else’s matches and start chanting some random chant for the hell of it. I just don’t get it. I feel like people were depriving themselves there. There's a lot of good entertainment going on and they're missing out because they are so hell bent in chanting something that has nothing to do with anything pertaining with what’s going on. It confused me and that is speaking as a fan.
Would the grueling makeup process dissuade you from doing other movies like this? Did you enjoy the process of getting into character for this film?
Bautista: I really did. I enjoyed it. It sounds like when I say five hours of makeup to put it on and two hours to take it off. It sounds like a lot, but it just didn’t seem like that long. It is just one of those things where I zoned out and I meditated. I’m a pretty zen person. My makeup team was just so much fun. The hours just flew by. They always had music going on, good jokes, and stuff like that. It was just fun. However, when it would get into consecutive days where you were going four days, five days or six days in a row, things would start to get scratchy and irritated. The coo thing is that they were always aware of that. They never looked as me as a mannequin. They knew what I was going through. They sensitive to it and made sure I was being taking care of.
Was it easy to move around in the makeup?
Bautista: It was easy to move around and what the cool thing was and why it was such a lengthy process. They just molded it to me. They didn’t just want it to look good, but they wanted it to be functional. It wasn’t bad at all. It felt like I had a shirt one like those Armor All-type spandex shirts especially on hot days too. With the latex of the prosthetics, I’d sweat in there and it doesn’t breathe so they’d have to come out and drain it, which sounds pretty gross.
How did it finally feel to play the good guy after being a heel for so long?
Bautista: I never thought of it like that. I like being a heel because I think I’m better at it. I’m more comfortable at it. I don’t really care whether people like me or if I get cheered. What I do care about is if they are into our match or into our story line. Sometimes, I like being in the bad guy role because it allows me to have more control over that. It’s the big picture that I care about. For “Guardians,” I just want to be part of a really interesting story that people can get emotionally invested in. I don’t feel I need to be cheered just as long as people are getting their money’s worth.
What was your biggest challenge in the role and what did you do to overcome it?
Bautista: One of the challenges was the dialogue. It was just alien to me. It was weird and just strange and sometimes so formal and so stiff. I’m young and I use a lot of slang and nothing I say makes much sense because you have to kind of puzzle it together. I think the biggest challenge was the emotional stuff. It’s a weird thing putting your emotions out there for everyone to see and while they’re filming it. It just kind of puts you in a vulnerable state, which I’m not used to. I internalize everything and keep everything inside and I’m not used to spilling my guts and putting it all out there. When you have to do that on film to make a point to make something translate, it’s hard man. It’s rough. I don’t think it’s as easy as people think. I’m a huge film buff. I love film. When I see people like Anne Hathaway in “Les Miserables,” and you see her just pouring her guts out and you just get sucked in…that’s just hard and just draining It’s challenging and you really appreciate it if you look at it that way. It was rough.
Were you more familiar with Drax before you auditioned for the role or after the role?
Bautista: I had no idea who Drax was. It was all because of my agent, who turned me down like 30 times in the past, finally agreed to take me on and told me he was setting me up for the role. It was a big role. When I got to the audition, I was like, “What the hell?” I just didn’t get him at all. I called my acting coach and said, “I can’t do this. I just don’t get it,” but he was a huge comic nerd. He said, “You don’t understand.” He was so excited about it and told me, “Just do some research on him and call me back!” I’m looking and looking and I can’t find anything. I only found this one video of Drax and it was just horrible. In it, Drax was half an android and it was just terrible. I saw one picture and it was one of their most recent art concepts of Drax and he looked big and menacing and I was like, “I get that, that looks familiar, that looks like me.” As I called him back, he started explaining Drax to me. I had certain sides that I had to read for audition and he started putting them into context and why they made sense. Just reading them made no sense to me because I didn’t know the backstory. He started explaining the backstory to me and explaining why these scenes were so great because I would get to show some emotional range as an actor. He was so excited. He said, “This is a dream role for you. If you land this role, it’s going to change your life” and sure enough, it did. As soon as he explained it to me, I got it, then I went to work, and I went out for the audition and started working with my coach and went over these scenes over and over and over. He was there with through the whole process. He came to both of my initial audition and really helped me get through this.
In terms of the physical aspect of the role, were there any scenes that were more difficult to take on?
Bautista: There was one scene in particular that we shot that was pretty brutal. We shot one fight scene and they wanted to shoot it all in one sequence. This big elaborate fight scene, and it had so many extras and stuntmen and cast members in the fight scene. It was a just very intricate thing to do. It took us take after take after take after take (laughs). We were literally there all day. I think it took us around 22 takes and it was just absolutely physically exhausting. I was exhausted. Its fought too with scenes like that cause I have these big clunky heavy boots and this makeup that doesn’t breathe and I can’t move that great in. It made for a long day. I think that was the hardest day physically. For the most part, it wasn’t that tough of a role physically. It was more of a challenge in terms of acting.
In terms of dialogue, this movie is a lot more steeped in comedy and you have some of the best one-liners in the film. How is it working with comedy instead of just straight action?
Bautista: It’s great and it’s cool because Drax never intends for anything to be funny, which makes it even funnier, but it was cool because it gave me the opportunity to show different sides of me because I’m not. And it was hard for me to break that perception people had of me from WWE. It gave me the opportunity to just not see me as that guy that was beating people up in the ring or hitting people with chairs or yelling and screaming. That’s just not me at all. I’m usually very soft spoken and probably the most quietest guy in the room. It really just kind of gave me the opportunity to really show it off and let people break out of that perception of just a WWE wrestler, which I’ve been looking for a long freaking time.
Do you want to keep taking on roles like this?
Bautista: Not like this. To me, as far as action goes and superheroes in that genre of film, this role is as big as it’s going to get. It’s not going to get any bigger or better. I never set out to be an action star. I really just want to be an actor and I really would still like the opportunity to do stuff that is more dialogue-driven and character-driven storylines. I am big fan of Quentin Tarantino, Guy Richie. I love him. I love the Scorsese stuff. I’d kind of like to step into some roles like that are kind of character-driven and has some good dialogue.
What was a little more difficult acting with: the CGI actors or the actual actors?
Bautista: Honestly, we were really fortunate because a lot of the stuff with the CGI and we had very talented actors. We had stand-ins and it wasn’t always looking at empty spaces. We got to work with actors who were really talented and were totally sucked into the characters. I think just overall, it was challenging because me being kind of new to it, all of a sudden, I’m stepping on set with Zoe Saldana and Chris Pratt. I’m totally the rookie. It was cool because they never made me feel like that. They knew and they were aware. James was real good about making sure people knew I was new and didn’t have much experience. They could not have been any more gracious. They were really cool about it. They treated me more like one of their peers and not as the weak link.
What was your most memorable memory from set?
Bautista: I actually have a bunch of them, but there was one day in particular and I’m praying that it will show up on a DVD extra. It was this one day where James had the whole cast and I mean like 200 extras for this huge scene. He had everyone on set dance (laughs). He was just playing music and this person danced and that one danced and then all of the crewmembers. Eventually, it just turned into this huge rave (laughs). I can hear him over there laughing. He was just enjoying himself. James was having so much fun. He wasn’t just a director, he was just a little kid having so much fun doing what he loves, making his dream come true.
How do you see yourself improving what you did here that you can make it even better in the sequel?
Bautista: First, I love that you assume there will be a sequel. I hope that if they do a sequel, they would tell more of the background story of Drax. I haven’t seen the whole movie yet, only snippets. I’ll watch it in its entirety at the premiere. I guarantee you that I’ll beat myself up. I don’t watch playbacks of myself because I just cringe. Once I see it and cringe and get so self-conscious about it, it will be stuck in my head and that’s all I’ll think about for the rest of the day. I don’t watch playbacks while we are filming. When I see this, I will walk away feeling ashamed of myself and embarrassed (laughs). I know that about myself. Everyone who is close to me knows I will do this as well. It’s because I love acting and I want to be taken seriously as an actor, which means I just want to be better as an actor. It’s just the story of my life. I always beat myself up and want to be better.
“Guardians of the Galaxy” is now playing in South Florida theaters.