Dave Bautista was a staple of pro-wrestling for over a decade, marked by four World Heavyweight Championships and two WWE Championships. His acting began slowly, with commercials, cameos and direct-to-video films before he signed on as one of the big villains in The Man with the Iron Fists. He followed that with a prominent role in the last Riddick movie, but nothing could prepare him for his latest part: Drax the Destroyer in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy. In an exclusive interview with Mania, he talked about the role, the things he learned, and the differences between wrestling moves and fight choreography.
Question: What was the appeal of this character for you?
Dave Bautista: I think the initial appeal was really just that he wasn’t your stereotypical muscle-head warrior. [Laughs.] He had heart and a specific way of looking at the world that I really liked. He’s a very strict man, but it comes off as very funny since he takes everything so seriously and literally. It was a really nice range that I was looking for.
Q: How tough was getting into the make-up and how much did that inform the character?
DB: I was warned well beforehand, early in the audition process, that it was going to be quite an arduous make-up job. They tell you because you have to be willing to do that, but I was up for it. After all the warnings, it actually wasn’t as bad as I thought. I put on about 10 or 15 pounds as well, above and beyond the make-up. Just to get that massive physical presence.
As far as informing the character, it definitely helped. You had these wild sets and these crazy characters, and you look down and you’re painted all these weird colors. Suddenly you just feel like Drax. It helped on a daily basis. It was putting the contacts in, which was the last step in the make-up process. I put those in and I felt like I was Drax.
Q: How about the fight choreography?
DB: It’s funny, I have a background in pro wrestling, and I thought this was going to be just like that. I thought I’d have a leg up. But it was much different, definitely a learning experience. I had the physical skills, so I picked up on it fairly quickly, but it’s so different. So much tighter and more precise. You have to work to the camera, which is much different than wrestling.
Q: You don’t work to the camera in wrestling?
DB: No, we never really played to the camera for the physical part. It was always playing for the audience, the live audience. You have a hard camera, but you also had a lot of hand-held cameras and you count on those to pick up the angle you need. Most of my wrestling career was improvised. You know the moves, but you have to adapt when you’re in the ring. If you choreograph everything, it just looks choreographed. But it you keep it loose and improvise, it’s much more compelling and real. You can’t do that on the movie set. There’s no live audience and everything is worked out in advance. A different field with different requirements. It was great, it was a real learning experience.
Q: How was working with your co-stars in all of that?
DB: They were fantastic. Zoe was great, though that was a little strange. I’m not the kind of guy who puts his hands on a woman. I just wasn’t raised by that. And I was a little intimidated by Zoe’s success, all the things she’s done as an actress. So it was a little uncomfortable at first. But she was such a sweetheart, and so talented. She made me feel at ease, and we could do the work really easily. It was similar with the CG characters. The stand-in for Rocket was James [Gunn’s] son, so it really felt like we were playing make-believe out there.
Q: These are obscure characters, even for comic book fans. How much research did you do?
DB: That was a challenge actually. When I first got the audition notes, I just didn’t get the guy at all. We didn’t have the script: we weren’t given the script until I’d landed the part and signed on the dotted line. My agent urged me to go check out the source material, which wasn’t that easy to find. And the character has changed so much throughout the years. Even so, those comics helped. You started to get a sense of this guy, his sense of honor, his way of speaking, and from there you could approach the different angles of the character.
Q: How helpful was the director in getting you to find that character?
DB: The thing about James is that he’s a real light-hearted guy. He likes a no-pressure atmosphere. We were always having fun, always laughing, and I think that informed the tone of the movie. He wanted this to be a fun movie and he knew how to establish the right sense of fun to translate correctly on screen.
Q: Are you ready to bring Drax back if the film proves successful?
DB: It’s pretty crazy. We just started the press stuff last week and it’s finally starting to hit me how big this all is. But I’m all in, and if the audience responds like we’re hoping, I’m ready to suit up and do it again. Anytime, anywhere!