Dave Bautista is a giant of a man. His arms could clearly crush me without much effort, and my blood would hardly show up against his sleeve tattoos, surely blending in with the symphony of shapes and colours that cover each limb.
Yet there's a quiet, contemplative air to him, a self-described introvert with a soft-spoken baritone voice. He seems downright philosophical discussing his latest film, Guardians of the Galaxy, discussing his transition away from the ring into the world of acting.
I knew him to be an avid collector of food containers, and so we began the roundtable discussion with an obvious question.
There are reports that you are a serious collector of lunchboxes. You have any with your face on them yet?
Yeah, I have a Guardians lunchbox, and I have a lunchbox with me and [wrestler] Eddie Guerrero on it someone made me. Both of them were made for me! So, yeah, I have a couple of lunchboxes with my ugly face on them.
Did you start as a comic book guy as a kid?
No. This is completely new to me. I was never that kid. I usually, if I pick up comics, I look at the pictures. I'm totally perpetuating the [dumb wrestler] stereotype. But usually, yeah, I'm drawn to the artwork for some reason.
As a wrestler you obviously were strongly engaged in the art of performance, with a story through action. Is that one of the things that drew you to this particular project?
Not so much. It was the character that I loved, the character of Drax. Not so much the physical stuff. When I left [wresting] to pursue acting, I didn't really aspire to be an action star or anything like that. I just really found out by chance that I had a passion for acting and I wanted to pursue it.
The character Drax is a pretty interesting character with a lot of different layers and that's kind of what I love about him.
Given that you didn't read comics as a kid, when you get a role like this do you go back and read GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY comics, or do you just focus on the script that James Gunn wrote?
I did go back. When I first got offered the audition I only had certain sides [aka, selected portions of the script] because Marvel doesn't just give their info out, they don't give anything away. Even the sides that I had were bits and pieces of certain scenes thrown together, so it just didn't tell me anything about Drax.
I went and tried to do research on Drax and it was just rough man, because Drax has changed so much over the years. There have been so many different versions of the Guardians in general, so it was kind of rough. It was one of those things where I couldn't put my finger on Drax until I actually got the script, which wasn't until I got the part, which was four months after the audition!
Were you hesitant because of not having all the pieces at the beginning to accept the role?
No. First of all, I didn't have very high hopes going into the audition. My agent said that it's a real long shot, so I had my hopes really low. My first audition, I was nervous, but it was when [casting director] Sarah Finn asked me to come back and read for James when I really got nervous.
I read for James, we went over even the really limited sides and he explained a little bit of what the part would entail, and then I became intrigued. That's when I really started to want it, rather than thinking this is just another audition that I'm going to get turned down for.
How would you compare working with James Gunn to working with the RZA?
For one, RZA is definitely my boy, he was hanging out. [With] James, I guess it would be easy to imagine the difference between them. RZA's not always serious, but he definitely is. James is a geek, man. He's quirky and he's funny and he's very energetic and geeky and he likes to laugh a lot and to joke a lot and he's always very animated and everything. RZA's Mr. Wu-Tang, he's always a philosopher and everything he says is very deep and thoughtful. He'll say the simplest thing and you'll have to think about it.
RZA's a lot like me, too, he's very internal, you can see that he'll just be thinking about a lot rather than James, who pretty much thinks out loud.
Are you going to get a Drax tattoo?
I actually am.
Where the hell are you going to fit it?
That's one problem. I'm actually going to pitch one, I have an idea for a Drax tattoo, and I'm going to see if they go for it. And if they do, that'll be the one that I get. If not, I'll get one of the other ones.
Just a little bit of insight there, there is a scene where we did explain Drax's tattoos, and they didn't use it in the film because of pacing. It's a slow, sad story. But they are going to put it on the DVD extra, so it's going to be cool.
When you're performing in the ring, you've got 20,000 people screaming at you, so it's easy to get the energy up. How do you translate that to a soundstage where there's 30-40 guys?
You really can't compare it. That's the big difference that I try to explain because for some reason, some people think that it would have been an easy transition. The difference is the broad spectrum - there are so many people wrestling who are so big and it's an adrenaline thing. You take that into the movies where all of a sudden you're in this intimate little setting and somebody goes action and everything's quiet and you have to say these lines and make them your own. It couldn't be any more different.
I tell people acting is much more terrifying to me than being out there in front of 30,000 people and when I tell people, they don't quite get it. That intimacy is just terrifying to me.
You came back to wresting after a long hiatus. How did that compare to these acting gigs?
Honestly, this [movie stuff] feels much better.
had wanted to go back to wrestling before such a long time. I never wanted to leave. I only left because the company gave me no choice, but I went back on kind of a sour note. It was kind of a weird reaction from the fans, and the company, they weren't really working with me as far as creative. They wanted me to do stuff that I just didn't agree with and believe in. It wasn't a great run and I was a little disappointed with it, but it is what it is and I did my job the best that I could.
The opposite of that is coming into this [film] where I do believe in it so much and I'm so proud of it and it's just so refreshing. I feel like it's a breath of fresh air just getting out of that atmosphere and coming into this atmosphere without saying that that atmosphere was all hate and this atmosphere was all love and it just feels fucking good is how it feels.
I really love pro wrestling and it's like the company was constantly working against me instead of working with me because I wanted to make it work, I was excited about going back. It was one of those things where I was just disappointed with the way that it went and they took the control completely out of my hands and I had no choice but to go with the flow the best that I could and it was a little heartbreaking.
Are you saying have slightly more creative freedom within the mechanism of a monster like Marvel than you did in pro wrestling? Or is it just that the tone is different, how you're treated?
The tone is completely different. I wouldn't say that I have creative control in this at all. This is James Gunn's baby, and I wanted to play Drax the way he wanted me to play Drax. We had a little freedom in so far as improv and stuff. A lot of stuff we did improv actually made the final edit. But no, to say that I had creative control over Drax would be a lie.
Could you talk about some of those improv moments, and had you seen SUPER before you saw the film?
I did watch Super and I'm a fan of Super, and I'm also a huge fan of Slither. That's where the Kevin Bacon references [in Guardians of the Galaxy] came from. But that's kind of cool because if you saw those early movies, you see James Gunn's sense of humour and you see why he was chosen. Because it's not that these films are so hugely successful that they had to go with this huge director, but that's where they saw the potential in James, because he is so creative.
One of the things about your character is that he just tells it like it is and has no filter. I can't help but think that that might be one of the reasons that you were perfect for this part. It seems like you are not aggressive in your opinions, but certainly aren't going to take shit if somebody pushes at you.
You know what's really cool? James said to me this week, and it hit me pretty hard, was that he thought that Drax was going to be the one character that he was going to have to settle on, and he was so relieved when he finally met me and he said he knew right off the bat that I was the guy.
He had to convince Marvel that I was the guy. I guess that's why he saw me as his Drax and thank God he did, thank God we found each other.
Were you jealous of the people like Bradley Copper who had a CG character and just got a paycheque for the voice and doing that process? What did you do during those four hours of makeup?
I was warned well beforehand, well before I was even offered the role when I was auditioning, because they wanted to make me aware that it would be a long, lengthy makeup process. Once I was in Drax, I was grateful to be in Drax and never thought, goddamn it, I have to be in makeup for hours and they don't have to be, I never once thought that.
Here's the thing, and this is the best perspective I can give you - if you can imagine hanging out with five of your friends for four to five hours, just talking and laughing and listening to music, it just goes by pretty fast. That's what it was like for me. I went in every morning, I stood there, and they did all of the work, and all we did was talk. So it was cool. I actually built some really strong relationships with some of my makeup team. Almost all of them came to the premiere in London as my guests. And some of them came over to Westlemania last year, which was pretty cool.
What was your own Awesome Mix while getting your makeup done?
It was so funny, because the first time they ever said let's listen to music, bring in your music, whatever you want, so I brought in this, I have a bunch of playlists on my iPod, but I played this, I have this one really old school hip hop, it's all Public Enemy and BDP, and Wu-Tang and Method Man and it was the last time they ever let me play my iPod.
They always had their iPods in there, which usually ended up being Rolling Stones or you know. It was always good stuff.
The first day you didn't have to go through the five-hour makeup anymore, was it a relief, or were you a little bit nostalgic for it?
Definitely. You know what's weird? I think about a month and a half to two months into shooting, I wrapped early one day and they were still shooting and I wanted to go and watch to see what they were doing and I went on set without my makeup and there were a bunch of people who I talked to day in and day out every day for months who had no idea who I was!
It was a sad thing, wrapping and saying goodbye to my team. I had to say goodbye to the lead makeup artist a little early because he went to Hong Kong. But then again, it felt good to be clean. Even after I left set for that last day, it probably took me a good two weeks to really get rid of all of the residue from the makeup. I was constantly finding it here and there and digging it out. Grey was coming out of my nose.
But I'm pretty clean by now.
There's a legacy of professional wrestlers who have transitioned into acting. Was there a moment for you in your career when you said, OK, I can make this work, the acting thing?
Yeah, it was when I got the role of Drax. Up until then, I had struggled to get roles and I'm hoping that this will open doors for me. But still, I'm auditioning and still getting turned down for roles. So I think some people are still not aware, or they're still not, they're aware I was cast in the role, but they're still expecting that Drax is going to be a one noted character, he'll be the muscle head who cuts people's heads off. Jason Momoa described him as a shirtless guy who doesn't say much, so, but, surprise, surprise...
What's it like working with Zoe Saldana and Chris Pratt on set to create this group dynamic of a group that shouldn't really fit together?
It was fun, man! It was weird because we all had really good chemistry right off the bat. I think that James put some thought into that before, while he was casting. I think he wanted everybody to get along and he didn't want to have any ego on the set.
I'm usually a really quiet guy, the most quiet guy in the room, and a lot of times, my favourite memories of filming are just watching Chris and Zoe interact with one another because they're both kind of hams and are very energetic and outgoing. It's a little bit boring in between takes when you're waiting for camera and lighting to change and they would just end up singing or dancing.
It was stuff that was so ridiculous, but for me it was a lifetime's worth of entertainment.
It must be hard to play the straight man who takes everything super literally around someone like Chris Pratt.
Chris is so goddamned funny, but also a lot of the lines went, it wasn't stuff that was on the page. If something sparked in James' head, he would just open the mics and say "say this", so should I deliver that now when it's all fresh.
If one person gets the giggles, every person is going to get the giggles, but you're trying to get this take, so that's usually when it happened, when everything would break down into laughter, when James would get something spark in his head and say "say it this way" and I'd say it this way and Zoe was always the first person to start laughing out loud and Chris would get going.
Sometimes, it wasn't easy. That's when you thank God for editing. There was a scene - Scar-face prisoner, you remember him? The guy I took the knife from? We did a bunch of stuff that I hope makes it to the gag reel. He had to deliver stuff very deadpan and it was so funny that we were spitting laughing so hard.
Now that you're a movie star, there's an obvious question - what's your favourite movie?
I've been going to the movies since I was a little kid and for me to pick a favourite movie, that's fucking hard. But I was asked just recently to pick my top three. The Godfather was one of them, To Kill A Mockingbird and Star Wars.