Former WWE champion and MMA fighter Dave Bautista is one of the most pleasant of the many surprises in Guardians of the Galaxy. Bautista plays Drax the Destroyer, a gray-skinned, hulking brute covered in red tattoos who comes from a planet where metaphor doesn’t exist and who is consumed with seeking vengeance for the murder of his wife and child. While Drax is initially intimidating and seemingly possesses no other emotion but rage, he slowly reveals himself over the course of the story to be a gentle, tormented yet compassionate soul — a complexity that Bautista pulls off beautifully.
Guardians of the Galaxy is the eighth film that Bautista has appeared in, although his first five or six credits consisted mostly of bit parts in direct-to-video releases. Drax is his biggest role yet, in his biggest film yet, and he effortlessly combines his powerful physical presence with a kind of grace and sly, self-aware humor. We sat down with the soft-spoken Bautista recently in Los Angeles to talk about turning into Drax, becoming part of the “overwhelming” Marvel Universe and whether it’s not too different from the world of the WWE.
Den of Geek: We met while you were still filming the movie, and you seemed overwhelmed with it all at that time. What’s your perspective now?
Dave Bautista: Still overwhelmed. I think even more so now. I think at that point it was because we were initially like just getting started and it was so surreal. And now it’s just started to hit me how big it is. Go around the world, it’s crazy. We’re just starting to do press so we went over to Singapore — it was our first stop. And there were literally hundreds of fans. They were so amped up about this movie and a lot of people haven’t seen clips, they’ve just seen trailers. But they’re so amped up about it, it’s crazy. When I got here it’s like there’s billboards freaking everywhere. You can’t get away from them. So it’s really just starting to hit me how big this is. It’s not only overwhelming but it’s also kind of terrifying and I think the pressure’s really on.
I’ve seen the film and I love it, man. And now I’m speaking just as a fan. But I’m hoping that people will go out and see it. You never know. I mean you never know if people are going to show up. I’m sure if they show up they’re going to love this film but that’s the thing, you’ve got to show up. I’m hoping they go out and they’ll really love it and they’ll want to see more of Guardians.
How did the part come to you in the first place?
My agent had just taken me on. Literally I had been for him for about a week and he called me and said, “I’ve got this audition for you, it’s going to be a big movie. I don’t want to get your hopes up, it’s a long shot, you know, there’s a lot of names up for this part. But I had to fight to get you in for the audition so I want you to go.” And that’s how initially it started.
Are you with him still?
I just wanted to make sure.
And oddly enough he had turned me down like three times in the past. Because I had, up to this point, not had an agent. I was trying to find representation and had gotten a few jobs, but really without representation. So I had finally got my agent and he sent me in and I landed it but it was a lengthy process. It was a long auditioning process. At this point I had only been, I think, on one audition for another film. I had not really gone out there and auditioned. I’d sent in some video auditions and stuff like that but, I mean, going in for this, it was audition after audition and screen test and makeup test. It was a long, lengthy process that went on for months. And even after I got the job I still couldn’t actually publicly acknowledge that I got the job for, I think, a month, a month and a half after I had already got it.
Drax is a beautiful character because he’s like the epitome of “don’t judge a book by its cover.” He’s this huge scarred monster, but underneath he’s got this really sweet sensitive soul. His heart’s really been ravaged by everything that’s happened to him. Can you talk about finding the right balance of his brute nature and that softer side?
I think that’s kind of true with all the characters and I think that’s kind of what people will love about them, is that they’re all a little harsh and jaded on the outside but internally they’re all really good hearted characters. That was really kind of a blessing for me too. I needed for people to stop seeing me as just that guy from wrestling, you know. I needed them to see that I was serious about acting and I could show a little range and was a little versatile.
That’s why I fell in love with Drax, you know, is because he was that guy and it’s because he’s very true to myself. I think I’m the human equivalent to Drax. I look a certain way on the outside. I think people always perceive me to be a certain way but internally it’s not who I am. I’m not a big guy, I’m not a menacing guy, I’m not an intimidating guy. I may look that way but just spend two seconds talking to me and you know that’s not who I am, not as a person, as a character. It’s not who I intend to be. It’s not who I want people to perceive me to be. I don’t want to intimidate people. There’s nothing bullyish about me, you know. If there’s anybody who’s anti-bully it’s me. So that’s really why I kind of fell in love with Drax and I’m hoping that’s why other people fall in love with Drax.
Talk about the makeup process. How many hours for you?
Typically about four hours to put on, about an hour and a half to take off. And it varied because when we first started it was about five and a half, closer to five and a half, I think, to put on, a couple of hours to take off. But towards the end of the film it was about three hours to put on, an hour to take off. So it varied but typically it was about four hours to put on.
How does it help you find the character to go through that sort of complete transformation?
It was awesome, you know. It was really cool and I always tell people that. Sometimes I would try my best, before they started putting that makeup on, to really just kind of close my eyes and zone out. And then I’d wake up and I’m Drax. But it was really complete when I got the contacts put on and I really kind of lost a sense of myself.
But also there were times when I just totally forget that I was in makeup, you know. People would come to the set and stare at me. I’m like, “What the hell are you staring at?” You just kind of forget about it. But it made it very easy to get into character. But also to see the world that they created and everyone else around you in makeup, it’s pretty easy just to lose touch with reality and get sucked into that world, you know.
I was thinking that going from the WWE and its interconnected, ongoing storylines to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and its ongoing, interconnected storylines might not have been such a sharp transition for you in some ways.
Maybe somewhat but at the same time they’re just so different. And it wasn’t like — it was a long process for me, you know. Years of auditioning and pounding the pavement and it wasn’t an easy transition. It was rough. But then, you know, again they’re just so different. It’s just one of those things where, when you’re with WWE, you showed up, you did your job, you performed in front of the audience then you kind of went your separate ways. It wasn’t so much spotlighting. It wasn’t press junkets, stuff like that. And it wasn’t such a mainstream thing, you know.
But in terms of going from one large, interwoven set of stories to another…
I haven’t put a whole lot of thought into it, to be honest with you. I guess you could see where it would make sense, you know. I don’t know where we’re going to go with this so I kind of read into it like everybody else does, hoping they go a certain direction with it. But if they don’t, you know…
Do you have your own ideas about what you’d like to see Drax do next and where you’d like to see Guardians 2 go?
Yeah, I’ve thought about it and I have mixed feelings about it because I would love if they would do an origin for Drax. I think it would be really cool for people to see the background of Drax and see what he went through and the loss of his family. But at the same time I feel like, with Drax taking everything so literally and without him having Chris Pratt to play with, I mean, how entertaining would he be? How entertaining would it be to see a whole civilization of people who take everything literally? It would almost seem like it would be kind of boring and everybody would be like really stiff, very literal. I just don’t know if it would be as much fun, you know. I don’t know. I’m kind of going with the flow of things and enjoying like this right now.
Guardians of the Galaxy is out in theaters now.