Dave Bautista began breaking away from the worlds of wrestling and mixed martial arts and into the realm of acting in 2006, but his career took a massive leap upwards in 2014 when he starred as Drax the Destroyer in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy. His deranged yet empathetic performance established him as the genuine article, and his career since then has featured a James Bond movie (Spectre), a crime thriller (Heist), a comedy (The Boss), the Guardians of the Galaxy sequel (of course) and now a featured role in director Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049.
Bautista’s time on screen in the movie is relatively brief, but we can tell you that his character Sapper Morton is an older model of replicant and his interaction with blade runner K (Ryan Gosling) is crucial to the storyline (we won’t get into details here). When we sat down with Bautista at the recent press junket for Blade Runner 2049 in Los Angeles, he spoke about the first movie’s impact on him, the process he had to go through to get the part and what happened when he met Harrison Ford on set.
We also spoke a bit about playing Drax in the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War and the still-untitled fourth Avengers movie, and learned that this big, intimidating, yet gracious and soft-spoken man still struggles with a fear of speaking in public.
Dave Bautista: My voice is half gone. I’ve been screaming a lot this week. I was working nights on this film in Ohio, and it’s just a lot of screaming. We were in this big prison. It was an action film sequence.
Den of Geek: What film is that?
It was Escape Plan 3.
Oh, with Stallone, right?
That’s interesting that you have anxiety over speaking in public, because you’ve been a performer in the spotlight for so long.
When I first started wrestling, people who knew me were just so surprised, because they knew how I was. I was very much an introvert growing up. Wrestling’s actually brought me out of my shell a lot, but there was certain ways that I would cheat my way through it. It’s usually not so much in interviews and stuff like this. I mean, I can sit down and talk. It’s just large groups of people, man. I just, I don’t know, I just feel like I want to crawl under a rock. But, it’s something I’ve always had. The fear of public speaking, you know? It just is what it is. I’ve learned to live with it and deal with it. I just still can’t get rid of it.
Well, what do they say? If you’re afraid of something, go towards it, right?
Yeah. My fear, I never keep it from me doing things, but it’s just a struggle sometimes. The same with acting. I mean, it’s just terrifying to me. Still, I get very self-conscious about it and stuff, but it’s just something I love so much that I would never let my fear keep me from doing it.
These past few years since you really broke out in Guardians, what have you learned about yourself?
I’ve learned that I’m better at certain things and not so much at other things. You know, I didn’t really know what a character actor was, I think, when I first started acting. When people would say that they were character actors or got labeled as character actors, I didn’t really know what it was. I think I discovered it along the way that I am a character actor. I want to be a character actor, because I love playing different types of roles. I don’t always want to be the same guy. I didn’t realize that about myself when I first started it, but it’s actually, that’s the appeal of acting to me. It’s just something I learned along the way. Just different types of characters. Different natures of characters. Different looks of characters, you know, which obviously, I’m limited, too, somewhat, but that’s what I’m after. That’s what I enjoy. That’s what I prefer.
What was your relationship with the first Blade Runner? Do you remember when you first saw it?
Yeah. It’s weird. It’s almost like I’m kind of embarrassed to answer this question, because when I saw it and I was young, it just didn’t resonate as much with me. I saw it and I thought it was a cool film. I don’t remember disliking it at all, but I remember going to see it at the theater I would always go to when I was a young teenager. I remember just being more interested in hanging out and who else was in the theater. It’s where all the other teens and everybody from the school was at. I remember wondering which girl was there and not so much focused on the film, because it just didn’t resonate as much with me. I didn’t think about it as much. But, it was in my later teens that I really kind of understood it more and started to think about it more.
Then, when I was older and watching the director’s cut is when it really became thought provoking to me, and I started thinking more about not only the background of the characters, but the future of the characters and what happened to them, and also, very much an understanding of what the replicants actually were. Because, when I first went and saw it, the replicants, to me, were villains. They were the villains. I didn’t understand Roy Batty’s speech at the end. It made no sense to me. Then, when I started to really think about it and see how it made sense when I was older, then I saw the beauty in it, then I saw the beauty in the replicants. It’s weird. It’s meant different things to me throughout my life, you know?
I think that your experience has been mirrored by a lot of people. Your character, Sapper, is sort of a link to the old film because he’s an old model replicant. What was your take on him?
Well, when I was first did the screen test, I had a bunch of my stuff from my scenes, and that’s how I tested. I did those scenes, acted out those scenes in full makeup. I thought I knew what the character was, but when I was offered the script, I said, “I don’t want the script. I want to go and I want to watch this movie,” because I knew my part in it. I knew there was a lot of the film that I wasn’t included in, and I just wanted to watch that as a fan. The producers insisted that I read the script, because they really wanted me to know what my place was, as far as the whole storyline and also the back story. That’s when it kind of started to make sense to me what this character actually meant to the film.
It was after I read the script that I saw how important the character actually was to the whole plot, then I understood, and it just meant more to me. The role felt bigger to me. I love that he really ties into the two movies, which also goes back to why they wanted to age me, because when I first went to meet with Denis for this part, he thought I was too young for it. It was kind of crushing, but we sat down, we talked and I left thinking I didn’t have the part. Then, it was actually the producers who got in touch and asked me if I would do an age makeup. I’m like, “No problem. I’m used to makeup.”
So yeah, I did that, and still Denis was not happy with it. That’s when I did the screen test and got the part, but yeah, they really wanted me to be much older so I would just fit more in with the timeline.
Obviously playing Drax you’re used to wearing a lot of makeup. But he’s an alien, whereas this is more or less an older version of you. Is that a weird experience, to see yourself aged? Weirder in some ways than looking at yourself as Drax?
It is. It’s strange. It was weird, because I grayed my hair up a little. It’s gray now, but I made it even grayer. I also took some hairs out of my head, so I had to walk around like that for five weeks or whatever it was. It was an odd feeling that plays with your ego a little bit, but also, you know what was really great about it is when they did the age makeup and everything, I thought I looked just busted and beat up. I took a picture of myself and sent it to my wife, and she was not at all unhappy. I thought, well, that’s a great thing. It plays with your mind a little bit, but at the same time I thought it was, again, going back to the character, I thought, “This is cool. This is what I love about it, man. This is why I’m in this business.”
Did you get a chance to meet Harrison during production?
Yeah, the first day I got there, I went to set and I wasn’t filming. I just went because I wanted to see. I was curious, and so the first scene I watched was when it was Harrison and Ryan filming together. They were in the big water tank. They were sitting on the side soaking wet doing this very dramatic scene, and I was like a kid in the candy store watching these guys do their thing. But then, awkwardly enough, Harrison comes up and he’s just going to his tent to get warm. It was very cold, and he was soaking wet. Of course, I stop him, “Hey, hey. I’m Dave.” He had no idea who I was, but he kind of appeased me and said, “Nice to meet you.” Then I said, “I’m so sorry.” But yeah, so that was just me kind of fanboying out a little bit on the first day.
Speaking of Drax, have you finished your part in Infinity War and going back for the fourth one?
I think I have to do two more days. I’m not sure, because of the way they’re shooting it, I don’t know if it’s Infinity Wars or part four. I have no idea. I’m just going to film more Avengers stuff.
How has it been having everybody working together? What’s that been like for you?
It’s weird. It’s not so weird because of working with Marvel characters that aren’t necessarily Guardians, but what is really odd to me is doing the Guardians without James (Gunn). And I don’t mean that in a negative way, because the Russo brothers are great. We’re treated very well. They’ve been very encouraging of letting us just be our characters and not trying to change anything. We also have James writing for us as well. But it just feels just a little bittersweet without him there, you know? I’m just so used to hearing his voice and hearing his laugh and everything and the style of the way he directs Guardians, so it definitely feels like something’s missing.
Does Drax have a specific arc in this story?
Yeah. I mean, without giving anything away, I would say yes. The Guardians in general, I think, just play a very important part.
Blade Runner 2049 is out in theaters tomorrow (Friday, October 6).