Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is out! Get your tickets here!
Part of the magic of the Guardians of the Galaxy movie series is that, despite the degree of difficulty, it’s truly an ensemble affair. Franchises like X-Men, Mission: Impossible, and Star Trek have famously struggled with the arduous task of servicing an ever-expanding cast of beloved characters in every installment. You could count the number of non-expository lines for Dr. Beverly Crusher in the Next Generation films on one hand, with fingers to spare. Not so with the two Guardians films. In both the original and its sequel, every character gets not just one moment, but a wide variety of moments. The tones range from outright comedy to quiet pathos. No cast member in these films has been the beneficiary of that largess quite like professional-wrestler-turned-actor Dave Bautista. He was a revelation as Drax the Destroyer in volume one and writer/director James Gunn wisely doubled down on Bautista’s unique ability to jump from comedy to drama and back with ease.
I sat down with a very chill, thoughtful Bautista at the London Hotel in West Hollywood, California, to talk about Guardians 2, whether or not there’s love in the air for Drax and Mantis, and how his acting career will differ from Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s.
[This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.]
I don’t know if anyone’s told you this yet, but I’m of the opinion that you steal this one. You get a lot more opportunities to flex your comedic muscles, no pun intended obviously. At what point, either before this or before the first one did you realize you had comic timing and you could do this stuff?
In the audition process for the first film. I never really put a whole lot of thought into it. I worked with the lines I was given. I think I never intentionally developed it, but just from being a fan of movies and television throughout the years, I think I just had a sense of what it was. I never thought, “I need to use my comedic timing here. This is a comedic timing line.” I think I just had a rhythm in my head from watching TV and movies throughout the years.
Were there characters in movies or television that informed how you physically embodied the character, the way that he spoke, or anything like that?
No, not so much. Especially not for the second one, because I’d really developed the character. I also think James Gunn made it easy for me, because he wrote specifically for me as a person, as a performer, and as a character. Subconsciously, I steal from performers I’ve seen throughout the years.
Was there ever a take where you had to say, “maybe I’m emoting too much, maybe I’m being too big, maybe I need to be more deadpan,” because I think that’s what people really connect with.
That’s one of those things where I completely rely on James Gunn. I do everything very subtle. I’m a very subtle person. He will always gauge me on whether I need to turn it up. It’s usually “turn it up.” It’s hardly ever “turn it down.” Or “speak louder,” or “project,” which is not something I do naturally.
Do you derive more pleasure from doing comedy and playing more of a cuddly character versus what you did in Spectre or being a professional wrestling and having to project menace and toughness?
The toughness thing is just, yeah, I could do without it to be honest with you. I get more satisfaction out of doing dramatic scenes. It’s kind of what I’m in love with. It’s why I wanted to go into acting. I wanted to be a dramatic actor. I love acting. Wrestling is just a completely different animal, a different kind of adrenaline. I love physical performance, but it was something I was kind of on cruise control with.
What’s next? You’re in this huge franchise. That’s sort of like, if you’re a freelance writer, a freelance anything, you’ve got your steady gig, but it’s like “what else can I do with my free time?” So, where do you want to go as an actor? You could take multiple different paths.
It’s so great that you made that comparison, because that’s what I’m doing. I make these films, they’re great, they’re a blessing, but it also leaves me an opportunity to do smaller films where I don’t have to rely on this being a huge blockbuster. I don’t have to rely on it as a paycheck, because I know I’m going to be working the next few years. Marvel is going to give me that luxury to do other things. What I’m going to do is, short answer, independent films.
Do you want to be the lead, the heavy, a supporting character? Where do you see yourself?
My agent, I know he hates when I say this, but you know, I’ve been asked to do this role or to do that role. It may require a certain look, a certain accent or whatever. I get all excited, but he says, “Dave, if you do these, you’re gonna be a character actor. You’re not gonna be a leading man.” I go, “Brett, I’m a character actor.” That’s what I want to be. I don’t care how small the role is. As long as it’s interesting, I want to do it. Sign me up.
It did seem like, when the Rock transitioned to movies, he sort of changed his look and did movies that weren’t necessarily the obvious movie for awhile to build up his credibility. Is it that you want to do different things and not be Bautista, the big character?
In a really different way. I don’t mean this in a disrespectful way, but I feel like with Dwayne’s roles, he’s usually one version of the Rock or another. I don’t want to be that. I want people to lose sense of who I am as a person and buy into the character. I mean it when I say I want to be a character actor. I want to be a chameleon.
Can you point out an iconic role from a film and say, “I want to be that guy”?
You know what I really want to do is, I really want to do a Western. I want to do like a Clint Eastwood, Josey Wales-type Western. I want to be that cowboy.
A white hat or a black hat?
It doesn’t matter. Again, as long as the character is cool. Sometimes, the bad guy is the good guy. Sometimes, the good guy is a bad guy. It’s all one big gray area, depending on what you do with them. As long as the character’s interesting, I want to play him.
You get a little opportunity to play romance in this movie with Ego’s assistant, Mantis. Was that something you were expecting going in, that you would be getting a sort of possible love interest?
I don’t look at Drax’s relationship with Mantis as a romantic connection at all. If anything, and I hope this doesn’t sound weird now that you’ve said that, but I look at it as more of a sibling relationship. He’s kind of appointed himself big brother and mentor to Mantis. The reason I say that is I don’t think the character of Drax will ever be over the heartbreak of the loss of his family. His wife is the only woman he’ll ever love and care about. He really exists through that heartbreak. That’s what kinda keeps him going. That’s his reason for existing, to live that revenge.
Are there plans to address that in future movies? I know a lot of the other characters on the team get to work through their issues, but we haven’t seen that yet from Drax.
I hope so. I’ll push for it as much as I can, but at the end of the day, it’s up to James Gunn what he wants to write and who he wants to focus on. Drax is a supporting character, so maybe not, but hopefully.
Is there anything you can say about Avengers?
I can say that we’re in it, as a unit. I feel like every scene that the Guardians are in, we’re gonna steal. I think we’re gonna bring a good, quirky twist to the Avengers, for sure.
Is there any rivalry on the set between the various cast members?
No. We joke about it a lot publically. I do, just because I’m so proud of us as a group and our own franchise. I think it stands up to any of the other Avengers. I make jokes, but on set, if there is competitiveness, it’s within individuals. I don’t care, I just want it to be a great scene.