One of the biggest surprises in Guardians of the Galaxy wasn't just that Drax the Destroyer is great, it's that former wrestler Dave Bautista is great in the role. He brings a lot of emotion and meaning to a character who could be a joke, and he handles some dialogue that, in the wrong mouth, would be clunky. Instead it's incredibly fun coming from him. I sat down with Bautista and, once I was done marveling at how fucking huge he is, I dug into his philosophy on acting.
When was it clear to you that acting was something you’d be transitioning into? Was it as a kid, or was it something you discovered later in life?
I never had a vision for my life. I was always the guy who stumbled into stuff and usually found out ten years too late that I loved something. I don’t have that defining moment where I decided this was the way my life was going to go, but I can tell you when I decided I loved this. I did a very small part, a cameo role in a movie called Wrong Side of Town. In the first scene I realized how bad I was. I thought since I had done on-camera stuff in WWE this was going to be the same, that it would be the same stuff, but then I realized “I am fucking BAD AT THIS, man.” I realized how hard it was. And I caught the bug there. It was so cool, so cool to be on set and watch all these people make this frickin’ movie. I’m a huge movie buff, I’ve always been a huge movie buff, and it was so cool being part of the magic. That’s what sparked it - when I realized I was so bad at it.
You’re good at it in Guardians. What was the process for you for becoming a better actor?
Working with a coach. Honestly I work with a coach, and I’ve been working with him for a while. I over-analyze everything and I beat myself up - I’m literally my own worst critic. I’ve always been, I always will be. But working with him is what I do. I know it’s a boring answer, but I work with him to get out of my head and get onto the page. To get lost in the moment.
It seems to speak to the same mindset of being an athlete, to get that body requires putting in work. You have that same attitude as an actor.
Absolutely. I don’t just take certain roles and just expect to be good. If I even get an audition for a role the first thing I do is call my acting coach. We start going over it, we start going over dialogue, we start going over mindset. It works. It’s a craft. It’s not an easy craft, it’s hard to learn, but every time I walk away from a film I feel like I’ve gotten better. In Guardians, just working with Zoe and Chris, they’re world-class actors and that makes it easier to bounce off of them, and I felt like it was such a great learning experience. I felt like I was a completely different actor when I wrapped on the film.
But it’s been like that through each project! Even if the films weren’t good, there were people I could learn from. Scorpion King 3 wasn’t a great film, but I got to work with Billy Zane and he’s really good, man. I got to see the process and what he goes through, take after take, how he throws stuff out there and steps back, thinks about it, and does it again. I did this movie House of the Rising Sun and I worked with Dominic Purcell and he taught me about simple things, about the way you breathe in a scene and how that can change the whole tone of the dialogue. Vin Diesel was so frickin’ helpful when we did Riddick. He literally pulled me aside and gave advice, and he didn’t have to. He went out of his way. And that’s putting in the work - learning the craft. The hours on set. And it’s not an easy craft, it’s hard. And now I have such an appreciation of it when I watch performances. That’s what I do now, even more than watching films I watch performances and I get lost in the craft.