There are plenty of pro wrestlers-turned-movie stars, The Rock casting an increasingly long shadow over all of them. But there are arguably few pro-wrestlers-turned-actors. Dave Bautista, neé Batista, is trying to change that.
The massive ex-bodybuilder could surely have dined out playing the heavy in prison movies from now until the end of time, but instead scored a coup in 2014 by getting cast as Drax the Destroyer in Guardians of the Galaxy — certainly a heavy, but also a Spock-like foil for Chris Pratt’s character, one whose dry one liners served as the perfect complement. It was a role that required considerable acting chops and by the time of the sequel, Drax had become the comedic center of the movie.
The quality that made Drax successful is precisely what differentiates Bautista from The Rock — his ability to not be the ham, to undersell a line here and there, to be the introspective meathead. To be an actor rather than a movie star.
As Drax, Bautista has crushed it. The challenge now is proving that it wasn’t a fluke, that an emotionally stunted grey-green alien wasn’t just some perfect cosmic alignment that happened without acting talent.
Bautista has something to prove, and he’s the first to admit it. To that end, he not only stars in but executive produced Bushwick (currently available on Demand and Digital HD), in which he plays an ex-Marine escorting a basic played by Brittany Snow through war-torn Brooklyn that’s been attacked by a Texas militia. Though it seems that it wasn’t so much the story that attracted him, but the acting challenge.
Directed by Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion, Bushwick is shot entirely in that seamless-editing style a la Birdman, constructed from long tracking shots that lay bare the acting. The apparent prescience of a movie about a violently divided country coming out within a few weeks of Charlottesville is an illusion. It was actually shot two years ago, which also may make it a less-than-ideal acting showcase for Bautista, who feels like he’s evolved a bit since then.
In any case, Bautista, with whom we spoke over the phone this week, is still hoping the film will be a springboard to bigger things (in true actor fashion, he says what he really wants is to direct). But not because of any coincidental real-life parallels. When I asked about Roger Stone‘s recent promise that there’d be a Civil War if Trump was impeached, Bautista called it “ridiculous.”
“There’s going to be a huge f*cking celebration is what there’s going to be.”
Your given name is Dave Bautista, and you wrestled under the name Batista.
Tell me how you chose your wrestling name.
I actually didn’t. All right, here’s the funny thing about that, because when I was … when I went up, when I was called up from OVW, which was our training facility, they changed my name and changed it to “Batista.” I didn’t realized they changed the spelling of it. Well, I was told the reason they did that was so people would be able to pronounce it easier, and then I was told later by another wrestler, he said, “No, you dummy. They did that so they could own it. They just can’t own your name. They changed the spelling, now they own it.” Which was true. I left WWE without my wrestling name, went back to my real name, and started over.
Were there other names and characters that you had along the way?
Only in WWE. When I first came up, I did this character called Deacon Batista, so it was the same last name, but I was working with this guy named D-Von Dudley and he was doing this televangelist preacher type deal where he was collecting money and I held this big, goofy box and I was a security guard of his money box.