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.
Right. That’s good. That’s interesting.
So ridiculous. It was horrible.
I think, for me and a lot of people, we’ve been consistently impressed with your comedic acting skills in Guardians. How much do you think your wrestling career helped you prepare for that?
I don’t know if it did. I think as far as comedic timing whatever, I think that all comes from me really just being a fan of movies, being a fan of comedians, and not being afraid to embarrass myself. Not being afraid to make fun of myself. I think that’s where that comes from. As far as wrestling, it’s weird because it’s such a big, I don’t know, physical type performance. It’s hard to compare it to actual film acting.
Right, but I mean, doing live shows every night where you have to improvise and stay in character and play off of the audience, that seems like it would be at least applicable to maybe live comedy. I mean, putting those reps in seems like it would be helpful as a performer in general. No?
Yeah. Yeah, maybe. I mean, I never really thought about it as far as that kind of timing goes because when I was with the WWE the last thing I wanted to do was get on a microphone and actually speak because it would just terrify me.
Have the people who recognize you on the street changed since you’ve been starring in movies?
No, not so much. It’s weird, I think still a lot of people just recognize me from wrestling. I mean, I would say 90% of the people who recognize me when I’m out in public they recognize me from wrestling, but that’s because I was on TV every week for almost 10 years. I totally understand. Most of my film exposure has been from Guardians, which I’m covered in makeup, so it’s still mostly my facial recognition comes from wrestling fans.
Is fame even that much different when you already stand out just by virtue of being a large human being?
It’s weird, man, I think sometimes I’m just oblivious to it, but i also think it’s because I live in Tampa and I live a really ordinary life. I live in a military family neighborhood. I go to the same five places in a week so I don’t venture out, so I guess I just don’t notice it all that much. My life hasn’t changed all that much. The only thing that’s really changed is the security in my life.
Do you have full-time security or how’s that work?
No, no. I mean as far as being secure as being financially secure, not really having to stress so much about taking care of my mom or paying my bills or things like that. I mean, it was a rough road for me when I left WWE. There was three years that I didn’t really have a paycheck coming in. It was rough and I was very unstable. Now, I’ve been able to work, really, since the first Guardians came out I’ve worked non-stop, so I just have a sense of security in my life.
After that ended, was becoming an actor, was that something that came from you or did someone put you in a movie and you had never considered it before?
No, no. I left WWE to act, to pursue a career in acting. No, so I pursued it and I left with intention.
You say you live in a military family neighborhood. Did that inform any of the things you did in playing a Marine in this movie?
No, not at all. The only person I really talked to about this part was my wife’s grandfather because he spent some time in the Navy and I was telling him about the part. I was telling him, “I’m playing an ex-Marine who’s a medic.” And he said, “No. No, there’s no medics in the Marines.” He was actually the only one who filled me in on the details.
Did anything in the movie get changed after that conversation?
Just the title of what his profession was in the movie. A lot of the PTSD stuff I Googled it. I did a lot of research. I did watch some interviews with people suffering from PTSD and I just read a lot about it.
You’re credited as an executive producer on this one. How did that come about? How’d you get involved?
Well, that’s been my mission throughout, one of the things. I love acting, but I’m still at the point where I’d rather be creating projects. I can live without the spotlight. I’d love to play a character in each film I’m a part of, but most of all I really just want to develop projects. I want to get to the point where I’ve built up enough credibility where I can actually develop a script and take it to a studio and say, “I’d really like to get this turned into a film.” And have somebody say, “Yeah, no problem. Let’s do it.” I’d really love to get to that point. That’s kind of my goal and I’d also really love to direct. That’s my dream, to actually direct a film, but mostly I just want to develop projects because I love moviemaking. I love movies. I love filmmaking.
What were some of the biggest challenges of becoming a producer on this one?
There weren’t any huge challenges. I think the most where I can say I contribute is really towards script development, storyline, character development. I think that’s what I contribute. That’s what I bring to the table. I just have that creative side to me where I can always contribute on that end. I did a lot with Bushwick.
When I first read the script I wasn’t crazy about it at all and I completely recreated this character, so I mean I hope people appreciate the character. When I first read the script, he wasn’t very likable or interesting, I didn’t think.
What things did you add?
Well, his whole backstory. What happened to him, why he joined the military, what happened to his family. I think in the original script he was on his way home from the military and his family, as he was on his way home his family got killed in a car accident. I didn’t think it was great at all. It just wasn’t very interesting and it didn’t really contribute to his PTSD or his background or why he would be in the military in the first place. Really, it was just a lot. He wasn’t a very nice person. He wasn’t very kind to Lucy at all. I just didn’t like it. I just thought, “Why would anybody want to root for this character?”
The film’s about a Civil War-type situation. Roger Stone just said today that there will be a second Civil War if Congress votes to impeach Trump. Do you think the current political realities changed the meaning of the film at all?
Yeah. I think people have got to read into it a lot more than I originally thought. I mean, back then when we were filming it, the country wasn’t so divided. At least it wasn’t so obviously divided. Now, it’s so divided that it’s led to a lot of physical violence. Saying that there’s going to be another Civil War if Trump is impeached is probably the most ridiculous statement I’ve ever heard. There’s going to be a huge f*cking celebration is what there’s going to be.
Tell me about the long takes on this. Do you think those helped you prove something as an actor?
Well, that was the mission. I hope that I accomplish, I’m still a little bit self-conscious of my performance, but that was the goal. That was the challenge and that’s why I wanted to do it. That was the first thing that appealed to me, and that’s why I really fought so hard even after reading the script and I wasn’t crazy about it. That’s really why I wanted to pursue this because I was after that challenge and I wanted to prove myself as an actor.
I was still, I mean, I’m still very self-conscious about the performance in this and it’s because we did it almost two years ago and I’ve come I think a long way as a performer. If I could go back and change some things I would, but it’s done. It’s out there. It is what it is and I hope people appreciate it, but at the same time, yeah, I could take it and pick it apart and wish I had done better.
Are there tics that you notice when you’re watching yourself that bug you?
All the time. Yeah. I cringe when I watch myself on film. I cringe. At the same time, I believe it made me a better performer. I walked off of that film a better performer for sure.
When you’re doing press for this, does it feel like you’re an agent for this incarnation of yourself that doesn’t necessarily exist anymore?
No. Not so much. I mean, I don’t look at it like that. I really hope that people love and appreciate this film. I’m proud of it. The only thing that feels weird is I just feel a little bit disconnected from it just because we filmed it so long ago, so it feels a little bit distant, but no I don’t feel like… I think that’d be unfair to say. We’re proud of this. I hope that people see it and love it, and realize that we put our heart and soul into it. Even though it’s not an easy thing to do on a very limited budget and resources.
When you’re shooting in the long take, continuous editing style like that, are your shooting days longer that way? How is it different, if at all, when you’re on the set?
No, it wasn’t. It’s weird. It wasn’t so much. What was longer was our rehearsals and the reason our days weren’t longer is because we were limited to natural light, so we had to play with a certain timeline so it’s one of those things where we really had to get in and we had to be on our A game and just really stay focused because we had limited opportunities for these because the takes were so long and they’ll eat up the day really fast. It’s one of those things where you just got to do it and everybody’s got to be on their A game and hope that nobody comes walking through our shot eating a bag of Cheetos and smiling like there’s not a Civil War going on. It did happen. No, it didn’t necessarily make the days longer. We just spent a lot more time rehearsing.
Your fellow former wrestler, The Rock, famously had some issues with Vin Diesel on the last Fast and Furious movie. You worked with Vin Diesel on Riddick, did you guys ever have any issues on that set?
No. Actually, I love him. He’s been nothing but good to me, and he’s been nothing but supportive of me. Yeah, I don’t know what they’ve got going on between them, but that’s just between them. I get along with Vin famously. I have nothing but good things to say about that dude. He’s been very, very supportive of me.