Dave Bautista, the former wrestler who plays Drax in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy franchise, has been praised for his acting and impeccable comedic timing. I spoke with Bautista to discuss wrestling, his transition to acting, and the second installment in the series, which is in theaters May 5.
How did you get into wrestling?
I went to try out with a company called WCW; they don’t exist any more. The tryouts didn’t go very well; they told me to leave and to never come back. I made a call to WWE, and they sent me to a professional wrestling camp. I went to a guy named Afa, who founded a wrestling camp named the Wild Samoans.
What sports did you play as a kid?
I played basketball (I was a forward), and football (I was a tight end). But I was terrible at both. The only sport I was ever good at was wrestling.
Why did you get into acting?
One of the reasons I got into acting was because I was such a bad actor. I wanted to be better at it, so I pursued it. I learned from scratch. I started with no experience and worked with an acting coach, and I’m still learning.
What physical challenges came with playing the role of Drax?
Staying in shape because Drax doesn’t wear a shirt. I try to be careful about what I eat. I work out when I can. If there’s somewhere I can jog, I will. When I have days off I go to the gym. The other challenge is all the makeup; it’s really harsh on my skin. It’s also hard mentally; it takes a lot of focus. It takes about one hour and a half to apply the makeup, and the first day it took four to six hours. It makes you feel claustrophobic after you’ve been in it for so many hours and so many days in a row. It’s an awful feeling. I can’t do anything; I just have to stand there and think. I go off into my own world and internalize everything.
What are some similarities and differences between you and Drax?
The biggest similarity is that we are very loving to the people around us. We’re both really menacing looking guys with big hearts. The biggest difference is that I’m a shy, introverted person, whereas Drax is an outspoken, boisterous type of person.
Many kids can relate to being shy; what advice do you have for them?
Throughout my life I was always really shy and introverted. I always wanted to be one of those popular kids, one who could go into any social situation and get along with everyone and make them laugh. I realized when I was older that I really didn’t want to be that person, that I was content with who I was, and I realized that people would look at me and admire who I was. My advice is to accept who you are, and to be yourself. I know that sounds really cliché, but that’s the way I live my life.
What is the hardest part of playing Drax?
It isn’t really difficult to play Drax, but I had trouble in the first movie because of all the language that I’m not used to using. The second one was specifically written for me by [director and screenwriter] James Gunn. It’s not difficult because Drax is such a huge part of me now, he’s almost like an extension of me, like another arm or leg.
Do you think Drax is one of those people who tries to grab the attention?
Yes, I think Drax wants everybody’s attention! Absolutely, I think he wants to be the center of attention. Drax is very proud of himself.
What would your ideal superpower be?
I would like to fly. If I could have any superpower, it would be flight.
What was your favorite part of being in Guardians and Guardians 2?
I think my absolute favorite part is working with my co-stars and my director. I just love them so much, and I really love going to work. It’s not like a day at work— it’s that I’m going to the set everyday to hang out with my buddies. And if you can do that and can call it a day of work, it’s a huge luxury.
Which of your co-stars do you feel most connected to?
I think probably Chris Pratt because for one, I have known him the longest, and also I’ve spent more personal time with him. When we did the first one, we were both living close to each other, and it was set in London, so we were away from our friends and family. So we hung out. We had a lot of things in common. I just bonded with him the most. I love them all, but Chris and I had the biggest connection.
To what extent were you a superhero movie fan before Guardians?
Huge. Huge fan. Always a fan of superheroes throughout my life. When I was a child, through cartoons and television. And even as I got older, through films. I have always been a huge fan of films. Especially Marvel.
Who is your favorite superhero?
When I was a young child, Aquaman. As I got older, I loved Christian Bale’s version of Batman. But I think if I had to pick my favorite superhero film it would be Iron Man, the first one.
You have a large collection of lunch boxes. When did this obsession start?
I started collecting lunch boxes in 2003 and now I have about 200. Maybe more.
Which is your favorite lunch box?
I have a 1967 Green Hornet lunch box. That is my favorite.
You are part of a growing trend of wrestlers-turned-actors, but you don’t often see actors wrestling. Which actor would you like to most see in the ring?
We’ve actually talked about this—Chris Pratt would be a great professional wrestler. He’s very well-spoken; he’d be great on the mic. But also he’s got a background in amateur wrestling, so he’s already been on the mat and knows what it takes physically. He’s a fan, so he gets it and would be very entertaining. So, even though he’s my buddy and my co-star, I’d have to say Chris Pratt.
What is your advice to kids about acting?
If a kid really wants to pursue acting, he should do it. He has to be willing to be embarrassed, to be rejected. It’s a scary thing. It’s terrifying to audition. Nobody likes to be rejected, but it just comes with the business. If somebody just wants to act for fun, to be on stage, I say go for it!
Photographs by (from top) ©Marvel Studios 2017; Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images