Pro-wrestling fans know him as The Animal, but comic-book geeks will know Dave Bautista as Drax the Destroyer when “Guardians of the Galaxy” hits theaters Aug. 1.
The athlete-turned-actor admits that the transition from dropping Batista Bombs on TV to acting in a major action movie wasn’t as easy as some would think. “I try to explain that to people,” Bautista said. “When we started going into movies and stuff, people think because I have been in front of cameras for a long time, I should have that comfort zone, but it couldn’t be any more different.”
Even though Bautista is comfortable performing live in front of thousands of people, he found the “Guardians” audition nerve-wracking, he said. “It’s terrifying to walk into a room, to see three [or] four people and there’s one camera.” The wrestler was so nervous he couldn’t even eat. “I was hungry, but I was so wound up,” he said. “It’s so intimate. It’s terrifying.”
Despite Bautista's nerves while trying out, director James Gunn’s direct yet down-to-earth style calmed a lot of his fears, he said. “I mean, you feel like you’re just hanging out with one of your buddies—real geeky,” he said. And “he knows exactly what he wants.”
The transition from Gunn’s movie set back to the WWE ring was jarring; fans greeted The Animal with jeers and chants of “Boo-tista.” “It’s been weird,” Bautista said. “You know, I had a long talk with [WWE owner] Vince [McMahon] about it. I really had to fight to continue with it.”
The boos weren’t necessarily his fault, Bautista said. The WWE transformed his character from a once-brutish role to a softer personality. “They wanted to bring me back as this big baby face,” he said. “I said, ‘It’s not going to work.’ [They said,] ‘Yeah, they miss you, they love you and they’ll be so happy you’re back.’ [I said,] ‘Yeah, that’s going to last two seconds.’ And sure enough it did.”
Beyond the character confusion, rumors were swirling that another popular WWE superstar and champion, CM Punk [Phil Brooks], left due to Bautista’s return. The Animal still dismisses the rumors. “I never really commented on it because I don’t know what happened,” Bautista said. “Nobody really does. He doesn’t want to talk about it. Punk just disappeared.”
Bautista does admit that his relationship with Punk grew unexpectedly cold. “We’ve had good conversations, I’ve been to his place and there’s never been any bad blood between us,” he said. But when Bautista began receiving messages from other wrestlers about the rumors, he questioned his role in Punk’s departure. “I got a text from Ric [Flair] saying, ‘Don’t worry about it, man,’ so I started to think, ‘Wow! Maybe he did leave because of me,’” Bautista said. “So I called him, and he never called me back. So I really don’t know what that was all about.”
Even though Bautista is once again out of the ring, now promoting “Guardians,” some fans still don’t separate the person from The Animal. “Because I’m a pretty introverted person—although I‘ve come out of my shell a lot since I was a kid—I think a lot of people take it for arrogance. That I’m arrogant or angry,” Bautista said. “I get that all the time.”
Bautista is excited for the future of his “Guardians” character. Drax the Destroyer was originally created to destroy Thanos, a famous Marvel supervillain played by Josh Brolin, according to IMDB. And Bautista, it seems, would like to stick with the franchise. “With Thanos being the supervillain in our movie, and Avengers as well, it would be awful nice if Drax could be the one to kill that,” he said.
The newly minted actor isn’t only excited about the prospect of continuing the role. “They’re coming out with a whole Guardians Lego line,” he said. “I was so excited about the damn Lego, because I’ve never had anything like that! I have the action figures of the WWE. The Lego looks nothing like me. Still, it’s just so cool, man. They’re just big square heads. It’s pretty badass.”
Want more? Discuss this article and others on RedEye's Facebook page.