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Dave Bautista Wrestles With Becoming a Nuanced Character Actor with the Body of a ‘Fucking Gorilla’

Bautista learned to be less self-conscious from Chris Pratt, took Denis Villeneuve's very specific direction on "Blade Runner," and loved the run-and-gun intensity of "Bushwick."

Dave Bautista in "Bushwick," "Guardians of the Galaxy," and "Blade Runner 2049"

Dave Bautista in “Bushwick,” “Guardians of the Galaxy,” and “Blade Runner 2049”

A few years ago, Dave Bautista got into an argument with his agent. He wanted to turn the former WWE wrestler into a leading man, but didn’t want Bautista to take a role that required an Eastern European accent.

“I was really excited about it, and my agent hated it,” said Bautista. “When I asked why, he said: ‘Because if you do that, than you’re really just going to get stuck in this rut of being a character actor.’ And I said, ‘But I am a character actor. That’s what I want to be.”

It’s easy to understand where Bautista’s agent was coming from. Bautista’s a recognizable and extremely popular ex-wrestler with a mixed martial arts background and a physically imposing on-screen presence. There was a clear path for Bautista to become an action star. The problem was — that’s not what Bautista wanted.

“I don’t want to look like Dave Bautista there on screen, being the same guy in every role,” said Bautista. “I want to be different characters. I want to be a chameleon, which is not easy for me to do because I’m built like a fucking gorilla.”

"Bushwick"

Bushwick

Seacia Pavao

Another hurdle: Bautista never went to drama or acting school before transitioning to his new career, which meant he had to approach each role as an opportunity to add something to his acting toolkit. For example, on his new film “Bushwick” – a story about a Texas militia force descending on Brooklyn in an attempt to secede from the Union – the actor got the chance to test his abilities on a run-and-gun indie that utilized long-take handheld shots to capture the intensity of being caught in an unexpected urban war. It was a far cry from director James Gunn’s green screen improvisation on the “Guardians of the Galaxy” movies.

“When I do ‘Guardians’ movies we improv a lot, so there’s times where we can just be very repetitive with our lines and James is really big on [yelling] out, ‘Say this, say that,’” said Bautista. “With ‘Bushwick,’ since they were such long takes, there wasn’t any room for that at all. It’s definitely an intense focus. It wasn’t too hard because once you get in that mindset, you’re just in [it].”

“Bushwick” also offered Bautista a different way to use his physicality. Playing a depressed veteran, Bautista is bearded and his body language is closed – shoulders hunched and inside himself – a complete contrast to the upright bragadoccio of his bare-chested Drax in “Guardians.”

Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper in Guardians of the Galaxy

Zoe Saldana, Chris Pratt, Dave Bautista in “Guardians of the Galaxy”

Bautista said his own self-consciousness has been the biggest barrier to overcome. “I can still watch the first ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ and cringe because I can see some of the parts where I was just very nervous, very self-conscious,” said Bautista.

After that film’s enormous success, acting offers poured in. Bautista also believes Drax that allowed him to come into his own as a performer, with a great deal credit going to co-star Chris Pratt.

“I’ve never seen anybody who can just kind of a put himself so at ease and such a mindset where he’s just completely unselfconscious,” said Bautista. “He just lets it fly, he just lets it all hang out, he just doesn’t care. There’s nothing self-conscious about his performance, he just puts it all out there. He does stuff and says stuff [laughs] – it’s almost like he’s rambling sometimes, but he’s just fearless.”

Bautista still likes to take roles specifically because he wants to work with a particular actor or director. His wrestling experience shows in this regard: He compares himself to an athlete in that he’s very coachable and likes directors who give pointed notes and get involved in his performance. However, nothing prepared him for the extent of the direction he received from Denis Villeneuve on “Blade Runner 2049.”

"Blade Runner 2049"

“Blade Runner 2049”

Warner Bros

“That’s the biggest thing I took away from that film is that Denis is very specific, and I mean very specific, to the point of directing how I walk, how I put things down, to my demeanor, to how I put on my glasses, how I take off my glasses,” said Bautista.

Between shots, Bautista marveled that the same level of detail went into every aspect of the film. He’d watch cinematographer Roger Deakins make nuanced adjustments to the lights until it looked perfect. Comparing it to the breakneck pace of the gritty indie “Bushwick,” Bautista said he embraced the contrast.

“Yeah, it’s great to be part of both of those worlds,” said Bautista. “Gives me the luxury to go out there and get on this fast-track learning process. I’m having an amazing journey, I really am.”

“Bushwick” is now in theaters and available on VOD.

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