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When you sit down to have a conversation with Dave Bautista, the wrestler and mixed martial artist turned Marvel movie star, you realize what an impressive actor he really is.

While he’s become world famous for his bellowing, battle-enthusiastic and mercilessly mirthful performance as the socially inept and literal-minded intergalactic warrior Drax in Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” films, Bautista simply couldn’t be any further light years away from his on screen alter ego — save for the hulking size, rippling muscles and shaved dome, that is.
Soft-spoken, low-key and surprisingly self-effacing, the somewhat introverted Bautista admits he doesn’t easily slip right into Drax’s gray-green skin – he works tirelessly alongside filmmaker James Gunn to build a persona that’s utterly different from his own. It’s one that’s used to great effect, both comedic and dramatic, in “Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2,” in which Drax’s complete inability to decipher social cues and utter lack of self-censorship is played largely in direct contrast to a brand new foil, the wide-eyed, emotionally attuned naif Mantis (Pom Klementieff).
“He’s a gentleman, and he’s so sweet,” Klementieff told CBR of her castmate. “Of course, he’s big, and you’re like, ‘Oh, he’s tough,’ but actually, he’s so polite. He never complains. He’s really an amazing guy. He’s just amazing in the role of Drax.”
Bautista joined CBR for a look at how he finds his way into the Drax’s headspace, his proud ownership of the character, and what Drax has come to mean to fans. We also dig into why he was stoked to appear opposite the earthbound Avengers in “Infinity War,” and why the fan in him was ready for his upcoming role in the “Blade Runner” sequel.
CBR: you must have been delighted to see what James put on your plate for this one.
Dave Bautista: My plate, not necessarily – on the table, definitely. I was excited to read the script. I knew it was great, for me, as always. I’m always kind of self-conscious about everything I do, especially for this performance.
Yeah, I was excited about the script. [But] when I first read the script, I wasn’t crazy about my part. It went a different direction than what I thought they were going to go with Drax. That’s just because I was expecting one thing and got another. So I was a little bit thrown off at first.
Also, what I usually do when I get a script is I read my dialogue first, I just didn’t really get the jokes. I just didn’t think Drax was that significant in the film, and I don’t find myself funny at all. So I remember reading, and I’m just sitting there not laughing. Like, wow, it was disappointing because I thought Drax was going to be so much more.
When we sat down for the table read, is when it clicked. It clicked in my head. For one, I could hear everybody doing their own parts, and it was just so funny and deep, and some of it sad. But also, when I would say my lines and people would laugh, it would kind of start to make sense.
The second time around, was it easier, given how different you are from Drax, to tap into him again? Or did you have to search for him again this time?
The weird thing – and I actually found this out well before we started filming – was I had gone in to do some screen tests with Pom, and realized how easy it was stepping back into Drax. It was screen tests. We did no makeup or anything like that. I was just on set, just interacting with Pom as Mantis. It just felt so comfortable. It just felt like putting on an old pair of jeans.
That Drax/Mantis relationship – you and Pom really have the right kind of chemistry to pull it off. It’s an interesting dynamic between the two. Tell me how quickly you fell into it with her.
Immediately. Yeah, immediately. We knew right away on the screen test, because I screen tested with three or four other actresses, and Pom was the one who I just connected with emotionally. Like me, she just wears her heart on her sleeve, and she’s just got that emotional range. She also has a knack of being able to deliver a joke in a deadpan manner. She’s got the same knack. It just meshed well together.
Does being Drax do anything helpful for you? Is there anything therapeutic about it, or is there a certain emotional release involved with playing him?
There’s definitely a certain satisfaction. I don’t know if there’s a release. Every time I do something performance-wise, even when I see it on screen, I just kind of cringe. I pick it apart in my head. I’m one of those actors, I don’t like to watch playbacks, because I will watch something and I’ll see myself doing something I don’t like, and I’ll harp on it for the rest of the day. I just don’t watch myself with playbacks.
But I think there’s a satisfaction of — I feel like I’m becoming a better performer. Especially with James, because I have such an emotional attachment to James. I love him, and he changed my life. So when I know he’s happy with my performance, when I feel like I’ve delivered for him, because he’s written so brilliantly for me, it really just makes me feel good.
Have they made the transformation into the character with the makeup and the applications and everything, is it easier this time?
It’s much easier. It’s easier to put on. It’s a little harder to take off. It’s just more abrasive. But that also means it goes on a lot faster, and it stays on better, and it looks better. It just looks way better.
The first one was like these great big sheets of silicone, and it just didn’t look that great. It buckled here and there. Sometimes I still see films where they couldn’t quite clean it up. I feel like I have a big layer of fat there or something, and it’s actually makeup. It just makes me self-conscious. But this one just looked a lot better. It was just a little bit harder to take off.
Is there part of that process that you feel like you’re Drax once it’s done? Is there an element that gets you there?
You know what it is? It’s when I put the contacts in. I feel full-blown Drax. I’m not method or anything like that, but sometimes I’ll do scenes, and they don’t require me to put in my contacts, but there’s definitely a different feeling that I have. I feel something about putting the contacts in, I feel fully enveloped in Drax.
One of the things I love about Drax is that full-on laugh when he’s having a good time making mayhem, and you get a lot of those moments in this one. How do you get to that point? As you say, you’re more inward-focused than Drax.
For sure. I usually get there through a direction from James Gunn. Now I’ve kind of got a sense of what he wants, and he’ll say, “Yeah, do the big laugh,” and I kind of know what he wants. But sometimes it’s usually just, he’ll gauge me. If he wants it bigger, he’ll say, “Can you do it bigger? Can you do it louder?” And that’s actually how we kind of stumbled on to it.
It’s so funny, because we can a lot of times gauge our performance on James’ laughter off a set, or he gets very excited. He’s a very excited director. If he loves something, he’ll come running out and go, “Oh, my God! That’s great! That was great!” Then walk back. Other times, we can just hear him at the monitors just laughing hysterically.
That’s how we actually found that laugh in the first film. He was saying, “Can you do it bigger?” And I’d start laughing bigger, and I could hear him laughing. The laughing would just get louder and louder. So a lot of times I gauge myself by his laughter or his excitement, which is great.
The last time you and I talked was as the first “Guardians” movie was coming out. And you knew, I think at that time, that you had a good movie on your hands, but you didn’t know how the audience was going to show up and respond. Tell me about life after getting the audience response to Drax, and people wanting to talk to you about him and how much they enjoyed that character.

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