As someone who has spent nearly her entire life loving professional wrestling as much as I do the genre world, I was beyond honored to have the opportunity to sit down and speak in-depth with Dave Bautista at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival (which, coincidentally, is his very first festival ever) about his new project Bushwick, which was helmed by Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion, the duo behind the 2014 horror comedy Cooties.
During our interview, Bautista discussed what initially drew him to the indie project, his contributions to his character Stupe, and how Bushwick reinvigorated his love for indie filmmaking and made him a better actor, too. Dave also chatted about his involvement in the Guardians of the Galaxy films, how he’d love to challenge himself as a director someday, and more.
Look for part 2 of my interview with Bautista soon (in which we dig into the wrestling world more), and be sure to keep checking in all week for more of Daily Dead's coverage of the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.
Great to speak with you today, Dave. Your career has been really fun to follow. I grew up a wrestling nerd and I've been watching for a really long time, so it’s cool to see you transition into film and to be doing it so well. I love the fact that you're not being pigeonholed with any of the roles that you're doing. Has that been part of your game over the last few years in terms of taking on roles that don’t follow a certain mold?
Dave Bautista: It's amazing, because most people actually don't pick up on that. They don't realize. Because we've been very picky and choosy about what I did, because I didn't want to get typecast. I didn't want to take the typical action roles that everybody was expecting me to take, because I was going to get typecast as that guy, the action guy who didn't have anything really bright to say and who just kicked in doors and punched people in the face and shot people and drove off in a cool car. I didn't want to be that guy.
I actually wanted to learn how to act. The acting stuff is more important to me than actually being a big star. I always tell people that I didn't want to be a movie star, I wanted to be an actor. Because acting is what I fell in love with, and acting is what is still challenging for me. It's really a great luxury to have, to be able to go from big films to indie films, too. Because I'm on the job learning as an actor, and independent films is where I'm learning to act.
Let’s talk about Bushwick and what it was you saw in this project, and in your character Stupe, where you thought this was going to be a good fit for you.
Dave Bautista: God, I hope they're [Jonathan and Cary] not pissed that I say this because I really like them a lot and loved working with them, but I did not care for the script when I first read it. The appeal to me was that I knew that they were going to do everything in very long takes. Also, I knew that Stupe was going to be a character that was deep, and a little bit torn. What I didn't like originally was the script. I liked the premise of the film—that was the appeal. But the character when I first read him, I just hated him. I just didn't want to cheer for him—he was an asshole.
So everyday I would approach the guys and tell them, I don't want to say this, I don't need to do this. Can we make Stupe more like this? And what was so cool was that Cary and Jonathan were so flexible about it all. I think at the end of the day all that input made him a better character. I hope so, anyway.
When I spoke to them earlier, they also said you were integral in how the ending changed in Bushwick, too.
Dave Bautista: Yeah, I was part of that. Across the board as far as the character development goes, I wanted to really dig into this guy because I just wanted people to empathize with him and actually like him. He's one of the heroes of the film, and at the end of the day, you have to like him, or at the very least want to root for him.
How different was this experience on Bushwick, after coming off doing a few studio pictures? Did you appreciate that intimacy that the world of independent filmmaking allows?
Dave Bautista: That's totally what it was. That's why I do this and that's why I like to do indie films. I would say that I really feel like indie films are where I learn to be a better actor, especially because they always give you a bit more freedom to collaborate.
If you're under a big studio, you just don't have the time for that. They're paying you a lot of money to do this, so every minute matters. But if you do an indie film, where it’s like, "We don't have a lot of money to give you, but we'll really give you a lot of freedom," that's really a luxury to have in this business. At least for myself, because I'm still kind of earning my acting credibility.
Well, I would say by now you’ve definitely earned some credibility. There have been a lot of wrestlers who have tried to transition to movies and some have done it well, and some haven't. But I think immediately once Guardians came out, that stigma that often accompanies wrestlers was gone. And you're now part of something that's so big. It was a wonderful opportunity to really show a completely different side of you.
Dave Bautista: It's pretty amazing. It's really cool, too, especially because now I've done the second Guardians and I hear that the second film is testing even way better than the first film. It's really cool because now people are familiar with the characters and they've really fallen in love with the characters. It's really like a great thing.
When we first started, we didn't know what was going to happen. We were all kind of just in the dark about how this was going to go. We all believed in it, but we needed everybody else to see it and believe in it as well. We just didn't know if people were going to come out.
Then when we started hearing about the record-breaking numbers and everything. At the end of the day, we just all thought this is really just such a great fun loving film. It's something everybody can find something to enjoy about, and we all take pride in that. We all feel like we created something together. The big question I always ask is, and I have the answer to it, but who is the guy who saw the genius in James [Gunn], the director of Super and Slither, and knew he could take this huge franchise film and just make it so magical. The answer to that is obviously Kevin Feige.
I always thought what great insight he has to see the talent, but within all of us. Chris [Pratt], who was the Parks and Rec guy. Zoe [Saldana] was already a movie star, so you can't include Zoe in this conversation. But me, the ex-wrestler. He just saw potential in all of us, man. That's amazing, what insight that guy has.
Well, a lot of that comes from the way that you guys interact with each other. It's very natural and that chemistry is instantaneous. It all just feels like an extension of your respective personalities.
Dave Bautista: Yeah, it really is. And I think at the end of the day that's why I got the role of Drax.
Are there certain pieces of these different characters that you take with you every time you finish a film, or is it the opposite?
Dave Bautista: I don't think there's a certain part of a character I take with me. There's a certain part of me I leave with each character, though. My agent, he hates this, but there was a role recently that came up that I thought would be really cool to do. They wanted me to do him with an accent. My agent just had a cow. He said, "You can't do that. If this takes off and it's big, you're going to get typecast as this character actor and we need you to be a leading man."
I said, "But I'm not a leading man. I'm a character actor. That's what I want to be." He just doesn't get that. I think a lot of people, outside of the business, wouldn't get that I don't want to be a leading man. I want to be a character actor because I think that's more fun. I love playing different characters. I just do. I want to play even more quirky and interesting characters and just something that people wouldn't automatically think that I would be. I want to go against the grain a bit and I'm hoping people will be open-minded enough to cast me in stuff that's going against the grain.
What was the biggest thing you took away from your experiences on Bushwick?
Dave Bautista: It definitely made me a better actor, but that goes back again to just having so much freedom to work with the character. Brittany [Snow] was so easy to work with. She's kind of crazy, I think. If she hadn't been there, if it was someone else, hopefully it would have been as good of an experience, but I don't know. She had a lot to do with it because she's just so easygoing. There's just nothing pretentious or high-maintenance about her.
Looking at it in retrospect, you can see some of the political influences in the film and maybe some insight to what could possibly happen. It would be a nightmare and it's a bit far-fetched, but this could happen if things keep going the way that they are.
It was also the first time I really got to play a character that was just a bit deeper than the characters I've played in the past. And to this date, probably a character that's really maybe more heartbroken than Drax. Because Drax is along the same lines as the character. He was very, very heartbroken, too, and I like playing these deep characters that are a bit hurt because the way I look, people don't see that. They see a strong person. I don't always want to play that. I want to play the regular guy who's had a bit of a jaded past or a bit of a tortured soul because I think they're interesting.
You’ve done both studio and independent projects over the last few years, so I was curious, are going to still find that balance between those types of project going forward?
Dave Bautista: Yeah, hopefully. I know this sounds weird, but hopefully within the next couple years, I will be able to transition into strictly smaller projects. I know that sounds weird because my ultimate goal is actually to direct and develop projects. I don't want them to be big projects with a lot of special effects because that's not really what appeals to me.
I'm a fan of some of it, but for the most part I'm not. I'm more a fan of old-school films with really interesting stories and good performances. That's what I'd like to do. If I could get myself to a place where I felt secure and I wouldn't have to kind of worry about money and I know my family would be secure, then I would leave the big studios so I could continue to make smaller films, and hopefully get to direct a few of them, too.
In case you missed it, check out part 2 of Heather's Sundance interview with Dave Bautista, and stay tuned to Daily Dead for more of our live coverage from the Sundance Film Festival.