dave bautista drax guardians of the galaxyDisney and Marvel's "Guardians of the Galaxy," directed by James Gunn and out August 1, is full of colorful characters. This is a movie, after all, anchored by a human thief (Star-Lord, played by Chris Pratt), who is joined by a green-skinned alien warrior (Gamora, played by Zoe Saldana), an anthropomorphic, trigger-happy raccoon (Rocket, voiced by Bradley Cooper), and a towering, bizarre tree creature (Groot, voiced by Vin Diesel). But the most amazing member of the Guardians, at least from a visual standpoint, is Drax the Destroyer, a mountain-sized man hellbent on revenge, and played, with the imposing physicality of a dinosaur or maybe an industrial machine used to level buildings, by wrestler Dave Bautista.

When we visited the set of "Guardians of the Galaxy" last year, Bautista had been filming, and so we got to see him in real life: his skin was the color of old olives and every square inch of it was embroidered by red tattoos depicting dragons and other immortal juggernauts. (My jaw literally hinged open as he entered the empty soundstage adjacent to where they were shooting.) Like all of the fearsome members of the Guardians of the Galaxy, Bautista seemed appreciative and genuinely moved by his involvement in the film.

Someone brought up his appearance at Comic Con that year, where he took part in a "Guardians of the Galaxy" panel and seemed, well, over the moon (yes, pun very much intended). "It was weird, because it was my third Comic Con, and two years before, I had gone as a spectator," Bautista said. "I went with my girlfriend, and we both dressed up so we could just walk the floor and really experience it, and two years later, I'm in freaking Hall H, man, up on a panel with 'Guardians of the Galaxy.' How weird is that?" It was pretty weird, Mr. Bautista. Pretty weird.

Bautista worked hard to get the role, but says that, "Being motivated was never a factor. Never." (Looking at him, you can tell.) Throughout the interview, too, he seemed to defer to the Disney representatives who had chaperoned us, seeming pensive about answering some of the nerdier questions and never wanting to say something he wasn't supposed to. At one point he asked, "Are we allowed to give that out?" Later, he demurred, saying, "So, I'm always afraid I'm going to say the wrong thing." And then: " Marvel is pretty strict about, you know... I mean, we're in the movie, and they've got us on lockdown." He seemed to understand the enormity of the opportunity given him. And he did not want to screw that up.

While his character's motivation, revenge, seemed easy for Bautista ("It's easy, I have a clear-cut goal"), the physical transformation Bautista had to go through sounded like anything but easy ("The team actually set a record today, because when we first started doing it, it was in between four and half to five hours just to put on, and it usually takes about an hour and a half to take off, but today, they actually did it in two hours and forty-seven minutes") Not that he is anything but totally cheery about it. In fact, there's an air of predestination about the whole thing. "It's so weird, man, and I keep not only thinking this, but I keep hearing this over and over that I was really born to play this part," Bautista said, beaming and gravel-voiced. "I love putting on the makeup and everything, especially the tattoos, and you guys don't really get to see the contacts. The contacts are really the icing on the cake. They're really cool."

Even though Drax is an intergalactic thug, and, as far as we know, Bautista is not, the actor was still able to find some common ground. "I can just relate to Drax so much, it's not even funny," Bautista explained. And just the simple things that we have in common -- like the tattoos and just the tragedy, because I've had a bit of tragedy in my life as well. So, it's really easy for me to pull from that. There's even the coincidence of Drax using two knives as his weapon of choice. I've done Kali for years, just by chance. Just little stuff like that."

As can sometimes happen, of course, Bautista wasn't so sure of Drax at the beginning. "I didn't get Drax at all when I first read the sides for the audition. Just didn't get it, and I saw a picture of Drax, and I was like, 'Holy sh*t. Holy sh*t, that's me,' and it freaked me out."

When the subject of how Bautista prepared for the physicality of the role (not only is he hulking but the actor estimates that he's a part of "four" major fight scenes), he said that he didn't do much preparation (he is, after all, a professional fighter) but was still part of nearly endless planning. "Yeah, you know, I didn't do a whole lot of preparation. We came in and started doing a whole lot of stunt training. Luckily for me, I'm a lifelong athlete, and I adapt real quick," Bautista said, also noting Pratt's athletic ability and quickness with picking up these cues. But even their training couldn't totally prepare them for a sequence that had been planned.

"James decided that the fight scene was so elaborate, that the way we were shooting it just wasn't going to work. And we didn't get it at all, man, because we were doing all this cool stuff, and James is like, 'You've got to trust me. It's not going to look right the way we were going to shoot it. We need to simplify this and make it easier,' and it wasn't nearly as cool, we didn't think, until we actually saw it." Gunn's style of production dictated that they learn the fight in total, instead of in fits and starts. "We really had to learn the whole fight scene because Gunn wanted to shoot it in one shot, and it took us 22 takes to get it right because there's a lot going on, and it's us fighting together." Quite frankly, Bautista still seemed amazed. "Thank God that we are pretty athletic guys, and we really just went for it, and it took us a long time to get it, but we got it, and it's a hell of a fight scene." So, um, spoiler alert: Drax and Star-Lord fight.

But what was Bautista's favorite part of this whole, wild experience? Even he has a hard time articulating, which made him even more endearing. "God, man, that's a huge question. I wouldn't really don't know where to start," he sighed. "It's really just from actually being a comic-book character to, really, the first time seeing the makeup, and seeing everybody else in their makeup. You could sit around, and the geek in you just sits around just staring, and you're like, 'Oh, it's just so cool. Oh my God, that's so cool.'" It's in these moments that Bautista sounds like a kid -- a really, really big kid. "It's freaking amazing, and it's so much bigger than anything I've ever done. So, it's really just so overwhelming." Even the merchandise seems to tickle him. "I've had action figures. It was always one of my favorite things. The video games when I was with WWE, even though I'm not a gamer, because I would literally go out and buy the games just so I could play myself."

Even more amazing to Bautista was when he found out he was going to be duplicated in brick form. "I didn't know we were going to have Legos... a Drax Lego, man. I mean, stuff like that, I just love."

So do we, so do we.

"Guardians of the Galaxy" smashes its way into theaters August 1.

get tickets
Photo courtesy Getty Images / Marvel

CATEGORIES Interviews, Movies