Tom Beasley chats to WWE star turned Hollywood leading man Dave Bautista about his role as a near-blind cop who teams up with a kind-hearted Uber driver in action-comedy Stuber…
Sometimes, comedy premises are so absurd that there’s no way they can completely fail. Stuber, from Goon director Michael Dowse, is one of those movies. It features the gargantuan former wrestler Dave Bautista as a hard-bitten, old-fashioned cop who is on the hunt of a crime boss played by The Raid standout Iko Uwais. He gets a crucial lead on the case that just happens to turn up on the day he has had laser eye surgery, and can’t see a thing. This leads him to hop into an Uber driven by mild-mannered Stu, who is immediately out of his depth when bullets start flying.
The film is the latest step in Bautista’s evolution from bruising fighter to big screen icon, hot on the heels of his appearance as Drax the Destroyer in Avengers: Endgame, as well as his in-ring retirement at this year’s WrestleMania.
Bautista got on the phone with Flickering Myth to chat about how Stuber pushed his acting chops to the limit, as well as give an update on his Marvel work and share a few words on the prospect of joining his former WWE pals in a certain vehicular franchise.
I think I knew I was going to enjoy Stuber pretty early on because, about two minutes in, you’re squaring off against Iko Uwais from The Raid. I thought “yes, here we go”!
I’d agree with you! He wasn’t originally slated to fill that role and we got really lucky in the way it worked out. We were so lucky to have him. He gets away from that cliché bad guy and gives a whole new, interesting twist to the role. Plus, Iko is just awesome. We really lucked out because we got to take advantage of his fight choreography skills and him as just a talent. It was great to see him play a bad guy too.
And what was that like for you to get to square off against him? Obviously, he’s a martial arts guy and you’re a wrestling guy. Did that make things work well?
It was really interesting and it was really fun to come to work and be creative with this fight scene. Obviously we didn’t have time to rehearse together, so they had choreographed the fight without me. They videoed it and showed it to me and I was like “man, this isn’t going to work at all” because the guy they were using to play me was about a foot shorter and about 100 pounds later. It was just a completely different fight style and it didn’t work. So we actually got to sit there at crunch time on the day and really create stuff that worked out great.
I’ve got 20 years coming into this and Iko has been doing it his whole life, so it was really fun to sit down and be creative. It’s what I really love about this business – the chance to collaborate and come up with something magical.
And also in that opening, you got the chance to work with Karen Gillan again after Guardians of the Galaxy. What was it like to work with her again?
It was so great. The funny thing is that I found out about it during the Avengers: Infinity War press junket. We were crossing paths and she said “hey, I’m doing a movie with you next month”. And I said “which one?” and she said “Stuber“, so I was like “no way”. Sure enough, she’s playing my partner. I was thrilled because I love her. She’s absolutely one of my favourite people and for us to get to actually work together, out of make-up, was really great.
I got to know her a little bit better. On the Guardians films, we’d spend so much time in make-up that we were both usually falling asleep on set. It was just an uncomfortable thing, so it was nice to be able to actually be two human beings just getting to know each other a little better.
It must have been nice to be able to talk without either one or both of you being blue!
It was really, really great. You only really get it if you’ve spent months getting into that make-up. [laughs] It’s just like a refreshing feeling to have someone there who knows what you’ve been through, and you’ve already bonded. My goal is to work with all of the Guardians on separate projects outside of Marvel.
I want to talk a little about your character in this film. It’s a really interesting idea to have someone do an entire action film while being basically blind. How did you bring that through in your character, especially in the action scenes?
It was a lot of direction. I had to constantly be reminded to squint or to stumble or reach for something. Then, there’s some practicality because I actually can’t see very well anyway without my glasses on. But it was a lot of fun playing with that character. And it’s a fine line because you want to keep it somewhat grounded and not go overboard so it just seems silly. At the same time, it’s an action-comedy and you want to have some fun with it, so it’s a fine line to walk. But I really depended on the direction of Michael Dowse.
One of the things that does ground the character is that Vic is a very old-fashioned, kind of ‘man’s man’ character. And I think one of the interesting things is how that clashes with Kumail’s character, who is a more modern man in many ways. How important was that element of the story to you and how did it inform your performance?
It’s absolutely the foundation of the film and we have that discussion throughout. That’s what makes the sporting goods store fight so special because we’re actually having the discussion while we’re having a fight. [laughs] I’m nothing like Vic in that sense, but we really wanted to be able to have that discussion. It’s a really cool thing because this is an action-comedy and so you wouldn’t think you’d leave the movie theater and have this sort of discussion about it. But I think people will and I think some of the things we’re talking about are really relevant.
When people are connected with films like that, and talk about them afterwards, that’s what sets them apart. You wouldn’t think you’d have that on an action-comedy, but you do and I think we’re really trying to sell that point. It’s important and relevant.
You said there that you’re not like Vic in that respect. What sort of stuff were you pulling from to create him? I know the wrestling world has a reputation for being a sort of ‘man’s man’ world. Did that inform your persona in this film at all?
I never really drew from my wrestling experience. Although, maybe subsconsciously I did. The wrestling industry has obviously changed. It’s not the same business today that it was 15 or 20 years ago when I started. But what I really did was that, again, I depended on direction. I drew from people I’ve come in touch with. Some of it I just exaggerated and some of it I stole from other characters. I was influenced by Nick Nolte’s character in 48 Hrs, which was referenced to me by Michael. It was lots of bits and pieces, as well as just who I thought this guy would be – the stereotype that was in my head.
There is a serious side to this film, but it is also a comedy and you have Kumail as your comedy partner. He’s obviously such an experienced comedy performer. What was it like to work with him and how did you find improvising with him?
We improvved a lot. We’d usually do stuff at least three times. First, we’d do at least one or two takes where we stayed pretty much on-page. Then, Michael would give us a little bit of freedom to improv and do our thing, which is where I feel comfortable, and then we’d do takes using alternate lines which were written for us by Kumail and his friend and co-writer Jared Logan. We had three different ways we were doing things. It was a real luxury to have Kumail there because he did a pass at the script and rewrote a few things, so he was constantly tweaking and touching up things.
Professionally, too, it was really cool to see his process and how he does things because it’s totally new for me. It was a learning experience with comedy and it was really cool.
You’ve spoken a lot since you transitioned into acting about taking on new challenges. Was this an example of that, getting to play a more overtly comedic role?
It was weird. [laughs] I was so much out of my comfort zone because comedy is not something I have previously felt strongly about. If you were to ask me if I had my genre of choice to watch and perform in, it would be drama. That’s where I feel comfortable. Comedy is something I don’t feel is my strength. I’m more of a dry, monotone person, so this was out of my comfort zone. But I got connected with this script and I wanted to work with Kumail and Michael. I also wanted to work with Jeremy Kramer, our exec producer, because he produced one of my favourite films of all-time – the first Deadpool. But I was definitely stepping way out of my comfort zone.
I wanted to talk about some of the other stuff you’ve got going on. You popped up as Drax in Avengers: Endgame and I think the secrecy around that film is fascinating. How much were you told going into it?
I had pretty much nothing. As a performer, it was the oddest way I’ve done a film. It was the oddest process for me. We were really kept in the dark. Everybody, across the board. I think there was a couple of people who knew more than they would let on, but I think they didn’t want to make anyone else feel bad. The higher-ups, like [Chris] Evans and Robert Downey Jr, I’m sure were privy to a lot more information than most of us. I was completely in the dark and I shot a lot of stuff that was out of sequence and some of the stuff I shot wasn’t used.
I don’t know if things changed after the first film was released. I had no idea that I was being vapourised in the first film. I didn’t know how it was ending and I didn’t know how much I would be involved in the second film. I honestly didn’t think I was going to be in the second film at all. I was surprised when I went to the theaters and saw myself pop up. I was detached from Endgame, but I was much more involved with Infinity War. I thought I was gonna be possibly completely cut out of Endgame, so I was actually happy to be in it. I was really disconnected as a performer and totally engaged as a fan.
It’s really interesting! And so, as far as we know, James Gunn is back in the Disney fold now. What’s the situation with Guardians 3 as far as you’re aware?
It’ll be made. It’s gonna happen. [laughs] When? I have no idea. I can say that I’m sure this original script we were gonna use will change a bit because of the timeline as far as filming but, otherwise, we just don’t know. I can tell you that, obviously, since James has been rehired, there needs to be a conclusion.
You’re working with your Blade Runner 2049 director Denis Villeneuve again on Dune. I don’t know how far through you are, but what has it been like?
I actually start filming next week in Budapest [Bautista spoke to Flickering Myth in early June], but I’m looking forward to it. I have to say that getting the call from him, asking me personally to do this part was a monumental moment in my career. I was floored that he actually called me. When I first met him for Blade Runner 2049, he did not want me to play Sapper Morton. He was not interested in me for that part. I really had to win him over and so, to have him call me and say he had been thinking about me since that film and wanted to personally offer me this role, that to me felt like I had really earned some respect.
You’ve mentioned before that Gears of War is a project you’re really passionate about trying to get going. Has there been any movement on that?
Without elaborating on that, I will say yes. [laughs]
Oh, that’s a tease! Before I let you go, the news has recently broken that John Cena is joining the Fast & Furious world. Dwayne Johnson is obviously there. Roman Reigns is turning up in Hobbs & Shaw. Is there any prospect of the WWE Hollywood Team joining together in one of those films?
I will answer this as politely as I can and say there’s not a fucking chance. [laughs] It’s never going to happen.
Those films not to your taste then, I take it?
Thank you very much for your time!
Stuber is out in UK cinemas from 12th July.
Tom Beasley is a freelance film journalist and wrestling fan. Follow him on Twitter via @TomJBeasley for movie opinions, wrestling stuff and puns.