Tom Jolliffe looks at Dave Bautista’s rise from being another wrestler-turned-actor to cultivating an impressive and varied CV…
There has long been an assumption, that wrestlers turned actors are missing a key ingredient when it comes to their new craft. To be an actor, it always helps if you can act. Whilst Hulk Hogan’s short run flirtation with mainstream film quickly descended into embarrassing kids films and TV movies, he did little to stomp that myth into the canvas and leg drop it to oblivion. There are innumerable grapplers who turned to acting. Some have been, for the snobbier of critic, not too surprisingly wooden (Edge a.k.a. Adam Copeland in Money Plane for example, looks permanently perplexed). Others have come and gone. Roddy Piper was sorely underrated with charisma to burn. Anyone would kill to have something as immense as They Live on their CV after all, but as is some times the way, the film didn’t connect initially. Meanwhile Dwayne Johnson has forged an impressive career as a box office behemoth, but early attempts to branch out into grittier roles have been displaced by coasting on his undeniable charisma. Hell, his latest, Jungle Cruise, sees him atypically chiselled and light heartedly heroic, but it’s doing wonders to assist in the rejuvenation of cinema.
For every Johnson or Cena, there’s a Triple H or a Warrior. Then we have Dave Bautista. Because of his size and frame, and I guess this rings true of the vast majority of wrasslers, he instantly got lumbered with comparisons to Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. There’s beefy then there’s down right hulking, and the pair lean toward hulking for sure. His film career has spanned a decade now. It’s got parallel streams running through it. On the one hand there is a selection of films that don’t seem surprising for an action actor coming from the WWE. House of the Rising Sun was his launch off. Time would tell whether he’d be the next DiBiase Jr./The Miz/whoever, or whether he’d start climbing rungs. He then ventured into a number of straight to video films, including a Scorpion King sequel (which of course doesn’t do much to dissuade The Rock comparisons). He’s appeared in two Escape Plan straight to video sequels and a riff on Van Damme’s Sudden Death called Final Score (solidly enjoyable as it happens).
Then there was the flip side to the video, low end theatrical actioners… he has had significant roles in Blade Runner 2049 (where he showed more subtlety in his supporting role than most of his contemporaries have shown throughout their careers), Spectre (the best, and sadly underused, element of an otherwise disappointing 007 outing), and the recent Netflix tentpole Army of the Dead. No, Bautista isn’t just here to make films like Kickboxer: Vengeance, even if he now adds a touch of gravitas to them. He’s here to be an actor first and on screen bruiser second.
In Guardians of the Galaxy, James Gunn gave Bautista a perfect platform to shine. The role of Drax required the physical mass that he naturally brings, but it also needed pitch perfect and stoic, comical timing. It’s probably little wonder that the character, as dead pan as Bautista plays it, is a fans favourite. He gets the biggest laughs, and did so in his fleeting appearances in the Avengers films too. Drax is not only blissfully oblivious to his manner, but there’s an added layer of tragedy to him as well, given his back story (family all wiped out by Thanos). Whilst the projects certainly veered into Dwayne’s World, comedies like Stuber and My Spy, whilst a little forgettable, still offered further proof that Bautista has a gift for comedy.
Still, there’s now becoming a consistent theme among his work. High profile directors are turning to him (and going back as well). He’s already done great work for Denis Villeneuve in Blade Runner 2049. The much anticipated Dune reboot also offers a plum role for Bautista who will undoubtedly be allowed to shine once more, and perhaps show another level of range we’ve yet to see. He might be veering into being an ensemble specialist, but the key thing is, his parts are impactful. You remember him in BR49, Spectre, and Guardians for example. He’ll leave an impression in Dune. Additionally he’s part of a very impressive ensemble in Knives Out 2. Rian Johnson has brought Bautista on board a film which will undoubtedly paint vivid characters and subtle comedic moments (as the first did). He’s done that based on a trust that Bautista can pull it off. It’s certainly not an action vehicle. This is a film for character actors, allowed their respective moments to shine. No doubt he will.
A next step might be to push himself into more complex corners and to develop a bigger emotional range. That of course comes under the proviso that studios back him for such projects. Ultimately the first battle if you’re 6 ft 3 and 300 lbs is to shake off being type cast as action heroes, heavies, bruisers, brawlers etc. It can be difficult to get your indie drama if studios want you to powerbomb mofos. The man himself seems intent on pushing his abilities and trying to differentiate himself from the expectations that come with being his size. Time will tell if that critical acclaim is around the corner.
What are your thoughts on Dave Bautista? What’s your favourite Bautista role so far? Let us know on our social channels @flickeringmyth…
Tom Jolliffe is an award winning screenwriter and passionate cinephile. He has a number of films out on DVD/VOD around the world and several releases due out in 2021/2022, including, Renegades (Lee Majors, Danny Trejo, Michael Pare, Tiny Lister, Nick Moran, Patsy Kensit, Ian Ogilvy and Billy Murray), Crackdown, When Darkness Falls and War of The Worlds: The Attack (Vincent Regan). Find more info at the best personal site you’ll ever see here.