Long before he landed the role of Drax the Destroyer in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, Dave Bautista was already a star to WWE fans, who knew him as Batista, a villain-turned-fan favorite and eventual World Heavyweight Champion. Since leaving the professional wrestling world behind, Bautista has been a reliable presence in action films ranging from smaller thrillers to big budget affairs like the James Bond film Spectre, the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, and the hotly anticipated Blade Runner 2049, which opens in October.
This week, Bautista stars alongside Brittany Snow (Pitch Perfect) in Bushwick, an urban action thriller about a young woman and a janitor attempting to survive a domestic militia invasion in their home neighborhood. Bautista spoke with Rotten Tomatoes about his Five Favorite Films, making movies on a limited budget, and what it was like to film the long, single-shot scenes that comprise Bushwick.
I think a lot of ’70s films, like later ’70s films seem to be some of my favorites. I’m going to say, I’m going to go with Star Wars. I don’t know what it was. It may have just been the time when I saw it, the time it was, with childhood, but everything about that film just makes me feel good. I just, I love it. I never get tired of it. Even back when I was a kid and I saw it in the theaters, I was just… Maybe just because it was so new and fresh, and it was just so original, and so inspiring.
The Force, it just made you feel good. It made you think that miracles could happen, or there was just this higher power that could give you this energy, only positive things, and you could defeat evil with it. Everything about it, the movie, and I mean, the sounds of the film, the music, and the toys, and just everything about it. It might have been just that time, but everything about it just brings me right back to 1977 when I was a child, and so I just love everything about it.
RT: I assume you saw that in the theaters when it came out.
Oh, yeah. Yeah, yeah. I still have collectibles, Star Wars collectibles.
RT: I have to tell you, when I saw the first Guardians of the Galaxy with one of my friends, he said to me afterwards, “You know what this is? This is Star Wars for this generation.”
Man, that’s so awesome. That’s really, that’s such a compliment. I remember James Gunn saying that he had such a strong affection for The Empire Strikes Back. He said he didn’t want to emulate that film, but he wanted people to walk away with the same feeling that he left The Empire Strikes Back with. So that’s really a huge compliment.
I’m going to go with The Godfather. It’s weird — I didn’t see The Godfather in theaters. I actually saw it on television. I think when I was a little kid, they ran it in a series. It was on over three or four days on television. I remember just being immediately sucked in, and I was a young kid. My mom was actually amazed that I was just so sucked in. I kept asking her all these questions about the film that she had no answer for, and didn’t really care to sit down and watch it, and couldn’t answer the questions, but I was just so curious and I just loved all the drama of it, you know? And it still, it holds up. My wife and I were just watching it on HBO — I think it was HBO — like last night or the night before. They play part one and part two together now. It’s like five hours of The Godfather.
I’m going to go with To Kill a Mockingbird. Something about that film… Man, it’s hard to put in words, but there’s something very peaceful about that film. There’s something that is really… There’s such a strong sense of right and wrong in that film, but there’s something also that’s just reminiscent of childhood. I don’t know if that makes sense, but there’s just something very peaceful about that film that I love. Gregory Peck, his performance, he’s just so strong in that film. Also, seeing a young Robert Duvall is really strange. I love the overall message about the film. There’s just a strong sense of justice. I think that would be the best term I could use. I love that film.
I’m going to go with Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It’s amazing. It’s just one of those films that, if it’s on — I have the DVD too — but if it’s on, I just can’t not watch it. A lot of times, that’s how I know that films are my favorite, if they’re on and I just can’t change the channel, and just have to watch it, even though I’ve seen it a million times, and it holds up and it’s still fresh, and it still feels good to me. That’s one of those films. I love everything about it. Again, it’s just one of those movies that makes you think, and it’s inspiring, and it just feels good, and it feels magical. I love Richard Dreyfuss as well, and Jaws is also one of my favorite films. But just the performance, and the whole tones at the end with the aliens, as they’re coming out, it’s just a feelgood film.
Just for sh–s and giggles, I want to pick a recent one, but you just never know until years go by whether movies stand up. You love them at first, and you love them the first five times, but 10 years down the line, will you still not be able to switch the channel if this film comes on? I don’t know, but I’m going to pick one, my favorite film of last year. I’m going to say La La Land.
I recently worked with Adam Siegel, who was one of the producers. I worked with him on a film called Hotel Artemis, and we have had this conversation, and he asked me what I loved about it. This was the first time I really pinpointed it. I didn’t go when it first came out, because I just didn’t have any interest — musical, just not my thing, I just don’t. So I didn’t really want to go see it. Then it was re-released after the Golden Globes, and I was like, “I’ve got to go see what the hype is all about.” I went and saw it, and I sat in the theater by myself, thinking, “This is the best thing I’ve seen in a long time.”
What it was, was that it made me feel like Hollywood was romantic again. I don’t feel that when I go out there. What I feel like now is that it’s a town full of people who want to be on reality shows. It made me feel like old Hollywood. It just made me feel romantic, like this is what I love about films. There was just something very romantic about that film, and just I love it. Then the music is incredible.
What I really, really love about it is it’s just completely unpredictable, because up until the very end of that film, I had no idea how it was going to end, and I love that. That is so hard to do nowadays, just to keep people guessing right up to the last two minutes of the film. Like, it’s almost impossible. They did it, and not only did it, but in a magical, exciting way. I just love that movie. And some of the shots, I mean, just technically, some of the shots were amazing. Like, I still don’t know how the hell they did that shot in the pool. When I saw it, I couldn’t believe it, and I just thought and thought and thought, and was trying to figure out how the hell they shot that.
Ryan Fujitani for Rotten Tomatoes: Your new film this week is Bushwick. Where was it actually shot?
Dave Bautista: It was filmed in Bushwick.
RT: Wait, really?
Bautista: Yeah, yeah, we filmed it in New York in December, and we actually were lucky with the weather. Yeah, no, we filmed it there. The directors lived there for… I think they still live there, actually. That’s their community and that’s where they wanted to film it. That’s where the whole idea for this came about, so yeah, that’s where we filmed it. I actually lived in Williamsburg, in Brooklyn for six weeks, and that’s where we shot. Not Williamsburg, but in Bushwick.
RT: The reason I’m surprised is because one of the defining aspects of this film is its super-long takes. There are several long shots that just kind of take you weaving in and out of the streets. I wondered how you guys would have been able to shut down all these multiple streets at the same time for these shots that I’m sure you had to do more than once.
Bautista: It was a lot of camera tricks. [laughs] At the end of the day, I’m sure they digitally erased a few people and cars, because we just didn’t have the budget to shut down streets. There were certain days where we had blocks blocked off for a certain amount of time, or we could stop traffic for minutes at a time. Then we could just make sure the camera wasn’t facing the street. But it was just a lot of people being very creative.
Like I said, it was a very limited budget, and we just didn’t have… Even the guns we used — I mean, they were plastic guns that had no gunfire coming out of them. We were going “bang, bang” inside of our head, and we just didn’t have them. We didn’t have permits for that, so it was just a lot of people just being very creative with limited resources.
There were actually even a couple of takes — I mean, because they were long takes — once we were four, five minutes into a take, you don’t want to bust it because people are walking through, but it did happen. We were running down the streets from — supposedly, people are shooting at us, and then somebody comes walking through our shot, smiling, having a great day, eating a bag of chips or whatever, and the shot’s busted. It happened, yeah.
RT: So when that happened, would that be a re-shoot situation, or would that be something that could be fixed in post, so to speak?
Bautista: Yeah, no, well, so the first time that happened, I had a complete meltdown. [laughs] Because once I get into it, and we’re like four or five minutes into a take, and you’re just totally emotionally invested in this, and somebody comes walking through your shot and just completely takes you out of it. I just had a meltdown. Then the director said, “Next time if we’re that far into it, just don’t stop. We will digitally erase them later.” So that was how I learned my lesson. But yeah, the first time that happened, I was literally like, “Oh man, are you kidding me?!”
RT: I wouldn’t want to be the person just walking down the street, eating a bag of chips, who made Dave Bautista furious.
Bautista: Well, I wouldn’t direct it towards them. I would never say, “Get the f— out of our shot!” [laughs] But I was like, “Oh, come on.”
RT: In preparation for those long takes, was it difficult to stay in character while you’re trying to focus on remembering the dialog and where to run, where to duck, and so forth?
Bautista: No, not so much, man, because it’s weird — once we got going, we really hit the ground running, and there just wasn’t that time to try to snap out of character. We just worked non-stop, because not only did we have limited time to shoot the film, but we were also playing with real time, so we had to use the natural light, the daylight, and we had to stay on kind of a timeline. We were very limited, so once you got in there, everybody was just really, really focused.
RT: Did you guys have to stick pretty closely to a script, or did the nature of the film present opportunities to improvise?
Bautista: No, it was very open to improvise. A lot of times it was very open, and sometimes it was for the better, sometimes not so much, because it left a lot of empty gaps or maybe a little bit of untold story, but it’s kind of one of those things where this was the risk that we were all taking. We just all kind of put it out there and we tried to fill it in the best we could, or interact with one another, Brittany and I, as naturally as possible, but that’s just the risk of doing this type of film.
Bushwick opens in limited release this Friday, August 25.