- Share this article on Facebook
- Share this article on Twitter
- Share this article on Email
- Show additional share options
- Share this article on Print
- Share this article on Comment
- Share this article on Whatsapp
- Share this article on Linkedin
- Share this article on Reddit
- Share this article on Pinit
- Share this article on Tumblr
Dave Bautista has been playing his cards right, and his increasingly impressive body of work proves it. Returning to the screen in Zack Snyder’s Army of the Dead, Bautista stars as Scott Ward, a former zombie war hero who accepts an impossible job in order to earn $15 million (of a $200 million score) and potentially reconcile with his daughter, Kate (Ella Purnell). Bautista and Snyder first got to know each other during discussions for another project that never moved forward, but once he arrived at the Army of the Dead set, his respect for Snyder increased exponentially.
“When we were actually filming is when I got to take a different look at Zack and really watch his process,” Bautista tells The Hollywood Reporter. “He worked not only as a director, but also as a cinematographer. So it was just a whole different level of respect that I gained for Zack while working with him. If we were out there and we were hot, sweaty, dirty, tired and hungry, he was as well. He was always right next to us with his camera. So a lot of the time, you just felt like he was another castmember.”
After Bautista was cast as Drax in James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy, the world discovered his unique comedic sensibilities, but once Denis Villeneuve cast him as a melancholy replicant in Blade Runner 2049, the Washington, D.C., native turned even more heads with his dramatic range. His performance as Sapper Morton has since resulted in a starring role in Snyder’s Army, a second go-round with Villeneuve in Dune and now the second chapter of Rian Johnson’s Knives Out franchise.
When Bautista and Johnson first connected by phone, he had no idea that their discussion would lead to a possible job. “I was obviously a fan of [Rian Johnson’s] films, but I love the fact that he’s directed Breaking Bad. So I really focused in on that, and I wanted to talk to him a little bit more about that,” Bautista recalls. “And then after the conversation, he said, ‘Well, you know, I’ve got this script. I’d really like you to take a look at it and read for this part.’ So I was kind of taken aback that way because I didn’t know where this was leading. I was just told, ‘Hey, Rian wants to talk to you.’ And I was like, ‘Fucking great. Rian Johnson wants to talk to me. That’s amazing.’ So I was just excited about the call, but as far as I knew, he wasn’t calling me to talk about a film or offer me a part. It was just to have a conversation.”
Bautista is also eager to reunite with Daniel Craig on a project that is far less rigorous than their experience together on Sam Mendes’ Spectre. During a fight scene between Craig’s Bond and Bautista’s Hinx, Craig suffered a torn meniscus that halted production for a short while. And once filming resumed, Bautista suffered a nose injury during reshoots for the very same fight scene.
“I lost a nose and he lost a knee. Yes, I am excited to be working with Daniel again. And I’m excited that it will be in a much, much less stressful environment because being on a Bond film is just hard. It’s just stressful,” Bautista says. “But I think [Knives Out 2] is just a much more lighthearted film, and the environment that we’re shooting in is going to be beautiful, warm and sunny. So anyway, every time I’ve run into Daniel, it’s always been a good experience, and I’m looking forward to reuniting with him and actually having some dialogue onscreen with him.”
In a recent conversation with THR, Bautista also discusses his second experience with Villeneuve on Dune, as well as his Glomar response to Taika Waititi’s Thor 4 and his desire to play Bane.
Well, Dave, on March 11th of 2020, I was walking into my My Spy press screening when I learned that the world was shutting down. Now, 14 months later, it’s only fitting that my theatergoing experiences are resuming with your latest movie, Army of the Dead.
Yeah, that’s crazy, and that’s great to hear. It makes you feel good. I’m actually going to go out and watch it in the theater tomorrow. I’m going to take 20 friends. (Laughs.) It’ll be my first time in a movie theater in a long time, and I’m so excited about it. It’s crazy. I think I may get emotional walking into the movie theater. (Laughs.) I think I may break down and cry just because I miss simple things like that, which people typically take for granted. And now it’s going to be a special moment to step into a movie theater. But yeah, man, talk about a sign of the times.
So if you had put together a team to pull off an impossible job, much like the heist in this movie, who would be your first call?
I have a friend named Titus O’Neil who’s a fellow professional wrestler. His real name is Thaddeus Bullard. But he’d probably be my first call.
Zack is beloved by those who work with him, and few people can compose a shot like him. Was there a moment early on in production where you immediately understood why he has the reputation that he has?
To be honest with you, I think it was well before production. I think it was upon our first meeting. (Laughs.) I got a real sense of who he was as a person and as a human being. I kind of had an idea of why people respected him as a filmmaker, but you don’t know a person until you actually sit down and socialize with them. It wasn’t a meeting that was all stiff like that typical kind of general meeting. It was a meeting where we sat down and just bullshitted for an hour and a half or two hours. It was at his office on the Warner Bros. lot, which was a half-office, half-gym and kitchen. It was a meeting in paradise. (Laughs.) I actually stole the idea from him and made a place like that for myself here. But I clicked with him right off the bat because he was kind of rough around the edges, but also very artistic, which I think I am as well.
But when we were actually filming is when I got to take a different look at Zack and really watch his process. He worked not only as a director, but also as a cinematographer. So it was just a much different look at filmmaking. It was also really interesting watching him go through his process up close and personal. I could see his eye. I could see what he was looking at. I could see him grab his camera, change the lens and try to capture that and put that image on film. So it was just a whole different level of respect that I gained for Zack while working with him. If we were out there and we were hot, sweaty, dirty, tired and hungry, he was as well. He was always right next to us with his camera. (Laughs.) So a lot of the time, you just felt like he was another cast member.
There’s a shot in the casino where you’re rolling on the ground and shooting a zombie that’s flying overhead. Since Zack operated the B-camera, was he ever on the ground next to you?
He was there. So Zack finds little tiny places to tuck himself into. (Laughs.) I sometimes think he does it to amuse himself. He’s just always trying to find a tiny little crevice that he can put himself into, if he really wants to get up close and personal or get a very interesting shot. But typically, he was there. I remember him being under one of the roulette tables, and I remember him being beside me when I was lying on the ground. But that was the thing that was really special because a lot of the time when you’re working on film, there are just cameras set up. You have two-to-three cameras for big epic scenes like that and they’re set up. But you hardly ever get the director lying next to you on the ground while you’re killing a zombie that’s there. (Laughs.) There were too many of those moments on this film to even count or remember where the hell he was. He was just always somewhere right in the mix with his camera.
Scott is clouded by grief, and it causes him to overlook certain signals from the people who care about him, namely his daughter Kate (Ella Purnell) and his friend Maria (Ana de la Reguera). Was Scott’s type of disconnection or detachment your way into the character?
Yeah. I mean, I think I looked at it as a broader picture. But I think I really connected with that one particular note because it’s been true for myself. Obviously, I wasn’t off killing zombies, but I was off working. It was me off chasing my dreams. It was me off trying to make my family comfortable and secure. Sometimes, I just need to be 100 percent focused, but when you’re 100 percent focused on one thing, you lose sight of another. And a lot of times, those other things are really the things that matter. So it’s happened to me, and I think anybody who’s worked hard or been passionate about something in their life could probably relate to having done that. It’s not easy to balance things in your life, especially when you’re passionate about something. But there’s also people you care about and you want to protect your family. There’s a fine line of balance, but with Scott’s particular situation, it almost became his responsibility because, as luck would have it, he was capable of protecting people who couldn’t protect themselves. So I think that he kind of looked at the bigger picture. He thought that he was helping all of these people. He was saving people. He was doing the right thing, but in turn, he hurt the people he loved the most. So that’s what I focused on in this story, and with Scott, in particular, it was that redemption. He just wanted to reconnect with his daughter, and he thought, in this particular story, that the way to do that would be by getting a bunch of money. He could get his life back on track. He could get his daughter back. He could get his daughter’s life back on track by risking his life and getting this money.
One of the most iconic shots in the film is when Scott runs across the blackjack tables and shoots zombies in the process. Was that rather difficult since you have to keep your eyes on the target and not on your feet?
Yeah, it was hard. (Laughs.) It was not only hard, but it was scary. They had to CGI in a lot of that after the fact. So when I was running across the tables, my gun had to be pointed at certain zombies, and in a certain direction, or the shot didn’t work. So it took a long time to get that right, but it boils down to a very fast moment in the film even though it actually took hours and hours. Looking back, it might’ve taken three or four days to get that one particular scene of me just running across the casino tables. We didn’t spend all day on it, but we would always come back to it. So we would shoot other stuff, but we would fall behind with that scene because it was so hard to shoot.
The title sequence alone could’ve been a movie, and I believe the animated prequel, Army of the Dead: Lost Vegas, is building off of it. Did the script describe the title sequence in more detail for your sake, or was it written as depicted on the screen?
I didn’t know what that whole title sequence was going to be, and I had a conversation with Zack after the fact. I saw some test shots early on when we weren’t even filming. I went out to Zack’s office for a costume fitting, and he showed me some test shots. He was playing with his camera and he wanted to get an idea of how he was going to shoot things. So I saw some test shots, and I automatically assumed that this film was going to be much gorier. I thought it was going to be really gore-focused. When I watched it for the first time, I was shocked that it wasn’t. I had to go back and watch it again because I went in expecting something and I shouldn’t have.
So Zack said I could come and watch a few minutes of the film when I was out there for something else, and he showed me the title sequence. And while we were having a conversation about that, he actually said, “You know, if you watch it, it’s really an abbreviation of the film. It follows the tone of the film.” It starts off with some silliness in Vegas, and then there’s a zombie outbreak. And as the title sequence goes on, it tells a huge backstory of these characters in just a short period of time, but it also gets more emotional. So it was really kind of a synopsis of the film.
So how was round two with Denis Villeneuve on Dune?
Oh man. (Laughs.) It was even more intense than round one. Man, he’s a special director. He is a performance director. I only ever deal with Denis up close and personal. I don’t go through his process. I don’t watch how he edits. I don’t watch how he puts together the film, so I don’t know how he makes these big epic worlds. But everything with him as far as being directed is super up close and personal. And he’s more detailed in his performance direction than any other director that I’ve ever worked with. It’s just down to the little things about how I’m walking, how I’m stepping, where I’m looking. Everything is so subtle, nuanced and detailed. It’s just a different experience. But on Dune, I felt even a little more pressure because he called and asked me to do this. So I felt like, “I really want to come through for him. I really don’t want to let this guy down. He went out on a limb for me. He called and offered me this part, so he really believes in me.” So I really wanted to return that and give him the performance he was looking for. It’s not a pressure that comes from him because he’s just such a gentle, pleasant person. But it’s a pressure I put on myself — and I think a lot of performers put on themselves — because you just want to come through for the guy. He’s just such a brilliant person. You just want to give him what he wants because, at the end of the day, he’s going to put you on screen in a light that you’ve never been seen in. And I think every actor is looking for that. So round two was much more intense, but I think it came from a pressure I put on myself. But Denis says something when he’s happy about something. He’ll walk up and he’ll say, “I deeply love this. I deeply love this.” And everybody who has worked with him is waiting to hear that because that’s the sign that, yeah, you just killed that scene. So when you hear, “I deeply loved this,” that’s good stuff. That’s like getting a can of Play-Doh from James Gunn.
Denis Villeneuve, James Gunn, Zack Snyder, Sam Mendes and now Rian Johnson. Was Rian’s call as emotional and validating as the Dune call from Denis?
You know, it wasn’t that type of conversation. When we first talked, it was just a “getting to know each other” conversation. It was a general. I hadn’t been offered a part. I knew that this was happening, but the first time I talked to Rian was more of a general conversation. So I had the conversation with him, and we talked about everything other than Knives Out. We talked about his background in film. We talked about my background in film. I was obviously a fan of his films, but I love the fact that he’s directed Breaking Bad. (Laughs.) So I really focused in on that, and I wanted to talk to him a little bit more about that. But it really was just a friendly conversation. And then after the conversation, he said, “Well, you know, I’ve got this script. I’d really like you to take a look at it and read for this part.” So I was kind of taken aback that way because I didn’t know where this was leading. I was just told, “Hey, Rian wants to talk to you.” And I was like, “Fucking great. Rian Johnson wants to talk to me. That’s amazing.” (Laughs.) So I was just excited about the call, but as far as I knew, he wasn’t calling me to talk about a film or offer me a part. It was just to have a conversation.
Are you excited to shoot something with Daniel Craig that won’t put anyone’s knees and noses in jeopardy?
(Laughs.) Yeah, that was his knee and my nose. I lost a nose and he lost a knee. Yes, I am excited to be working with Daniel again. And I’m excited that it will be in a much, much less stressful environment because being on a Bond film is just hard. It’s just stressful. It’s just long days. Logistically, it’s a nightmare. You’re just moving from country to country to country. It’s just a long and slow process. I think Spectre shot for almost a year. My role wasn’t extensive, but I was on the film for eight months. So it’s just a long, long process.
But I think [Knives Out 2] is just a much more lighthearted film, and the environment that we’re shooting in is going to be beautiful, warm and sunny. [Writer’s Note: Greece is beautiful this time of year.] And I like when Daniel breaks out of the James Bond character because he’s such a brilliant actor. It’s not a curse, but most people see him only as James Bond. So for me, watching him as a performer, it’s refreshing to see him do something else, especially an interesting character like this. So anyway, every time I’ve run into Daniel, it’s always been a good experience, and I’m looking forward to reuniting with him and actually having some dialogue on-screen with him. (Laughs.)
You went down to Australia to shoot Thor 4 with the rest of the Guardians of the Galaxy cast, and I have to imagine that it was quite the ordeal when you consider scheduling, traveling, a two-week quarantine and everything that comes with pandemic-era production. Because of that, did Taika Waititi create a little more material for you guys to shoot, given everything you went through to get down there?
(Laughs.) Well, assuming that I went to Australia to shoot for Thor 4… (Laughs.) I know that Chris Pratt has announced that he’s in Thor 4, but I haven’t heard from anybody at Marvel or Disney where it would be OK for me to say that I was in Thor 4. So I will neither confirm nor deny. (Laughs.) But having said that, I’ve worked with Taika before, and so I know Taika’s process. Taika’s process is whatever’s written on page, there’s going to be a dozen more opportunities for you to shine because he’s an improvisational-type actor and he’s an improvisational-type director. So yes, if you have an opportunity to work with Taika Waititi, don’t even be concerned about how small the role is because if you get there and start killing it, he’s going to make you a bigger part of the film. Did that answer your question in a roundabout way? (Laughs.)
It did. I just could’ve sworn that I saw a video of you guys inside a private jet, where it was mentioned that you were heading down to Thor 4. I want to say that it was for some award show or event, but maybe I’m mistaken.
Yeah, it’s one of those things where I kind of dance around it because I don’t want to piss anybody at Marvel off. I don’t want to piss anybody at Disney off. And as far as I know, I guess they gave Pratt a go-ahead to announce that he was in the film, but I haven’t heard anything about it. And as far as I’ve heard, they said it’s not OK to confirm that you’re in the film. But obviously, when all the Guardians are on a Disney jet going to Australia and they photograph us walking into the hotel… (Laughs.) There are photographs of everybody except for me on set. So because there were no photographs of me as Drax on set, I’ve not come out and said, “Yeah, I’m in Thor 4.”
Some people might not get the reference, but when you walked into a certain studio and stated your desire to play Bane, did you say the words, “Give me what I want!“?
(Laughs.) I did not. Throughout my rambling, those words could’ve been in there, but not “Give me what I want” in that threatening manner. But yeah, I don’t make any pretense about it. I had a meeting with DC at Warner Bros. It was kind of a general meeting about what their slate was, and I said, “I want to know what’s going on with Bane and whether you guys have any plans for Bane. I want to play Bane. I think I’d do the character justice. I think people want to see Bane and I think it’s a really interesting character. I’d like to shed a different light on the character.” And they said, “We don’t have plans for that.” And I was like, “Ah, okay.” So I was mentioned for a couple other parts, but they were shot down, not by myself, for one reason or another. And then life moves on.
Army of the Dead is currently available in select theaters before its Netflix premiere on May 21.
Sign up for THR news straight to your inbox every day