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The Ballad of Bautista

Dave Bautista, one of the stars of 'Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,' opens up about stealing cars, building self-confidence in the gym, chasing wrestling dreams, and gunning for actor street cred.

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Dave Bautista's Chest Workout
Per Bernal

The ballad of Bautista, part I: Awkwardness

He was gangly. No, really, the guy you see on these pages—the man who now plays the hulking, lovable character Drax in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, hitting theaters May 5—was a gangly teen. Tall and skinny. Lanky. Shy. Supershy. Awkward. Painfully awkward. Didn’t feel like he fit in. Almost ever.

But the one place he wasn’t awkward, the one place where he always fit in, was the gym. It was his safe haven, his sanctuary, his nest. Growing up in the D.C. area in the ’80s, Dave Bautista always felt at home in the weight room. Like he belonged.

“I was a gym rat,” says Bautista.

“I was a really shy, skinny, gangly, unhealthy kid. Working out helped me build confidence. I really wanted to look more muscular and not so lanky.”

At 15, the half-Filipino, half-Greek kid started messing around with his dad’s plastic weight set, doing bench presses and curls. Two years later, after his dad kicked him out of the house to make room for a baby he was having with his second wife, Bautista would cut class to lift weights. Well, sometimes he would cut class to steal cars, taking them for joyrides and selling off their wheels and radios, but usually he would cut class to lift weights. “I went to school when I felt like going to school, and most of the time I didn’t,” says Bautista, who ended up renting a room at a friend’s place for his final two years of high school. “By 17, I didn’t have to answer to anybody. I was on my own.”

Instead of studying calculus and social studies, he was spending most of his time at the big bodybuilding gym in the area, Olympus Gym in Falls Church, VA. A friend got him a job there, so when he wasn’t lifting, he was working. “I just fell in love with it,” says Bautista. “I practically lived there. It was a second home.”

SEE ALSO: Bautista’s 8 Most Shredded Instagram Moments

Then he moved out to San Francisco for a while to reconnect with his mom and got a job as a personal trainer. But he didn’t exactly love showing others the correct way to squat. His clients frustrated him. “I couldn’t really relate to people who didn’t put in the same effort that I did,” says Bautista. “Sometimes I tried to force them to. It kind of turned people off.”

So what is a big, muscle-bound guy without a college education who doesn’t enjoy personal training supposed to do? Be a bouncer, obviously. He got his first gig bouncing at 17. He started in a few bars in Georgetown. In his early 20s, he bounced at this huge dance club in D.C. called Lulu’s. Then he progressed to VIP rooms at parties around town. He had the image that club promoters coveted—the huge, intimidating guy. Back then, he was even bigger than he is now. Much bigger. “Like 350, 360,” he says. “I was huge.”

Occasionally he would get arrested. “When I was bouncing, I had a few assault charges,” he admits. “I was always in a lose-lose situation. Whether I was in the right or not, the cops would show up and I looked like I did, and I was in a fight, and somebody was bleeding and I wasn’t. I usually went to jail.”

But it was a life. “I loved bouncing,” says Bautista. “You get spoiled by it. It’s easy work. You’re kind of hanging out most of the time. You have your days free to do whatever you want. You train, eat, sleep, and go to work. You get off work, you go back to the gym, you go home and sleep all day. And 10 years later, you got nothing to show for it.”

Did he save any money? Ha! He laughs at the question. “I worked to make it through the week,” he says. “I wasn’t concerned about putting a stash away. I was Forrest Gump-ing my way through life. My whole life was kind of accidental.”

The lowest point was one Christmas. By then he had children, and he had no money to buy them presents. He was forced to ask for an advance from a club promoter. “That was when I decided that I needed to do something,” says Bautista, who was closing in on 30 at the time. “I needed to find a real job or some other way to make money. It was like, ‘What am I qualified for?’”

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