At 6’4″ and 265 pounds, Dave Bautista seems like an unlikely choice to play Hamlet. The mural of tattoos down his barn-door-size back and the road map of veins running through his shoulders and arms suggest a dude who can bench-press more than four plates, win six world titles in WWE, and beat a man into submission inside a mixed-martial-arts cage. And, of course, Bautista has done all of the above. But if you think the man known to sports-entertainment fans as “the Animal” can’t put a beating on somebody and then entertain you with a sonnet, then you’re selling Bautista short.

Don’t do that again.

The villain of James Bond film, Spectre, now has movie stardom in his sights and a stage production of Shakespeare on his bucket list.

An Unlikely Thespian

Per Bernal

It’s especially funny to think of Bautista’s long-term ambition in contrast to his humble upbringing, which was as far from puffy shirts, frilly necklines, and Elizabethan English as one could get. Raised in a tough section of Washington, D.C., Bautista sought protection through weight training. He bulked up to 370 pounds and worked as a bouncer until, at age 30, he decided to take a shot at sports entertainment. Despite a successful run in WWE, Bautista was unhappy with the direction the business was headed (away from the “Attitude Era” to a more family-friendly product) and, in 2010, left to pursue acting.

“I did some work on a film for a friend,” he says, “and I realized what a horrible actor I was.” The movie, Wrong Side of Town, was directed by one of Bautista’s buddies, who thought he had the look to pull off the character of a Navy SEAL badass. “I was so embarrassed, but it made me want to do it again and do it better.”

SEE ALSO: Behind the Scenes at Bautista’s November 2015 M&F Cover Shoot

He hired an acting coach and hit the streets of Hollywood, eager to establish a full-time film career. “I had a lot of trouble when I started out acting because I’m very self conscious and a naturally shy person. But [my coach] said, ‘If you can do Shakespeare, you can do anything,’ so we read scenes from Measure for Measure and The Taming of the Shrew. Stage acting in itself terrifies me, and Shakespeare’s dialogue is so tricky. To me, doing it onstage would be the ultimate challenge.”

The other challenge besides shyness, of course, was having the body of a mythic warrior, which didn’t automatically suit him to Shakespearean roles or anything else—except generic tough-guy and villain parts in B movies.

“There were a lot of roles that I turned down,” Bautista says, “and I struggled for years because I didn’t leave wrestling to get stuck in that rut of the cheesy action guy.”

He made an earnest effort to shed some weight and look like a regular guy, but no dice. “I refused to pick up a weight for years and dieted and did cardio. I starved myself down to 250,” he says with a laugh. That’s as low as he could get without being perpetually hungry and miserable. “I’m just a big person with big bones, and I’ve been lifting for 25 years. I’m just a gorilla!”

If his physique wasn’t enough of a handicap, his résumé made matters worse. Although WWE fans know full well that pro wrestlers can dissolve into character, that kind of acting didn’t carry any weight in the movie business. The fact that he had already earned a measure of fame through wrestling without having endured a formal education in theater only served to breed resentment against him.

“I had to convince people that I was serious about acting and not just a wrestler who wanted to be in movies and be famous and make a lot of money,” he says. “I’ve always been a fan of films. I watch all types of films, all across the board.”

While Bautista waited for a big break, he briefly pursued another ambition—and a chance to break the stereotype of being a “fake” fighter. In 2012, he competed in a professional MMA fight. After a slow start that found him eating several big punches, he managed to take his opponent down and rain down strikes from back mount to earn a stoppage before the end of the first round.

“I was so disappointed in my first fight that I really wanted a second one,” he says. “But at this point in my life and career, that makes absolutely no sense. I was more disappointed in myself because I was so nervous. I just kind of froze up. As soon as the cage door closed, I thought, ‘What the fuck am I doing here?’ ” Nevertheless, he earned street cred with fans and haters alike, proving that he didn’t need a story line to win a fight.

Guardians of the Galaxy


It took years before Bautista found an agent. “The one I have now turned me down three times,” he says. “And the reason he finally accepted me as a client was because he liked me as a person. And the reason he liked me was because he represented a friend of mine, [mixed-martial-arts fighter] Cung Le, and I got to know him through Le. He called me one day and said, ‘I have an audition for you, and it’s a real long shot,’ and that was Guardians. He was representing me for literally a week before I went in for Guardians.”

In case the reference is lost on you (and if it is, where have you been hiding?), Guardians of the Galaxy was the nuclear box office explosion of summer 2014, earning more than $774 million and garnering Bautista high praise from critics. He credits landing the life-changing role of Drax to the casting director who believed in him and says he “clicked” with the director after the first audition.

“I sat jobless waiting for the phone to ring until Guardians came out,” he says. “I think everybody expected me to be a certain way in it, and I was the opposite. That’s when people started calling me.” In contrast with most Marvel comic heroes who have come to the big screen, Bautista’s Drax is genuinely funny, sensitive, and vulnerable, showcasing the actor’s own self-effacing personality.

Bautista vs. Bond

Bautista says the roles he’s been offered since then are surprisingly varied and deep. Having shed the stigma of wrestler-turned-actor, he was confident he wouldn’t have to play a thug again until he was offered a role in the latest installment of the James Bond series, Spectre.

“My agent called me and asked how I’d feel about being in a James Bond film, and my immediate reaction was, ‘Fuck, yeah!’ And he said, ‘I figured, but I just wanted to double-check because it’s a henchman role.’ But I’m proud to say there are henchmen and then there are James Bond henchmen. The Bond ones are always iconic and memorable. And it’s always more fun to be the bad guy, to be honest.”

Of his role as Mr. Hinx, Bautista says he’s as deadly as any bad guy the series has ever produced but infused with Bautista’s own brand of dry humor. “He doesn’t take anything very seriously. He’s kicking ass with a smile on his face. Nobody is a threat to him, so he doesn’t follow any rules except his own. So what does he have to be pissed off about? Nothing. This is fun to him. He’s playing a cat-and-mouse game and enjoying it.”

Interestingly, when he first spoke with director Sam Mendes about the part, Mendes asked him to gain weight up to 270 pounds or more. No problem. “But when the costume designers came to fit me and I was about 270, they said, ‘Please don’t put any more weight on,’ ” he says, laughing. They were going to have a hard enough time fitting him as it was. Consequently, Bautista did little weight training during filming, opting mainly for body-weight squats and pushups in his trailer and hotel room and boxing training when he could get to a gym. Bautista laughs at the question of whether he appears shirtless in the film, replying that Hinx is so well-dressed we’ll never even see him suitless. But if you fear that Bautista has left his physicality behind in the ring, you’ll be happy to know that there are enough high-voltage fight scenes in Spectre to rival anything he did at WrestleManias past.

Dave Bautista Broke Bond (Accidentally) While Filiming 'Spectre'

“Daniel Craig punched me in the nose during a fight scene, and he thought he broke it. My nose was squirting blood everywhere, and I was like, ‘No, man, it’s all right.’ We cleaned it up and kept shooting. Sam Mendes doesn’t like to use doubles, so we did most of the stunts ourselves. It got very physical.”

Perhaps best of all, Bautista says he had the respect of the cast and crew throughout the production (and not just because he could break them in half at will). Craig, who was familiar with Bautista from his work in Guardians, helped get him the part (at least that’s what Bautista speculates), and he wasn’t treated any differently from the movie veterans. Upcoming films will also find Bautista, 46, acting alongside Robert De Niro, Bruce Willis, and Melissa McCarthy. He still hopes to return to WWE one day in the way Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has done so sporadically, but Bautista has no immediate plans to rejoin it due to his packed filming schedule.

As for whether he is still too big for his britches—physiquewise—to be a leading man in movies, Bautista is far more concerned with doing good work in interesting roles than being No. 1 at the box office, and he vows to be true to himself above the needs of any director. He says that going the route of Christian Bale or 50 Cent and losing significant weight and muscle doesn’t appeal to him.

“I don’t know if I’m prepared or if it’s even possible,” he says. “I’ve gotten to where I was only eating protein and spinach all day and I was hungry all the time and I still couldn’t really get myself to look like your average person. But I like training; I like being healthy. I don’t want to be anorexic. If the role requires that, it’s probably not the right role for me. I think resistance training will always be a part of my life. It’s where I feel like I’m a fish back in water.”