Dave Bautista on Playing a Failure and Channeling His Rage in Dune: Part Two

When you look at Dave Bautista, the last thing you think of is failure. Even if he wasn’t a former wrestling superstar turned mega movie star, if you saw this tall, muscular, tattoo-covered man walking down the street, you’d instantly think he’s got it figured out. But in Dune: Part Two, Bautista’s character doesn’t have anything figured out. And the actor loves him for it.

Once again, Bautista is Glossu Rabban Harkonnen, nephew of Baron Harkonnen and the new lord of Arrakis… having massacred almost the entire Atreides family for the privilege. Rabban is given the task of taking over the entire planet for his family, with almost no knowledge of the formidable Fremen force he’s up against. It results in the character not faring too well in the eyes of his family, which is exactly why Bautista was so excited about the film.

In his chat with io9, we talked about playing the pathetic villain, his relationship with director Denis Villeneuve, the chip on his shoulder when it comes to acting, and if he’s really done with his famous Guardians of the Galaxy character, Drax. Check it out.

Rabban in Part One

Rabban in Part One
Image: Warner Bros.

Germain Lussier, io9: Rabban doesn’t have a huge role in Part One—it’s a much bigger role here in Part Two. Was there ever a conversation between you and Denis to say, like, hey, we might not make the second movie, but if we do, [your character] will have more to do?

Dave Bautista: Well, I always knew that my role in the second film was going to be bigger. We never [laughs]… I only heard rumblings that there might not be a second film. We never had that official conversation with Denis. I think he always had confidence that there would be. I think he’s a person who has a vision and he doesn’t stray from that vision. I think his vision was never one film, so I think he never abandoned that. So we never had the conversation. And I also was pretty confident because I saw the first film and I was like, it’s amazing. It’s not only beautiful storytelling, but it just really cuts off and it leaves you hanging. And I didn’t see a world where people wouldn’t want to have closure on that. So I never lost faith at all. But it was a sign of the times we were living in. It was uncertain times. And I think a lot of people were cheated, not through the fault of anyone, but by not being able to see the first film on a big screen because that is what it what was designed for. That’s what it was meant to be. But yeah, I never thought that there wouldn’t be a second film.

io9: Most of the guys you play, for obvious reasons, are pretty capable, right? However this guy, besides his size and strength, is kind of an idiot.

Bautista: [Laughs]

io9: And kind of a failure. So was it fun to play somebody that is the butt of all the jokes?

Bautista: For sure. Yeah. For me, that’s why I’m in this, man. Because I want to play characters that are layered and interesting, and not clichés or generic. That’s also the challenge. But I also think that’s my obsession. So that’s what I loved about him. I was so excited when I read the script for the second film and I was even more excited after I had the conversation with Denis because I knew that there was so much for me to play with here. I mean, I always search out roles because I do have this chip on my shoulder. It’s never going to go away. I want to prove myself as an actor because guys like me, they want to put in a lane. And I never wanted to be stuck in that lane. So I came out of the WWE, came out of the gates refusing to be stuck in that lane. And so this gives me the opportunity to prove my point.

io9: Yes.

Bautista: So I thought, this character is so great because you would think about him in one way. He’s just one way. He’s just a brute and that’s all he is. But I thought, if I can take this character and make him not only that, but make him so pathetic that you almost feel sympathy for him.

io9: “Almost.”

Bautista: Yes, almost. [Laughs] I only need one little hint of sympathy when you’re like, you feel sorry for him for a second, then it’s like, “Nahhhhh, I don’t feel sorry for him.” But if I just had that one opportunity, then that could be a real accomplishment.

Bautista with Villeneuve and Austin Butler.

Bautista with Villeneuve and Austin Butler.
Image: Warner Bros.

io9: Oh I think you nailed it. I think also he’s so angry early on in the movie—what was it like to be so vocal and angry?

Bautista: So, for me, screaming for me is just another way to get rid of my anxiety. I’ve always known that about myself. I discovered that in WWE and I just let it all out. On one side of the curtain in WWE, before I came out, I was dry heaving. I was a nervous wreck. I was a mess, and I was always thinking,
“God, everything’s going to go wrong. I’m not ready. I’m not warmed up enough. Oh man, I don’t know what to do.” As soon as I hit that curtain, walked out the curtain, lights, music, [crowd roars]—anxiety gone. And it’s the same with this. So it just allowed me the opportunity to just shake that anxiety, and then I can just kind of slowly transform to this performance. But again, I mean, just the richness of the character, the layers of the character and the support and encouragement from Denis, he just made this very easy for me.

io9: Very cool. Now obviously this a big ensemble piece but, by the nature of your character, you don’t really get to act with most of the people in the movie. Is that isolating? Do you form a bond with the other people that you’re with?

Bautista: Yeah, for sure. No matter what you spend a lot of time with people in makeup trailers or on set or socially. There’s always a get-together, especially for the ensemble cast, where the director wants to meet with the cast. And so there’s always going to be that camaraderie. [But] selfishly, personally, like I want those scenes. I want scenes with Timmy [Chalamet]. I want scenes and Zendaya. I want scenes with Florence [Pugh]. I want a scene with Christopher Walken. But it just, you know, it wasn’t meant to be.

io9: You get a scene with Josh Brolin.

Bautista: You know, I love Josh. Josh is one of my favorite people in the world. I’ve known Josh for years now through our Marvel experiences. So I was pretty giddy getting to share scenes with him on this in this film. And it was just nothing but fun. And I love that our characters just despise each other. So it’s great.

Dave Bautista Opens Up About His Relationship With Denis Villeneuve

Dave Bautista Opens Up About His Relationship With Denis Villeneuve

io9: One of the things I love about your career, you talk about having that chip on your shoulder, is you work with such incredible filmmakers. Obviously, there’s Gunn, Snyder, Shyamalan, and Villeneuve. What sets Denis apart from the other ones you’ve worked with?

Bautista: Our conversations are different. And it’s hard for me having these conversations without sounding… because I never want to be dismissive of anybody else that I’ve worked with. They’ve all been special experiences. And they’ve all made me rise as a performer and helped me in my career. James Gunn changed my life. His belief in me, his support of me, changed my life. But our conversations have been different. Denis supports me in a different way.

Our conversations are more intimate. I’ve never had a director until Denis, since Denis, say to me that you’re a very strong actor. And he said this to me on the first film. I was holding back because I was self-conscious [and] I was. I was very unsure of myself. And he came to me. He said, “I feel like you’re holding back.” He said, “You’re a very strong actor, my friend. Just follow your instincts.” And so I started belting it out, and I started finding this character. He not only loved it so much, but he was so supportive of my performance that he wanted to capture other people’s reactions to my performance. And so when you’re getting that kind of support, that was an experience I’ve never had before or since, with a director of that caliber. So it means everything. It’s validation.

Image for article titled Dave Bautista on Playing a Failure and Channeling His Rage in Dune: Part Two

Image: Warner Bros.

io9: Wow, that’s awesome. So I’m talking to Stellan [Skarsgård] after this and you have a lot of scenes with him. What is it like working with him in that suit? Because it’s got to be weird. Do you laugh or are you just serious? What’s the vibe?

Bautista: It’s very serious. We are respectful because we know that it’s harsh. The experience he’s gone through, like what he’s living with and what he’s dealing with. And you can tell through conversations while he’s working, that he’s already exhausted because he’s been in a makeup chair eight hours before we even started working. Eight hours, you’re typically leaving work.

io9: Right, right.

Bautista: He’s just starting work. And so it’s very respectful of him and what he’s going through. So we’re very respectful of his time. Everybody this is from the top down. But also the actors were very, aware that he’s suffering.

io9: Last thing is, I know you said on Guardians 3 that you were done with Marvel, but is there any way that you would come back, or have you just kind of put that part of your career aside?

Bautista: No, no. When I said that I was done, I was really just done with my journey as Drax. I still have a relationship with Marvel. I’ve seen Kevin Feige again, Lou [D’Esposito] as recently as two weeks ago. And they know that I would be up for a role. I love the universe—the superhero universe, I love it. I’m a fan. So Marvel or DC, if they call, I would answer the phone. And if the role makes sense, I’d be all over it. I just would like the opportunity to do a bigger role, a different role. Maybe a deeper role. I’d love to have the opportunity to play, like an ominous villain in the superhero universe. Yeah. But never. I’m not done with it. But my journey with Drax is over.

Dune: Part Two opens Friday, March 1.

Want more io9 news? Check out when to expect the latest Marvel, Star Wars, and Star Trek releases, what’s next for the DC Universe on film and TV, and everything you need to know about the future of Doctor Who.

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