Dave Bautista and Zoe Saldana interview for Guardians of the Galaxy

They make an unlikely pair coming through the door, but Zoe Saldana and Dave Bautista have become soulmates after saving the universe in Guardians Of The Galaxy.

James Gunn has just said that the feeling on this junket has been incredibly good, and that you can feel it even when you sit down for an interview. In the same way you can feel it when a movie sucks…

ZOE SALDANA: Oh, Iknow, these roundtable things, you can always tell…

You’ve never experienced the bad-movie junket, right…?
ZS: I have actually! When people aren’t so nice and are like [sarcastic] ‘it was good, It was good, we liked it…’. Yeah, right!

Dave, you were with your agent for only a week when he sent you on this audition – a real shot in the dark, as you’ve said. When was the moment when you thought, ‘Oh ,this might actually happen, this is not some shot in the dark’?
Dave Bautista: It became more real each time I went on, and it went on for months, and they wouldn’t exclude me from the part but then there was that fear of ‘well, if I don’t get the part now, I’m so emotionally invested I’m going to be really heartbroken’. I had a battle within myself and also reading the internet rumours like ‘this guy’s got the part’, ‘No, this guy’s got the part’. It was like 3 and a half months of torture, and even after they told me that I got the part, I wasn’t allowed to acknowledge it. I had the part, but I just had to sit on it.

I think when people saw you skipping they kind of knew!
ZS: Yeah, swishing around the gym, giving out flowers – they kinda knew…

It’s quite freaky, Zoe, that you’re in two wonderfully successful franchises and another one on the way – so I guess when you came into Guardians Of The Galaxy, you kind of knew what to expect. Avatar and Star Trek were just the read-throughs for this.
ZS: I’m like Dory from Nemo, I’m always in awe of everything that I see because even though these films… you think they have a lot in common because they’re all set in space but they’re very different from each other and the characters are very different and the technology’s different too. There’s a little overlap with Galaxy and Star Trek, but they’re still very different.
Avatar stood on it’s own ground because it was motion capture shot in 3D – it was never converted or anything like that, so you were dealing with a very sensitive technology that was very time consuming.
This one, the levity that the script had, we were all sort of underdogs and the character I was going to be playing felt new for me, and the director had a different temperament; he’s starting out, so there was this energy that comes with a first time with a big budget. James is such a great director, and I love Slither, and everything on this shoot just felt exciting and new with him.

You know, Dave, it’s not going to be like this with every movie.
DB: Yeah I’ve heard some nightmare stories, and I’ve been part of some productions that are smaller and not nearly as good but, yeah, I don’t have much to look forward to.

Start at the top and just –
DB: Yeah, working my way down!
ZS: The good thing about starting out that way it’s that it creates this expectation…
DB: A standard…
ZS: A standard where you will not settle for less. Like my first move into stage, I was working with Nicholas Hytner – after that I’ve always been in search of that polite gentlemanly, super-talented, very respectful of his actors kind of director. I love it! And when you don’t get that, that’s when it becomes work and you’re like ‘Uh, great!’ [pretends to check watch].

How was it working together? Zoe, you’re practically a veteran of these kinds of movies, whereas Dave, you’re pretty much the novice.
DB: I think it’s all working off each other, and following direction, but most of it is the chemistry amongst the cast members.
ZS: Right, but also Dave, on the exterior… appearances will always been deceiving. You see this big package and Dave is walking towards you for the first time and someone’s like ‘Come meet Dave Bautista’, and you’re like [mimes looking up higher and higher] ‘Jesus Christ!’. And he’s looking down at you and saying [muffled, quiet] ‘Hey, great to meet you. I’m Dave’…
But on set he’s such a subtle, excellent actor. You’d think because he’s so big and comes from the wrestling world that his acting is going to like a a big, stomping giant but he’s actually so subtle and natural, and James would just explain the scene to Dave, and Dave would say, ‘Oh, okay, I understand that’, and it would be like one time he’d take a direction, and then [snaps fingers] on the next take he would have it just right. And I just though ‘Oh my God, he’s such a natural at this, and he has such a love and passion for it’.

Sean Gunn – the director’s brother – does the Andy Serkis gig here of being the on-screen presence for Rocket, the fiery raccoon. Big part of that chemistry you guys spoke of?
ZS: Amazing…
DB: Yeah, he was, he was so… I can’t give him enough credit, like, in particular, a lot of my emotional scenes were with Rocket, so, on set, with Sean, he was just so professional about the way he went about his work. I’ve worked with actors who will just read off the page, and even though Sean knew that he wasn’t going to get the credit for being Rocket on set, he was so submerged into the character. Even when we weren’t working, he was sitting somewhere offset with his iPad, watching little videos of racoons.
He was so emotional, he didn’t hold back at all – he just dumped everything into this character, and it’s kind of frustrating that he’s not getting credit for this character.
ZS: He’s an unsung hero. It’s just impossible not to talk about the contribution that he gave for this movie, and I don’t know if it’s a Gunn thing but the Gunns are very passionate about their craft, and it’s funny like even the way Rocket smiles… I don’t know if there are enough pictures of Sean on the internet, but Rocket looks like Sean.
Not to discredit the work, and obviously the notoriety, that Bradley Cooper brings to the role, as the voice needed to be very specific. And I shit you not, man, when I heard Bradley’s voice on the movie the first time I went up to James and told him, ‘I can’t tell apart when it’s Sean or Bradley, because their voices are very very similar’. And thank God Sean left a trial for this actor to use as a reference.

With three Avatar sequels now planned, just wondering, do you think your performance as Neytiri is indebted to the good computer-whizz geeks at Weta?
ZS: No. Motion capture makes it impossible for an animator to take any kind of credit over a performance. An animator paints over the performance the actor leaves on screen from the reference camera. That’s the difference between animation and motion capture. Motion capture is technology that took 20, 30, 40 years to develop because directors found is necessary that if you’re going to hire an actor to be the essence of something that it should actually be the actor – and James Cameron is a very honourable director.
It makes me so happy when I see Neytiri – I like the fact that they made her longer, my eyes are in a different place, my tits are bigger too – it’s awesome – she has a tail, you know, she’s blue, that’s all Weta. But when it comes to the performance, every growl, every gesture I made with my eyebrow, the way my eyeballs moved, it was all reference, and it was all my performance, and I’m very happy that James was adamant about that with every actor, because he was like, if that’s the case, if any company can go in and do that, then why did I spend ten years out of my life trying to develop the technology to do Avatar when I could have just done it in 1998? But this wasn’t animation.

It must be nice to know that whatever planet, whatever century or whatever colour you are, you’re still incredibly beautiful. That must be a nice feeling? Whether I’m blue, whether I’m green, whether I’m in this century or the last century, guys will still be thinking ‘Holy crap, who’s that?!’.
ZS: I like you! You’re a keeper man, get in my pocket.

Dave, you’ve quoted James, saying he was hell bent on making a nice cast and nice chemistry, and, most importantly, he “didn’t want any assholes”. Was there a day on set when you thought, ‘Hey, there are no assholes here, we’re actually kind of a family’?
ZS: No assholes. Never, ever. In the acting, we were assholes because our characters were rude to each other, we wanted to kill each other, but when we sat down for rehearsals, we had fittings together, we had meals together, when we started shooting, there was no ego. We were all underdogs. I feel like, if you brought in a ‘name’… like, it depends on ego, and it depends on personality – but James was looking for actors to provide the right kind of tone for the characters that he was creating. I think he was also looking for people to have a good time with, to spend the summer with.

Did it take long for you to feel comfortable on set, Dave, to go from those sleepless nights, to finally stepping into the ring with these heavyweights…? Were you petrified, walking on set for the first time?
DB: No, no. Of course, at first I was intimidated, sure, but it was like… Zoe was the last cast member I met and she was the only one that I was kind of nervous about, because the movie I had just worked in had been a bad experience with the lead actress. She was just… complained about everything, bitched about everything like, ‘Blah, blah, blah, me, me, me, give me this, give me that’, and I hadn’t met Zoe, and I didn’t know Zoe, and I thought, ‘God, I hope she doesn’t have an ego’.
My first experience with her, we drove up for rehearsals, and she was in the car behind us, and my driver said, ‘That’s Zoe behind us’. So I got out of the car to meet her, and she jumped out of the car, and she said “Bautista!”, and gave me a big hug, and I immediately felt at ease, and that there would be a really good atmosphere.
ZS: Well, I thought he was Latino! When I hugged him, I was like, “Bautista!” [pretends to speak Spanish], and he was like, “I don’t speak Spanish”, and I was like, “Oh really, you’re one of those Latinos?”, and he was like, “No, I’m not Latino!”, and I was like, ‘Oh snap, OK, hi!’.
DB: Then we got to know each other, and they knew I was going to be the quiet guy and accepted me for that, and we just had fun, and I told her and Chris that my funnest moments on set was just watching her and Chris interact with each other because when we weren’t shooting and just standing around, they would get into some sort of song and dance routine, and they’re both so witty…
ZS: Trying to kill time…
DB: But that’s what it was like on set every day – there were a lot of laughs.
ZS: But Dave was so quiet, I’m telling you, like, if I was a few years younger, and it wouldn’t have been inappropriate, he just inspires you to climb on top of him whilst he’s just sitting there. You just want to climb on top of him and just have a conversation on his shoulder, you know. So, I couldn’t do that because it was inappropriate, but I did always wait until he finished eating his food because he always ate super healthy.

Words – Paul Byrne

Guardians Of The Galaxy is now showing at Irish cinemas