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Dave Bautista doesn't want to be a movie star, he wants to be an actor. He may be both

Adam Graham, The Detroit News on

Published in Entertainment News

Rough beginnings

Bautista grew up poor in a rough neighborhood in Washington, D.C., and he had to fight to stay out of trouble, a fight he didn't always win. He was stealing cars in his teenage years and was living on his own by 17, eventually finding work as a nightclub bouncer, where trouble found him: He landed a year's probation after an incident at the club led to him being tried for assault and battery, which signaled an end to his bouncing days.

Back then Hollywood was another world altogether, several planes removed from his own, but he was always captivated by movies. "I remember going to double and triple features, and just sitting in the movies all day," he says of his childhood fascination with cinema. He remembers going to see Disney features such as "The Rescuers" and "The Love Bug" on the big screen, along with "Jaws." In 1977, "'Star Wars' changed my life," he says.

He had no avenue toward movies outside of being a spectator. He found himself pulled toward bodybuilding, where he bulked and toned his 6-foot-4-inch frame, which eventually led to wrestling, where he learned the art of storytelling, albeit via body slams and suplexes. "Professional wrestling is really a physical form of storytelling," says Bautista, who was billed at 290 pounds in his grappler days. "I refer to it as a 'theater of violence,' and I wanted to carry that over into this business that I loved and I've been obsessed with since I've been a child."

While he could perform in front of thousands in the ring — in 2007 at WrestleMania 23 at Ford Field in Detroit, he fought the Undertaker in front of a reported crowd of more than 80,000 fans — outside the ring he was timid and unsure of himself, and he suffered from social anxiety.

"I grew up an introverted, kind of shy person, and for a long time, I hadn't learned that it was OK to be awkward and uncomfortable, because everybody expected me to be this cool guy that I was on TV," he says. Even doing press and interviews was arduous for him.

 

In WWE, he was surrounded by big personalities and over-the-top characters, including guys like Ric Flair, who can turn on the world-class charm with the snap of his fingers. "I was always envious of people who were super outgoing, who were the life of the party, who commanded attention," Bautista says. But as much as he tried, he just wasn't that guy, and eventually he became OK with not being the superstar, 1,000-watt spotlight at the center of every room.

That only came with age. "I started being comfortable with myself," he says. "I learned a way to turn my faults into strengths, and I learned how to make it work for me. And I came to the realization that they weren't faults, it's just who I am. It may not be everybody else's standard, but I've found over the years that a lot of people feel the same way. I'm always pleasantly surprised that a lot of people share the same anxieties that I do."

That's true for some big-name actors that he's met as well, he says. And as he's learned to accept himself, Bautista says the more he loosens up — both in life and in his work — the more positive the results.

"I'm a super self-conscious actor, but as I let my guard down, I feel like my performance gets better and better, and the more comfortable I am, the better my performance will be," he says. "It's something I had to learn about myself."

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