SINGAPORE — Dave Bautista has long harboured a wish to become a serious dramatic actor as opposed to being just an action star, an image which he found difficult to shed before things changed with his turn as a rebel "replicant" in 2017's critically acclaimed Blade Runner 2049. With his first lead role in Zack Snyder's zombie flick, Army Of the Dead, which hits Netflix on 21 May, Bautista believes the movie will establish him as "a very solid lead" and "a well-rounded actor".
Speaking to reporters from Singapore at a virtual junket to promote Army Of The Dead, the 52-year-old actor, who's known for his supporting role as Drax, a member of the Guardians of the Galaxy in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, said, "This is the opportunity that I've been waiting for for a long time. I wanted to work with Zack, and also I'd get the opportunity to accomplish a lot as an actor, and establish myself as a leading man, which I hope this film will do for me."
The setting of Army Of The Dead is a Las Vegas that has been overrun by zombies and cordoned off from the rest of human society. Bautista played Scott Ward, an ex-soldier who's hired to lead a team to break into a casino vault in the middle of the undead's territory and recover US$200 million in cash. Meanwhile, he has to deal with a race of intelligent and physically superior "alpha" zombies as well as mend relations with his estranged daughter.
The American wrestler-turned-actor, who is of Greek-Filipino heritage, said he relished the emotional range which the role gave him. "I feel like right now it's the perfect movie at the perfect time. I really think it establishes me as a very solid lead because there're so many layers to Scott Ward. There's not many opportunities where an actor, in general, but certainly an actor like myself, gets to not only play a badass, but also gets to play somebody who's really looking to redeem themselves, a father who just wants to reconnect with his daughter. So I kind of feel like I really accomplished a lot in this film... I think it's a huge, huge opportunity for me and I hope people embrace the film as much as I think they will... I'm very proud of it, and I hope this opens doors for people to see me as a well-rounded actor."
Bautista also told Digital Spy that he turned down a role in Suicide Squad 2, which director James Gunn wrote specially for him, because Snyder's film offered him his first leading man role. He was sorry to turn down Gunn, his good friend who he worked with in the Guardians Of The Galaxy films, but Gunn was understanding about his decision. Bautista also wanted to "build a relationship with Netflix" – not to mention that he got "paid a lot more money" for the zombie heist movie.
Snyder, who's now famous for his DC superhero movies, had previously made another zombie movie in his Dawn Of The Dead remake. But Bautista said Snyder had caught his attention as a filmmaker with his 2007 film 300. The two had been in talks to develop another film – Bautista called it "very much an actor's piece", which he had been chasing for years – but the project didn't pan out. Then Snyder approached Bautista for Army Of The Dead.
"When Army Of The Dead first came to my attention I wasn't actually interested at all, because I thought it was just going to be another action film," said Bautista. "I didn't realise who the character was, what the storyline was. I didn't know anything about it other than it was a zombie heist film, and I was just like, nah, I think I'm gonna pass on this one – until I read the script. I thought, man, this is really great and then I had a conversation about what he wanted to do and how he saw the film visually, and also how he saw the character of Scott... and I jumped all over it."
The actor added, "The emotional part is always a challenge for me, but it's also why I love it, why I love acting, and it's also why I love the script and why I fell in love with the character and the role and I pursued it. Because the action stuff, you know, for me, it's predictable, it's easy. You would expect me to do something like that, you wouldn't expect me to be, you know, an emotional guy who's really just trying to deal with his daughter. That's what this film has, that's what it does, that's what emotional Scott Ward brings to the film, because he can be a very loving, very caring father but he can also be a zombie killing machine. Opportunities like that for me as a performer, they just don't come along very often."
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