On Monday, news broke that actor and former wrestler Dave Bautista will have a role in Netflix’s planned sequel to Rian Johnson’s comic mystery-thriller Knives Out. A new part in a comic ensemble feels like a fantastic fit for Bautista, whose acting career expanded dramatically after he became a Marvel Cinematic Universe favorite for his straight-faced-comedian role as Drax the Destroyer in the Guardians of the Galaxy and Avengers movies. But he’s also consistently been interested in more purely dramatic roles: He’s appeared in Blade Runner 2049 and the James Bond movie Spectre, and he stars in the new Zack Snyder movie Army of the Dead as a widower and father simultaneously navigating a city full of furious zombies, and his troubled relationship with his adult daughter.
Bautista has generally discussed how he took the Army of the Dead role because of the opportunity to play a more nuanced, dramatic character than he has in the past. But speaking to Polygon ahead of that film’s release, he says his Knives Out 2 character isn’t going to be the same kind of stretch for him — it’s just going to be another step forward for a rapidly blossoming career.
“If you’re familiar with the first Knives Out, you know it wasn’t deeply emotional, it’s not a deeply dramatic film,” Bautista says. “But it was such a quirky film, and it was so interesting. It had such a great ensemble, like a talented cast. And Rian, I’m desperate to work with. So it’s a lot of those factors. Although it’s not down that dramatic path that I really love, and that I’m pursuing, I feel like this is a huge statement, because of the caliber of the people that are involved, and how successful the first film was.”
Bautista says being tapped for the role specifically feels like “a statement on where my career is.” He laughs as he admits he hasn’t gotten much sleep since the news broke. “We’ve been riding this wave of promoting Army of the Dead, which is getting such buzz, and then this announcement coming out. So it’s a little bit surreal at the moment. I’m 52 years old and my career is just getting started.”
Bautista says he has a longer-term idea of where he wants his career to go, but projects like Army of the Dead and Knives Out 2 have diverted him temporarily. “My plan has just gone off-track a little bit,” he tells Polygon. “I really had this plan where I was just trying to build my name, build myself as a brand, so I’d be able to get my own projects done. There are a few films, original ideas I have, that I really want to get made. And so I want to be behind the camera. Directing is where I really want to be. I’ve produced a bit, and I’m getting more involved in that, but I really want to direct a film.”
The roles he’s getting right now are unexpected, but he says there’s no way he could turn them down: “They’re just too much of an opportunity. So it’s kind of keeping me away from that goal. These are good problems to have! I’m not complaining! But my goal has gone off track a little bit. My end goal is, within the next five years, I just want to be directing a film.”
Polygon will have more from Dave Bautista closer to the Netflix release of Army of the Dead, which opens in theaters on May 14 and begins streaming on May 21. In the full version of this conversation, he discusses what kinds of projects he wants to direct, what his current dream role looks like, how he used his own life to inspire his Army of the Dead character, and more.