Dave Bautista stars in HBO's 'Room 104' as ex-pro wrestler - Sports Illustrated

Dave Bautista’s Role as Ex-Wrestler on HBO’s ‘Room 104’ Goes to Unexpected Depths

After spending years trying to shake the preconceptions that come along with being a former pro wrestler in Hollywood, Dave Bautista found a role that melds the two worlds beautifully.
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Dave Bautista’s journey as an actor continues on its unexpected, unpredictable path with his latest role for HBO.

Bautista stars in the newest episode of Room 104, playing the role of retired pro wrestler Raw Dog Avalanche in an episode entitled “Avalanche.”

“When my agent told me it was a professional wrestling themed episode, I said, ‘Not a shot in hell,’” said Bautista, who reached fame in wrestling as Batista. “I’ve worked really hard to separate these two worlds.”

Bautista leaves behind a legacy in wrestling as a charismatic powerhouse. One glance at the 6’4”, 275-pound physical specimen makes it clear why he was handpicked by Vince McMahon to be the face of the company a decade and a half ago. Though he has made a couple of returns, Bautista left behind the life of full-time wrestling in 2010. Ever since, he has focused on acting, pursuing a career that has yielded a variety of different roles, providing the opportunity to show he belongs among the industry’s most versatile, talented actors.

“I didn’t leave wrestling to become a movie star, I left to be an actor,” said Bautista, who ended his wrestling career against Triple H at WrestleMania 35. “I’ve worked really hard to prove myself and earn the respect of my peers and audiences.

“This has not been the path of least resistance, it’s been a tough route. I’ve really pursued roles that are actor’s pieces, and I’ve turned down a lot of roles that would have made me a lot of money, action roles that would have been better suited for me as an ex-wrestler. Those are the roles most people expected me to take, but I’ve chosen to go the unexpected route to prove myself as an actor. I feel like people expect less from a wrestler-turned-actor, but I’ve always wanted to be a serious actor.”

Bautista’s path in acting had no space for a cartoonish wrestling role, which is why he was initially quick to dismiss the Room 104 episode.

“One of my agents, Ryan Abboushi, said to me, ‘Just read the episode—it’s exactly what you’ve been looking for, it’s exactly what we’ve been talking about,’” said Bautista. “I read the script and I was blown away. It wasn’t what I thought it was. It was deep and rich and emotional.”

Just like in pro wrestling, appearances deceive in Hollywood. The Room 104 role is focused on an ex-wrestler dealing with brain damage and memory loss, coping later in life with childhood abuse and the violent monster it created.

Bautista also does not meet the standards implied by his physical appearance. Despite a larger-than-life size and aura, the big man is soft-spoken, nothing like his presence in pro wrestling.

“Since the beginning of my wrestling career, I was so terrified to be on the microphone, so I’d subconsciously channel a bit of Hulk Hogan and the Macho Man,” said Bautista. “Even when filming Room 104, and it isn’t intentional, that’s who I channel. That is my first childhood connection to professional wrestling.

“I remember I did this interview years ago where it came across like I was doing this impersonation of Hulk Hogan. It wasn’t my intent but that’s the way it came off, and I remember saying, ‘This just isn’t me. I’m just not that guy.’ I later saw Hogan at a show and he asked if I was making fun of him. I said no, I didn’t mean that at all. That’s just my first connection to professional wrestling. They did promos a certain way, and it still impacts my work.”

Bautista’s constant goal is to display an unexpectedly deep sense of vulnerability and raw emotion in his work, which he was able to capture poignantly as the physically battered and emotionally bruised Raw Dog Avalanche in Room 104.

“The small role I had in [2017 film] Blade Runner 2049, that’s the role that opened up so many doors for me as a performer,” said Bautista, who had to fight for auditions and opportunities after the ex-wrestler label was slapped on him when he entered the acting realm. “It helped strip away my physical appearance and offered me opportunities that relied on my acting.

“That was always my challenge in wrestling, too. It was hard for people to feel empathy or sympathy when I looked so strong and muscular that I shouldn’t be in any kind of jeopardy. That was a challenge, and it’s even more so with acting. People see you typically in an action role and nothing else. I’m seeking to prove them wrong.”

Unpredictability in his roles is the one constant Bautista is seeking in his acting career.

“I don’t want to be labeled, I don’t want to be predictable,” said Bautista. “I remember going into a very early audition with Guardians, and Sarah Finn, the casting director, said that [actor] Lee Pace could do anything. I remember being so blown away by that. It’s a hell of a statement, he can do anything. I knew right then that I wanted her to one day be able to say, ‘Dave Bautista, he can do anything.’ I want to be that actor, with a range that’s endless.”

Bautista was given the freedom necessary to fully immerse in his Room 104 role, turning up the emotion when his character reflects back on the seminal moments of his life. In only two days of shooting, Bautista captured a tremendous combination of confusion, hurt, and shame.

“People have never seen me portray a role like this,” said Bautista. “There are so many layers to the character, and the subject matter is so sensitive. I’m excited for people to see the episode, but there is a huge part of me that is nervous about it.

“This was the opportunity I was waiting for. I’ve been searching for a role like this for a long time.”

Room 104 is a uniquely compelling series, particularly the manner in which stories are told from one hotel room. Bautista’s episode stands out, with a moving performance that he looks forward to sharing with viewers.

“I would like to invite people to tune in just because I want them to see a different side of me,” said Bautista. “I said I wasn’t leaving pro wrestling to be a movie star. I left to be an actor. I still want to prove that, and I think this will help my case.”

Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.