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James Gunn's Relationship With Dave Bautista Explained

James Gunn and Dave Bautista share one of Hollywood's most beloved bromances. Their friendship transcends the typical director-actor relationship, with a shared respect that has both celebrities looking out for one another. From promoting each others' projects to putting their careers on the line, the unexpected connection of a professional wrestler and a former New Wave band member has evolved into something special.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has forged many bonds, from Sebastian Stan & Anthony Mackie to Chris Hemsworth & Chris Evans. But the Gunn-Bautista connection goes beyond light-hearted jesting. Arguably, the pair of "Guardians of the Galaxy" alums would not be where they are today without the other's support. 

Going back to the beginning, here's how the "Guardians of the Galaxy" writer/director and star built their improbable relationship and came to launch a groundbreaking space opera trilogy.

Dave Bautista, the wrestler

A former World Heavyweight Champion wrestler, Dave Bautista's journey to the main stage was not without challenge. A Washington, D.C. native, the future MCU superhero has not been shy about sharing his difficulties of growing up in poverty. 

The actor revealed in his 2007 book "Batista Unleashed" that people were murdered on his front lawn and by the age of 13, he was stealing cars. During a 2020 podcast interview on "The Darkest Timeline," he spoke about growing up and how he "was a bouncer from the time I was 17 until I was almost 30." The humiliation of borrowing money to afford his children's Christmas presents encouraged the future superstar to pursue wrestling.

But Bautista followed his ambitions, joining an up-and-coming class of WWE wrestlers that included John Cena ("The Suicide Squad," "F9"), Randy Orton ("Long Shot"), and former UFC Heavyweight Champion Brock Lesnar. With multiple championships under his name, Bautista followed the path of wrestlers before him like "Rowdy" Roddy Piper and The Rock, making a shift to film and television.

Initially earning minor credits (primarily as heavies) in shows like "Smallville" and "Chuck," the wrestler's biggest role came in 2013 when he played Diaz in the third installment of the "Riddick" film series. But it was the next call that would shoot the former bouncer into superstardom, when he was cast in the rapidly-rising MCU.

James Gunn, the filmmaker

Hailing from St. Louis, James Gunn took a much more predictable path to Hollywood than his future pal Dave Bautista. Lead vocalist for a New Wave band called The Icons, Gunn began his career in film in the mid-'90s, working his way up at indie schlock house Troma Entertainment. Under mentor Lloyd Kaufman (who still cameos in Gunn's films to this day), the future MCU director learned the ins-and-outs of filmmaking while writing his debut feature film ("Tromeo and Juliet") and producing his first superhero project ("The Specials").

Graduating from the low-budget film production company, Gunn began moving into mainstream Hollywood by writing screenplays for two "Scooby-Doo" films and Zack Snyder's 2004 "Dawn of the Dead" remake. Gunn then made his directorial debut in 2006 with the critically-acclaimed, if underperforming horror film "Slither." 

After that, Gunn made a superhero comedy called "Super" that starred Rainn Wilson . On the strength of that quirky little film, he was called up to the big leagues, chosen to oversee a Marvel movie about a rag-tag group of would-be superheroes, "Guardians of the Galaxy."

Dave Bautista's unexpected casting as Drax

The announcement and early development of "Guardians of the Galaxy" brought more questions than answers. Who were these obscure comic book characters? How did they fit into an (at the time) relatively Earthbound MCU? Gunn's appointment as director initiated criticisms of past tweets (which would become increasingly deafening a few years later), there were concerns over his inability to make money at the box office with "Slither" and "Super," and then Gunn reveled that he was scrapping and rewriting the entire script he had been handed.

When "Parks and Recreation" goofball Chris Pratt was cast as the hero, bypassing a long list of potential actors including Joel Edgerton, Jack Huston, Jim Sturgess, Zachary Levi, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, it became even harder to imagine what "Guardians" was going to be. Soon after, Jason Momoa was among those passed over for the role of Drax the Destroyer, with the role going to

Bautista instead.

Landing a major role in a Marvel movie was not so simple for the hulking Dave Bautista. The wrestler has since explained how anxious he was on the cusp of being hired for the superhero film. 

"I had gone broke, I had lost all my money from wrestling, and I was desperate to get a job," Bautista explained in 2021, remembering that his representatives had told him he had no chance. "It was really hard to get; they didn't really want to audition you. They didn't want to see any pro wrestlers." 

Taking the advice of his acting coach, Bautista poured himself into researching the character, landing the part of Drax — and ensuring that he'd spend much of the next decade shirtless.

Bautista was a real-life superhero at GOTG wrap party

After overcoming the odds, Bautista was ecstatic about his new role as Drax the Destroyer, and when he made his early press appearances to promote the film (Bautista and Michael Rooker worked the press lines together at Comic-Con in 2013), you could sense the actor's enthusiasm.

"What drew me into this was Drax himself. He's a complex character with a lot of different layers, and that's what I really liked about him," Bautista said in 2014. Adding that Gunn "is someone different and very special," he added that the director had "feared that Drax was going to be the one character he was going to have to 'settle' on," but Gunn had become determined "he was going to convince Marvel" that Bautista was the man for the role.

Later, at the "Guardians of the Galaxy" wrap party, Bautista made two things clear: He and Gunn had a full-blown bromance, and he had the backs of his fellow cast and crew.

In a since-deleted series of tweets, Gunn seemed to sarcastically say the party was "fun," revealing that someone had crossed a line with a fellow guest, and Gunn's brother (who plays Kraglin in the films) and Bautista were having none of it.

"A crew member was harassing one of our stand-ins," Gunn tweeted, adding: "Dave (and Sean) were most angry at the dude for picking up one of our wonderful stand ins by her breasts. Not kidding."

As that crew member learned, it isn't wise to do something like that in front of Dave Bautista. "[Sean Gunn] was protecting her & the guy got pushy with Sean," he tweeted. "[Bautista] tapped the harasser's chest & he FLEW ACROSS THE ROOM because Dave actually has real-life superpowers!"

Guardians of the Galaxy success

The development of "Guardians of the Galaxy" was a strange maneuver from the then-adolescent Marvel Cinematic Universe. Up until this point, they had focused on making movies about mostly Earthbound characters, like Iron Man, Captain America and Hulk. Among the heroes, only Thor had hinted at something out there beyond the stars. 

The "Guardians of the Galaxy," comics, meanwhile, had been far from bestsellers, and immediately became the least recognizable of the titles Marvel had set their sights on adapting to the big screen. A relatively unknown, constantly-changing group who began in the late-'60s and recently had been redesigned by comic creators Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, such intended characters as Star-Lord, Drax and Groot were hardly household names.

It was Gunn who changed the minds of Marvel brass about the potential of the film — and how it could advance the MCU's expansion to other universes, realities and planes of existence.

At the time, Marvel's Editor-in-chief Axel Alonso was among the few sticking up for the project. "Many of us have read the movie script and seen stuff that hasn't been made public yet," he said. "So we know what a treat people are in for." 

Sure enough, "Guardians of the Galaxy" was a huge hit when released on August 1, 2014, earning positive critical reception, becoming the biggest box office success of the summer, and making stars out of its cast. Observing the upward trajectory of the franchise, the director and actors pledged to never let it go to their heads. Gunn was joined by Chris Pratt and Dave Bautista in an oath to "remain down-to-earth, honest, and kind."

Reunited for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Looking back, Bautista has no issues in saying that "Guardians of the Galaxy" changed the trajectory of his life. 

"When 'Guardians' came out, and people saw me as Drax, it just started opening doors," the actor said in a 2021 interview with IGN. "My life just got better, and I just became more successful." 

The former wrestler followed up his celebrated performance with roles in the James Bond sequel "Spectre" and the Robert De Niro-lead "Heist." But his life-changing character, Drax the Destroyer, had unfinished business within the MCU.

Bautista's character would appear in Marvel's landmark films "Avengers: Infinity War" and "Avengers: Endgame," but not before being reunited with director James Gunn for "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2." But the actor was not completely sold on the script at first glance. 

"I was expecting them to go a different direction with Drax," Bautista said in a 2017 interview. "The first day we did our table read, I realized it was hysterical." 

Despite the performer going on to say, "I like it better than the first film," "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" did not live up the first movie critically, even if it did fine financially. One review from the Hollywood Reporter summed up many fans' feelings towards the sequel, equating it to "a second ride on a roller-coaster that was a real kick the first time around but feels very been-there-done-that now." The mixed reception likely made Marvel's next decision a bit easier.

James Gunn was fired from Disney

As Gunn prepared a third installment of the "Guardians" franchise, his past came back to haunt him — nearly costing the filmmaker his career.

Gunn had long been a proponent of social media, and was unrestrained in making his political views known, often against Donald Trump. A far-right group launched an effort against him in 2018, based around old tweets Gunn had made, creating an ever-increasing drumbeat that attempted to have Marvel parent company Disney fire the filmmaker. Arriving amidst the #MeToo movement, at a time when names like Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey were being "canceled,"  Gunn's remarks threatened to derail his "Guardians" stewardship.

"The offensive attitudes and statements discovered on James' Twitter feed are indefensible and inconsistent with our studio's values," read a statement from Disney chairman Alan Horn announcing that Gunn would no longer direct "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3." 

Gunn, meanwhile, defended himself by saying that the offensive posts (which concerned matters of pedophilia, homosexuality and "jokes" about 9/11 AIDS and the Holocaust) had come from an earlier, Troma-influenced time in his career when he saw himself as a purveyor of shock and vile humor. 

"I am very, very different than I was a few years ago," Gunn explained. "I have apologized for humor of mine that hurt people."

"Many people who have followed my career know when I started, I viewed myself as a provocateur, making movies and telling jokes that were outrageous and taboo. As I have discussed publicly many times, as I've developed as a person, so has my work and my humor," he said in a series of since-deleted tweets. "It's not to say I'm better, but I am very, very different than I was a few years ago; today I try to root my work in love and connection and less in anger. My days saying something just because it's shocking and trying to get a reaction are over."

"For the record, when I made these shocking jokes, I wasn't living them out. I know this is a weird statement to make, and seems obvious, but, still, here I am, saying it," he added. "That's the completely honest truth: I used to make a lot of offensive jokes. I don't anymore."

Dave Bautista put his career on the line for Gunn

With Gunn's career in jeopardy and few willing to speak up for him, debate over the director's firing divided the internet. 

Multiple media outlets took to calling Disney's decision "hypocritical," "ill-judged," and "problematic" while some fans united behind the celebrated director, with a change.org petition amassing over 400,000 signatures. Meanwhile, a slew of celebrities argued in defense of Gunn, including Selma Blair, Lloyd Kaufman, and Dan Harmon.

But it was the crew of the "Guardians of the Galaxy" franchise that stood behind their director the most. "We fully support James Gunn," read a 2018 statement released by the cast. "There is little due process in the court of public opinion. James is likely not the last good person to be put on trial." 

No one was more upset by the firing than Bautista. Agitated by the events, the actor said in an interview with Shortlist that he was ready to "Ask them to release me from my contract, cut me out or recast me" if Marvel chose not to at least use the script Gunn had already completed for "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3." The Drax actor further backed up his statement on Twitter, saying "['Guardians of the Galaxy'] without [James Gunn] is not what I signed up for."

Bautista almost appeared in Gunn's The Suicide Squad

Unemployed and looking to find a path forward, Gunn pulled off a move that looks quite brilliant in retrospect: Rather than supervising one team of quirky antiheroes in a sequel, he'd do the same thing for the competition. 

Gunn signed on to write and direct a new "Suicide Squad" movie, bringing a uniquely Marvel feel to the DC universe. The eventual film was far better received than its predecessor, was marketed heavily as "from the horribly beautiful mind of James Gunn," and reminded moviegoers and the studios alike that when it came to this sort of movie, there was simply nobody better.

Throughout it all, Gunn remained loyal to his "Guardians of the Galaxy" cast. He even offered the role of Peacemaker (which would eventually go to Bautista's old wrestling peer John Cena) to Bautista.

"James Gunn wrote a role for me in 'The Suicide Squad,' which I was all fired up about," Bautista recalled in 2021. "Then I got "Army of the Dead," which was not only a lead role for me but also, I really wanted to work with Zack Snyder." 

Making a strategic career decision, Bautista declined his old friend and former director. Ultimately, the situation worked favorably for all parties, as the role of Peacemaker became a signature role for Cena (now anchoring an HBO Max series), Gunn's work was well-received on both the "Suicide Squad" sequel and the "Peacemaker" series, and Bautista would get his starring role in "Army."

James Gunn's return for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3

Like the plot of a movie, Gunn earned his chance at redemption in the spring of 2019 when reinstated as director of "Vol. 3." 

According to Deadline, Disney Studios chairman Alan Horn was persuaded by Gunn's apology and met with the director on multiple occasions, leading to the change of heart. Unfortunately, Gunn's new project at DC muddled the Marvel schedule slightly, as the director would be required to wrap up "The Suicide Squad" before returning to his Marvel work. However, along with the next installment, Gunn also received the go-ahead on his pet project, a "Guardians of the Galaxy" holiday special set to release in December 2022.

The decision to bring Gunn back for the third "Guardians of the Galaxy" film was celebrated by its cast and crew. But of course, no one was more relieved than Bautista. 

"James is my friend," the actor said in 2019. "He was being attacked, and what do you do when your friends are being attacked? You defend them, or you're not really a friend." 

Now, under James Gunn and starring the original cast, "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3" is set to be released on May 5, 2023.

Dave Bautista retiring from Marvel

Although the former wrestler put up a hard-fought battle to have his friend reinstated at Marvel, Bautista seems to be walking away from the iconic cinematic universe. The actor first insinuated that he would be done with Drax after the third "Guardians of the Galaxy" film in a 2021 interview. "I mean, as far as my obligations, I've got 'Guardians 3,'" said Bautista, "And that's probably the end of Drax."

Bautista later explained his reasoning for cutting ties with his famous character in a Tweet: "By the time G3 comes out, I'll be 54 [years] old, for god's sake! I'm expecting everything to start sagging any second now." 

Although Marvel could decide to recast the character, Gunn has reciprocated the love by showing support for his star.

"There will never be any Drax for me besides [Dave Bautista]," he tweeted. "He was also the most popular character from the last film, & the only character I've ever seen in 25 years to test 100% positive in test screenings. So obviously I regret nothing."

As filming concluded on "Vol. 3," Bautista shared one last goodbye on his Instagram: "Haven't found the words yet. It ended so suddenly and I was on to my next film before I could process it all. End of a journey that changed my life."

Future projects together

After forging an unstoppable bond that helped shape the last decade of two film studios, several franchises, films and TV,  Gunn and Bautista remain close. 

The director has called his wrestling buddy "the best friend a guy could have." Although "The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special" and "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3" seem like it might be their swan song, the pair each have other projects in the works, and it seems likely that at some point their paths will once again intersect.

Gunn is set to film a second season of "Peacemaker," Bautista has a slew of films in the works including a "Dune" sequel," the "Army of the Dead: Lost Vegas" series, and M. Night Shyamalan's next feature, "Knock at the Cabin." 

Get a load of this plot twist: The next time Gunn and Bautista work together, it might just be the bruising wrestler sitting in the director's chair. Bautista recently told MovieWeb that he is ready to make the jump to directing, having "learned from the best."