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The untold truth of Dave Bautista

At 48 years of age, the performer formerly known as Deacon Batista or Batista the Animal, the—at his heaviest—370-pound monster of a bodybuilder is today well on his way to the actor's A-list, defying odds and expectations.  

If you want a comprehensive life story on Bautista, check out our feature on how he went from a WWE wrestler to Drax the Destroyer. If you want to know some facts you've probably never heard before, like his motivations for wrestling, his very niche hobbies, and his aspirations beyond acting, keep on reading. 

If his unlikely success of a career keeps moving forward on this upward trajectory, you're going to be hearing his name a lot more in the future, so you may as well sit down now and learn everything we know about the untold truth of Dave Bautista.

Growing up impoverished

Like many people who will themselves to great success, Bautista was born into a life of hard circumstances. Sharing stories on Ben Pakulski's Muscle Expert Podcast, the actor related some painful details of his childhood.

"We didn't even have very little—we had nothing," Bautista said, discussing his earliest days growing up with a single mother and a sister in a violent neighborhood of Washington, D.C. "There were—and I'm not kidding—times when we didn't have food." 

He shared one defining anecdote from that time: 

"We were broke, man," Bautista explained. "She (his mother) didn't have money to feed us for the week, so she made this big pot of, like, bean soup. And that's what we had to last us all week, and she burnt it. I mean, she burnt the hell out of it. It was just black and disgusting. But that's what we had. And that's what we ate all week, man. It was burnt bean soup." 

Despite this, he says his childhood was great. "I was thinking about it, and was like, I don't really have bad memories. I mean, I was a happy kid. I used to go out and run, and all the neighborhood kids, there was always 20 or 30 of us playing together—it really puts things in perspective."

With this background in mind, he's never taken his success for granted. "I still really try to be that little kid from Washington, D.C., and never forget where I came from," he said.

Childhood delinquency

Bautista's childhood poverty didn't put things in perspective for him immediately, of course. He had plenty of moments of bad behavior on the way toward getting right.

"I was a kid who would sneak out of the house a lot," Bautista said during an appearance on the podcast Anna Faris is Unqualified. "We would do things like sneak out of the house and go down to watch the hookers. We liked to watch the hookers. Stuff like that. And I was around a bunch of thugs, man. We were always like stealing stuff. Stealing this, stealing that. The police would pick us up, and my mom would have to come get us, beat the hell out of me."

While stealing is never really the right thing to do, Bautista and friends weren't exactly holding people up for wallets. It was, as he calls it, "Kid stuff." 

"We'd go to other kids' houses, and, being their friends, we'd go in and rob them," he said. "Which just sounds so horrible! This is when I was really a little kid. What we were stealing was stuff like sweatsuits and stuff like that. Stuff we couldn't afford. I know that sounds so petty, but it was stuff like that."

While Bautista finds some humor in his former life of crime, he doesn't endorse it, and in fact seems a little abashed by it. "It sounds so ridiculous now," he said, "but we were little kids." 

He has dyslexia and ADD

Most professional wrestlers have charisma for days, but this wasn't always the case for Bautista. "I was a very smart kid, but I was very awkward in school, because I had issues with reading," he's said. "I'm dyslexic, and I also have ADD." 

He wasn't diagnosed with the conditions until later in life, and it took years to click for him that his dyslexia was the root of his anxiety. "I was always that kid hiding in the back of the class because I was afraid my teacher was going to call on me to read something out loud or go up to the chalkboard," he said. "Back then, everyone just thought you were stupid if you read slow." 

Some of this anxiety would follow him into adulthood and his performance career. As a wrestler, he had tricks for times he had to take the mic.

"If you watch me, when I used to go out and talk to the crowd a lot, I wore sunglasses all the time," he said. "If I could wear sunglasses and a hat, that was [the best]. Because I would hide behind them, they were tools I used." 

According to him, acting is anxiety-inducing, and so up-close and intimate that it's even worse than being in the ring. "It's a terrifying thing," he said. 

He got into wrestling for the money

One winter during his time as a bouncer in Washington, D.C., Bautista went through a hardship that would break any parent's heart. He was in his late twenties, the father of two young daughters, and found himself one Christmas unable to afford to buy presents for either of them. He was broke, living check to check, and had been broke for a long time. In tears, he went to his boss and asked to borrow money to buy presents for his family.

Humiliated and humbled, the setback proved galvanizing to Bautista, and was in many ways a life-changing moment for him. Inspired to finally get his act together, he left his dead-end bouncing profession behind and went on to seek financial success, for the sake of his family, by any means necessary. "I was on a mission to make something of myself," he later said.

 "People ask me, 'What got you into wrestling? Were you a lifelong fan?' You know, I really hate to tell them—I really hate to say this—but I always say 'No, I wasn't.' I got into it for the money, because I need to make some money." 

He had spent years working out by that point, and was a natural athlete, and with wrestling being so huge in the late '90s, he found himself with the means and the motive to make something of himself in the ring—all he needed to go in search for was the opportunity.

He collects vintage lunchboxes

One would think a man of Bautista's stature would need to spend the majority of his free time in the gym. This isn't true—not only does he have enough time to cultivate a hobby entirely unrelated to wrestling or show business, he's chosen a very niche one that's surprising, impressive, and incredibly charming all at the same time.

Bautista is a collector of vintage metal lunch boxes. And this doesn't mean he has two or three remnants from his childhood that he cheekily calls his collection—he's for real about this. He has shelving. He has a room. The GotG star literally has more lunch boxes than he has space for. How can you not love that?

"I have some really good ones, a lot of old ones that are worth some money," Bautista said, being a real open book about himself in an interview with IGN. "But my favorite is the 1967 Green Hornet lunch box. It's my favorite because Bruce Lee is on it."

He's suffered a lot of injuries (even for a wrestler)

As a former wrestler, Bautista racked up his fair share of injuries in the ring—more than his fair share, really. He developed a reputation for being injury-prone, often suffering very consequential damage that at one point in 2006 forced him to vacate a WWE World Championship title. Over his years spent wrestling, he tore muscles in his back, tore and re-tore his triceps, his biceps, and his hamstring, sometimes being taken out of commission for months at a time as a result.

Wrestling writer Dave Meltzer wrote in 2009 that Bautista's frequent muscle tears were a result of more than "just bad luck."

"It's a combination of age, physique, and likely a lot of muscle/tendon imbalances because he's so big and muscular at his age," Meltzer observed. (Bautista was 40 at the time and would soon leave the WWE for a few years to compete in mixed martial arts.)

Some of the injuries Bautista has suffered have to do, he says, with overtraining, or lifting too heavily. "I was training way too heavy back then," Bautista has confessed. "I got way heavier than I needed to. Back then, the mentality, that's what it was: heavy weights, heavy weights, heavy weights." 

Altogether, the injuries took their toll, even though the wrestler wasn't realizing it at the time. The beatings in the ring and the overtraining have left him, like many wrestlers, with lingering damage that persists to this day.

He takes acting seriously

One of the most intriguing things about Bautista's acting career involves the kind of roles he didn't take. Compare his early filmography to Dwayne Johnson's, for instance. The Rock frontloaded his career with action movies, capitalizing on his larger-than-life wrestling persona to do things like terrorize Egypt as the Scorpion King or blast away demons from Hell in the movie version of Doom. Bautista, very consciously, did the opposite.

Going against the advice of his agent, Bautista made daring choices in picking roles, wanting his acting career to develop with a backdrop of legitimacy, not a reputation of playing muscle heads and marines. He wanted to be known as a character actor.

"I don't want to look like Dave Bautista there on screen, being the same guy in every role," he said. "I want to be different characters. I want to be a chameleon, which is not easy for me to do because I'm built like a f***ing gorilla."

Now, seemingly under everybody's nose, Bautista has quietly assembled a respectable dramatic résumé, landing roles in movies as diverse as Bushwick, Blade Runner 2049, and My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done. Between all this, he's still managed to work in major blockbusters like the Guardians of the Galaxy series, venerated franchises like the James Bond series, and is part of the cast of one of the biggest movies ever made, Avengers: Infinity War. Not bad for someone who never went to drama school.

He wants to be a movie star—but not for the reasons you think

Funnily, Bautista's early insistence on taking roles that weren't all action doesn't mean he doesn't want to do action. "I've done roles in the past few years that I've really proved myself as an actor, but now I want to prove myself as an action star," he said in a podcast appearance. "And so that's what I'm pursuing right now. That's the mission I'm on right now."

In furthering this mission, Bautista has begun taking roles in more typical action fare, joining Sylvester Stallone in two upcoming sequels to Escape Plan and the cast of the Chinese martial arts movie Ip Man: Cheung Tin Chi.

Although he didn't do it early on, he now wants to follow the Rock's career path, taking physical, action-star roles that bring notoriety and influence in show business.

A role like that, he says, is just the thing he'd need to reach what he calls his ultimate goal: producing movies.

"I love movies, man. I love them," he said. "I want to be able to find a script and say, 'Man, this would be a great movie.' And I want to be able to walk in and say 'Man, I'd really love to get this done.'"

He's a member of a lowrider car club

Collecting lunchboxes isn't the only pastime Bautista gets up to, although it would be pretty funny if it was. He's also a member of a lowrider-loving collective called the Imperials Car Club, and he has been for years, first joining up in 2010.

As part of the club, he shows up representing with a beautiful 1964 Chevy Impala and maintains a robust car collection beyond that. His collection has included a 2003 BMW that he bought with one of his first big-time paychecks, a Mercedes-Benz SL 500, a Hummer H2 with custom bodywork, a number of motorcycles, and, at least at one point, a golf cart he was particularly proud of, which he bought for one of his daughters.

He wants a Drax solo movie

One of the potential vehicles that Bautista is eyeing for that coveted rise to the top isn't surprising at all, and it has a lot to do with the project that put him on the map in the first place. And by the time this iteration of the Guardians of the Galaxy series is done, he might even have a fanbase big enough to make it happen.

"I would have to say, I am lobbying for a single Drax standalone film," Bautista has said, with good humor, but not a hint of sarcasm. And if it doesn't happen? Well, he'll figure out something else, in the Marvel Cinematic Universe—or not. 

Whether the movie he's pitching ever happens, it's encouraging for everyone who loves Bautista's performance as Drax the Destroyer that the actor behind those "sensitive nipples" enjoys playing the character as much as we like watching him. Who knows what the future holds for Marvel? It may not be in the pipeline soon, but stranger things have happened than a Drax solo adventure.