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Dave Bautista, Kumail Nanjiani step out of their comfort zones for ‘Stuber’

Bautista, the wrestler and ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ actor, says he and comedian Nanjiani ‘clicked right off the bat.’

“Stuber” co-stars Kumail Nanjiani (left) and Dave Bautista share a laugh during an interview in Chicago.
James Foster/For the Sun-Times

Kumail Nanjiani and Dave Bautista stride into a Chicago hotel lobby restaurant only slightly less cavernous than the concourse at the United Center — and seemingly just as loud.

Nanjiani is the actor-writer-comedian from the HBO series “Silicon Valley” and the romantic comedy “The Big Sick,” for which he and his wife and collaborator Emily V. Gordon received a best original screenplay nomination.

Bautista is the wrestling superstar turned actor best known for playing Drax the Destroyer in the “Guardians of the Galaxy” films. He also looks to be nearly as wide as a pick-up truck and just as well-built.

They were in town to talk about “Stuber,” their new action-comedy opening Friday. Nanjiani plays Stu, a mild-mannered Uber driver — hence the nickname “Stuber.” One fine day, Stu picks up Bautista’s Vic, an old-school, hot-tempered cop who can’t drive himself around because, well, I’ll leave it to the movie to deliver that setup. Suffice to say Vic is going to need Stu’s services for the rest of the day and the night, whether Stu likes it or not.

Let the R-rated action/comedy buddy movie hijinks begin!

“Stu is a natural do-gooder,” said Bautista. “I think he’s almost overly in touch with his feelings. He really is just searching for happiness but not really sure where to find it. He’s not very confident with himself. He’s got a lion inside of him that needs to be let out of its cage. A lion that needs to roar.”

Nanjiani: “Vic is a guy who has become hardened over the years. He’s had some sad stuff happen in his life. He’s closed off to his own emotions … so he’s comfortable being angry, but not being comfortable showing any other emotion. He [represents the way] we used to think of traditional masculinity. A guy who doesn’t hug [and ] doesn’t like to think about what’s going on inside of him.”

“Vic’s a ----,” chimes in Bautista, using a word that rhymes with “Vic.”

Although Bautista and Nanjiani had a close mutual friend and had heard good things about each other, their audition for “Stuber” was the first time they had spent any real time with one another.

“I like to think we clicked right off the bat,” said Bautista.

“We were both in this very uncomfortable [audition] situation … so we had that in common,” added Nanjiani.

“We were each looking to step out of our comfort zones,” said Bautista. “Kumail wanted to do a little bit of action and I wanted to do comedy.”

But they took different paths to get to know their respective characters.

“I like to prep a lot,” said Nanjiani, who lived in Chicago during his formative years in stand-up comedy. “I like to know all my lines, so on the day we’re shooting I can forget all that prep … and just sort of trust myself that the important stuff will come out.”

Bautista, on the other hand, considers himself a more instinctual performer.

“I’m usually super under-prepared,” he said with a laugh. “I know that sounds awful, and it’s bitten me on the ass a few times. I mean, I know my character and my lines. But scenes always change while you’re doing them, if you’re lucky enough to be working with a director who’s giving you the freedom to do that.”

In classic buddy-movie fashion, Stu and Vic spend more time bickering than bonding — and the confrontation gets physically violent at one point, and keeps on going, almost to the point where WE’RE exhausted watching them go at it.

“That was the first time I’ve done a fight scene like that, where it was really more about the [dialogue] between the action,” said Bautista.

Said Nanjiani: “It’s a physical fight, which is what his character wants, but it’s also a debate, which is what MY character wants. What I like about it is the roles are kind of switched. I’M the one that actually initiates the physical fight.”

A cop (Dave Bautista, left) gets a lift from an Uber driver (Kumail Nanjiani) in “Stuber.”
20th Century Fox

“The relationship between these two guys is what we hope will set the movie apart,” said Bautista.

For two months, “Stuber” filmed in and around Atlanta — with many scenes consisting of just the two leads in that Uber together. Could make for a long shoot if you don’t like the guy sitting next to you.

“I couldn’t imagine going through all those long days being stuck with somebody I just didn’t like,” said Bautista. “Someone who is high maintenance and is bitching all the time. I have worked with those people, [and] the idea of being stuck with someone like that in a little car for 12 hours, it makes me just want to beat the s--- out of someone.”

Take note, any actor that might ever be cast opposite Dave Bautista in the near future, the middle future, or even the very distant future.