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Burt Reynolds Analyzes His Own Movie Career

The Boogie Knight Dishes On His Good, His Bad, and His Striptease Character

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Angel Baby (1961) Burt Reynolds‘ first feature film, in which he played a “bad motorcycle type” opposite George Hamilton: “George can buy a suit and get a tan better than anybody, but he does not throw a good punch. I would have to grab George’s fist and steer it.”

Deliverance (1972) Nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, the thriller costarred Ned Beatty, Jon Voight, and Ronny Cox: “It was my deliverance out of films like [Angel Baby]. There were no stuntmen. Every morning we would go down the river and crash. Jon picked the canoe we were going to use, a beautiful wooden one meant for Central Park. The first day, it exploded all over the river.”

The Longest Yard (1974) A prison-football dramedy, costarring Reynolds and professional players: Hall of Famer Ray Nitschke “hit me hard every play, and I kept saying ‘Ray, this is a movie, not the Super Bowl,’ and he’d say, ‘Not to me.’ One time he tackled me on the way back to the huddle just to remind me he was there.”

Hustle (1975) Starring Reynolds as a policeman and Catherine Deneuve as a call girl: “She had two children out of wedlock and said, ‘So what?’ I thought, Don’t ever make a pass at her, because no matter what you say, she’s heard it. She asked me if I wasn’t interested in her and I said, ‘I am, but you’re like Mount Everest, and I don’t climb.'”

Smokey and the Bandit (1977) A car-chase comedy blockbuster, costarring soon-to-be love Sally Field: “The studio said, ‘She’s not sexy, she’s The Flying Nun,’ and I said, ‘You’re insane.’ I’m positive [one of the] reasons it was such a huge hit was you saw two people falling in love right there on the screen.”

Starting Over (1979) A divorce comedy costarring Jill Clayburgh and Candice Bergen: “Nobody wanted me. My agent said, ‘It’s so hard to convince anyone that if you got a divorce you’d be lost in the single world,’ [but] I sat next to [the director] Alan Pakula at a dinner, and he said, ‘Let’s do a test.’ At the time I was really hot, but I said, ‘Anything you want.’ Everyone was nominated [for an Oscar] but me. I knew the Academy couldn’t get past that I was having a great time, making it look easy.”

City Heat (1984) An action flick costarring Clint Eastwood, during which Reynolds suffered the injury that would eventually lead to years of undiagnosed pain and dependence on a painkiller: “The stunt guy was supposed to hit me with a chair, and it caught me right on the temple. I couldn’t see very well, and I was nauseated all the time. Four or five times Clint said, ‘I’m not feeling well, let’s wrap,’ because he knew that the insurance and all that crap would go on my ledger. Clint knew the picture wasn’t working because I couldn’t be [my character]. The tragedy is it could have been a major box office picture.”

Striptease (1996) A Demi Moore debacle co-starring Reynolds as a broadly comic, sleazy Southern senator: “I thought it could have been a break-out film for me, but [the movie] didn’t quite work because it was on two levels. Everyone else was in a serious movie, and when you put an off-center character [like mine] against a situation that’s serious, it becomes like a cartoon character. Even though most of the critics were incredibly kind to me, they were very mean-spirited about the movie.”