Ariel Winter costars in comedy-drama, which is released March 30

By Clark Collis
March 06, 2018 at 03:51 PM EST

In The Last Movie Star (out March 30), real-life Hollywood icon Burt Reynolds plays Vic Edwards, a faded big screen notable whose visit to a film festival in Nashville goes wrong when he discovers the event is far from a Cannes-level event. The film is written and directed by Adam Rifkin, whose previous credits include directing Detroit Rock City and penning Mousehunt. Rifkin is also a Burt Reynolds fan from way back.

“When I was growing up in Chicago, Burt Reynolds was my hero,” says the filmmaker. “He was the biggest movie star in the world. He was funny, he was cool, he was ubiquitous. He was in all the most successful films, he was on every talk show, he was everywhere you looked. To me, as a kid, I just thought he was the coolest guy. I wanted to be his friend, I wanted to hang out with him, he just seemed like everything I could dream of being as a cool adult.”

Rifkin wrote The Last Movie Star 10 years ago, specifically as a project for the Smokey and the Bandit and Deliverance star.

“I wanted to write a role that he could sink his teeth into and remind people what a fabulous actor he still is,” says the director. “I didn’t know him. I took a leap of faith and wrote the script on spec. I submitted it to his manager and I said, ‘Please tell Burt that I wrote this movie for him. If he doesn’t want to do it, I’m not making the movie.’ I meant it. There are other actors in his age range but I don’t think anybody else brings along what Burt Reynolds does. He was the biggest movie star in the world [but had] very public ups and downs. I thought that baggage — for lack of a better world — brought resonance to the film and resonance to him playing this part. His manager said, ‘I’ll send I to him, but I can’t promise what he’ll say. Burt does what he wants to do.’ The next day, I get a call from my childhood hero, Burt Reynolds, which was mind-blowing. When I recognized his voice, I was immediately starstruck. I could hardly believe that I was actually speaking to him. Anyway, he said to me that the script hit very close to home, and dealt with some things that he found to be difficult to face. As he was saying that, I thought, He’s going to politely decline the role. But as he continued on, he said, ‘If you had sent me this script ten years earlier, I wouldn’t have been able to face the reality of what this movie’s about, but at this point in my life, at this age, I have to do it.’ He said, ‘I’m in.’ It took seven years to get funded, but Burt was very very patient the entire time. Every time it would almost happen and then fall through, he was the first one to say, ‘Don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere, it’s going to happen, we’re sticking with it.’ He couldn’t have been a more generous partner that way.”

According to Rifkin, the shoot for the film was very much a dream fulfilled.

“There’s a saying: never meet your heroes, because you will inevitably be disappointed,” explains the director. “But, whoever said that, never met Burt Reynolds, because Burt Reynolds is in real-life everything I dreamed he would be like when I was a kid in Chicago thinking he was the coolest guy on the planet. He’s funny, he’s charming, he’s sweet, he’s generous, and just the coolest guy. And he has the best Hollywood stories of anybody around. When he became famous, he sought out a lot of his own heroes from when he was young. So, that’s how he became friends with Spencer Tracy, and Bette Davis, and Groucho Marx, and all of these incredible people. So, he’s got stories that they told him and he remembers everything. [Laughs] The shoot was challenging because I’d want him to keep telling stories instead of getting back to work. But of course we had to be professional.”

The Last Movie Star costars Modern Family actress Ariel Winter as the reluctant chauffeur of Reynolds’ character.

“We needed somebody who was young enough to be believable in the role, but with enough experience to match wits wit Burt,” says Rifkin. “Ariel Winter fit the bill perfectly. She’s an industry veteran, having grown up on Modern Family. She and Burt were great at throwing barbs at each other and giving each other s—, it was really fun to watch. They developed a really really warm bond as well, and they really grew very fond of each other, and it was very sweet to see.”

The cast of The Last Movie Star also includes Clark Duke, Ellar Coltrane, Chevy Chase, and a ’70s era Burt Reynolds, thanks to Rifkin’s insertion of current-day Burt into vintage scenes from Deliverance and Smokey and the Bandit.

The Last Movie Star is a movie about faded fame, but more importantly it’s a movie about growing old, and about how fast the time goes by,” says the director. “I wanted to juxtapose Burt Reynolds at this stage in his life with young Burt Reynolds and footage from his past. Because, no matter how confident we are in our youth, time has other plans, and time is not impressed with our youthful hubris. Time will always win in the end.”

And what did Rifkin’s idol think of the finished film?

“He saw it for the first time at the premiere at the Tribeca Film festival,” says Rifkin. “He said he cried like a baby watching it. He said he’s very embarrassed to admit that, because you’re not supposed to cry at your own films, just like you’re not supposed to laugh at your own jokes. But he did, and he loved it.”

The Last Movie Star is a DIRECTV/A24 release. The film is now available to watch on DIRECTV and is released in theaters, March 30. Watch the trailer for the The Last Movie Star below and an exclusive clip from the film, above.

The Last Movie Star will be released in New York and Los Angeles, March 30.