Burt Reynolds has regrets, but he’s still standing as ‘The Last Movie Star’

SHARE Burt Reynolds has regrets, but he’s still standing as ‘The Last Movie Star’

Actor Burt Reynolds attends the Los Angeles premiere of “The Last Movie Star” at the Egyptian Theatre on March 22, 2018 in Hollywood, California. | Michael Tullberg/Getty Images

BEVERLY HILLS – Burt Reynolds is sitting in a room at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel on a rainy Los Angeles afternoon. But in his mind, he’s picturing the fictional Cahulawassee River from his famed role in the 1972 Oscar best-picture nominee “Deliverance.”

The surging river that propelled Reynolds to Hollywood superstardom appears again by movie magic in his new film, “The Last Movie Star.” Reynolds, 82, was digitally added to “Deliverance” canoe scenes for his new film, talking wistfully to his younger screen self.

The water also serves as a powerful metaphor for getting through life that rushes by.

“The river has much to with my life, my career — you just keep going on,” says Reynolds. “It’s going to try and drown you and beat the (expletive) out of you and do everything else. But you just keep going on.”

Then Reynolds gets that familiar twinkle in his eyes, adding, “And maybe there’s a rock ahead that’s going to hit you.”

Lewish (Burt Reynolds, left) in “Deliverance” finds himself hunting men instead of deer alongside Ed (John Voigt, background). | Warner Bros.

Lewish (Burt Reynolds, left) in “Deliverance” finds himself hunting men instead of deer alongside Ed (John Voigt, background). | Warner Bros.

Both Reynolds’ legendary career and personal life have seen breathless runs and painful rocks. Many are alluded to through the fictional faded movie star Vic Edwards, who has an existential crisis after being tricked into attending a comically low-rent movie festival in “The Last Movie Star” (available on demand).

With his devil-may-care attitude and playful smile, Reynolds was the bankable Biggest Star of the 1970s and early ’80s with a string of box-office hits like “The Longest Yard” (1974), “Smokey and the Bandit” (1977) and “Hooper” (1978), and unforgettable appearances with his “dear friend,” “Tonight Show” host Johnny Carson.

These were followed by career-damaging clunkers, high-profile lost love with his “Smokey” co-star Sally Field and a messy divorce from Loni Anderson, followed by well-chronicled financial problems.

But Reynolds is still standing, even if his walk has slowed and he relies heavily on a gold-handled cane, a condition he blames on the years and his work as a stuntman.

More than that, Reynolds is still finding the humor even when there’s hardship.

“Yeah, I would do some things different. But you can’t,” says Reynolds thoughtfully, before cheekily adding, “You can only lie and say that you wouldn’t do things differently.”

The impromptu line is such classic Reynolds that even he cracks up. It’s that mix of unrelenting humor, pathos and nostalgia that “Last Movie Star” writer/director Adam Rifkin was looking for when he recruited his childhood movie hero, luring Reynolds from his longtime home in Jupiter, Fla.

Rifkin, an independent filmmaker, wrote the film specifically for the star, who has worked primarily on straight-to-video films (2014’s “Hamlet & Hutch”) and TV movies (2011’s “Reel Love”) in recent years.

Burt Reynolds stars with Chevy Chase in “The Last Action Star.” | A24

Burt Reynolds stars with Chevy Chase in “The Last Action Star.” | A24

“People did think I left the business,” says Reynolds, adding that major roles have been tough to come by. “I know an awful lot of people said, ‘Now that you’ve retired.’ And I would say, ‘I didn’t retire, thank you.’ ”

Vic’s travails “The Last Movie Star” mimic his own life, with emotive dialogue often provided by Reynolds.

“I really didn’t know how personal it was until I started making it,” says Reynolds. “There were moments where I thought, ‘Wait a minute, this is me.’ ”

Rifkin points out that “Last Movie Star” exaggerates some of the indignities of faded celebrity — like being put up in a hotel off the highway. But the support from die-hard fans and the star’s unfailing humor were true.

“I know Burt Reynolds looks back at his life with some regret and nostalgia. That’s all accurate. And life rushes past, no matter how famous you are,” says Rifkin. “But he truly enjoys the life of being a Hollywood legend.”

Reynolds has shown both sides of being an icon as he’s re-emerged publicly to promote the film. There was what could be called a small rock, an awkward “Today” show appearance on March 15. Reynolds pined strangely over his lost-love Field (“She was 7 when I fell in love with her”) and made an Internet-viral verbal miscue about host Hoda Kotb’s lips.

But he followed that with a vintage Reynolds turn on Conan, where he and one-time “Tonight Show” host Conan O’Brien waxed hilariously nostalgic on topics ranging from the great Carson himself to how drunk Reynolds was during his infamous 1972 nude photo shoot for Cosmopolitan.

Just like old times on the talk-show couch, Reynolds rolled with it, showing that emotional swagger hasn’t dimmed.

“If you don’t have that, you might as well hang it up,” says Reynolds. “Well, I’m not sure if I can swagger anymore, but I can limp with the best of them.”

Sallly Field and Burt Reynolds in “Smokey and the Bandit.” | File Photo

Sallly Field and Burt Reynolds in “Smokey and the Bandit.” | File Photo

The single Reynolds says he’s in a happy place in his life, even signified by the rose-colored eyeglasses he’s worn in recent years. (“And they help me see better, too.”) He’s content being away from Hollywood. When the wheels touch down back in Florida, where Reynolds has lived since age 9, he feels his blood pressure drop and he’ll call up his best friend since seventh grade for drinks.

“He’s lost his wife and I’ve lost my girl [Field]. We’re just two old farts at the bar drinking and telling lies,” says Reynolds. “It’s pathetic and it’s also very funny when you look at it like that. And that’s how we choose to look at it.”

Reynolds believes the renewed attention could bring an opportunity for more movie roles, even more collaborations with Rifkin.

“I still haven’t done the best work I can do. I hope I get the chance,” says Reynolds. “But I’m at an age where it’s very difficult to be offered great roles.”

Regardless, Reynolds is sure he’s never going to lose that spark, no matter what comes his way. Flexing his gift for gab for a final good ol’ stretch of a story, he lays out how he’s navigated the river and will continue to.

“I’ve been very, very lucky through ups and downs. When you crash and burn, you have to pick yourself up and go on and hope to make up for it,” says Reynolds. “Along the way, I’ve met some wonderful people. And you always run into some jerks. But that would be the same if you were working for the Ford Motor Co.

“It’s a tough business. Very tough. But I always tried to leave a good impression wherever we shot, and I didn’t leave any buildings burning or anything,” he adds with a smile. “And I’ve had a good time through it all.”

Bryan Alexander, USA TODAY

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