Interview with Burt Reynolds
March 17, 2011 by Mike Gencarelli
Burt Reynolds is a true Hollywood legend. He has been in almost 100 feature films and has over 300 television episodes credits to date. He is known for his roles in “Smokey and the Bandit”, “Deliverance”, “The Longest Yard”, “The Cannonball Run” and “Boogie Nights”, just to name a few. This month Burt is attending and doing a Q&A at TCM’s Road to Hollywood screening of “Smokey and the Bandit” on Wednesday, March 23th at the Tampa Theater in Tampa, FL. Movie Mikes had a chance to chat with Burt about him working on “Smokey and the Bandit” and dug up some good stories from the film.
Mike Gencarelli: “Smokey and the Bandit” is loved by many generations, how do you feel it holds up with audiences today?
Burt Reynolds: It holds up great. I was worried about that myself. I thought how is the new audience, cause they have seen it all…heard it all…done it all now, going to go back to this time…which is the age of innocence. For some reason, it is kind of like when you watch “Stagecoach”. They have gotten a more sophisticated way of shooting a western. but you still know when you are watching that film, that were are watching something that has never been done before. When you watch “Smokey”, you are watching people do things with a camera inside of car, that nobody has ever done before. It is like having a baby in a taxicab, it was amazing.
MG: In 1977 you began a long professional partnership with Hal Needham with “Smokey and the Bandit.” Did you know while making it that you had a hit on your hands?
BR: We had no idea. How could you know the proportion of what it was going to do in terms of box office…the slice of the pie. You had “Star Wars” and then “Smokey and the Bandit”. The car chases that we were going to spawn. The fact that Gleason’s career was coming to an end as Mr. Television on one side and starting again in movies. Obviously, there were many other films he did that were just as good or better. His career didn’t jump start with us but it helped it in another direction. Sally was on her way to becoming one the greatest actresses of our time, I think and Jerry Reed was just phenomenal.
MG: Did you find it difficult working with the improv on the set?
BR: No, because I was born and raised under that. I came from that whole second city kind of working. I loved the improvisation. With Jerry, you had to be ready to spin off in every direction. In every single take he never matched and it drove the script girl crazy. He couldn’t remember anything that fast and she couldn’t keep up with him anyway. By the time she had written down what he had done with his hands…he was doing something with his feet. Between that, Gleason and a little tardy everyone now and then…it was pretty insane. The only person that could do all that and keep some kind of sanity and control was Hal. He had been used to juggling those life and death situations. Even though this wasn’t life and death…if was pretty close to it, in terms of comedy and stunt.
Q: How was it working with Dom Deluise and Jackie Gleason?
BR: They were the best and can’t be replaced. Everyday was wonderful. I do not remember a single time that they didn’t make me laugh. They were easy marks too to make them laugh. Then when we all got the giggles…it was a wrap. The entire crew was finished for the day. We had so much fun. Usually that doesn’t transfer to the screen when you are having that much fun. This was one of those rare times, we all knew we weren’t making “The Conversationalist”. We thought that if we could pull it off, then the audience might have as much fun as we did and could twist a few funny bones.
Q: Did you do a lot of your own stunts for “Smokey and the Bandit”?
BR: I did a lot of things that were insane and crazy. Not for the money though, it was mostly for the fun.
Q: Do you feel that any of today’s car films capture the magic of “Smokey and the Bandit”?
BR: Well I would hate to think that we spawn the entire idea of a car case. I think before “Smokey”, it wasn’t an entire three act play about the car chase. In that particular film, we were never out of the cars. It was kind of amazing that they were able to do that and make it work. You can’t reinvent the wheel…but we did a pretty good job of it. In terms of what they do now, what happens is that they are taking more and more chances…dangerous chances. It never translates to the screen…the danger. Usually the more dangerous the stunt, you can’t see it on film and nobody really gets it until you have 138 edits to bring it together. If you really are that good, they you are Hitchcock and you are not conscious of how many edits there are. That is the difference between someone that really knows action like Hal (Needham). Hal has been the highest paid stunt man in the world and had done every great stunt picture up until then. He knew how to make that work and then the other ingredients were (Jackie) Gleason, Jerry Reed and Sally (Field), of course.
Q: What was it about Hal Needham that appealed to you to work together so much?
BR: I think what Hal has, that I think everyone feels when they meet him, is this sureness. Howard Hawks had it and obviously all of great directors who had the power had it. He also had, there was a sense of danger about Hal, not to be cliched about what he did. He really did laugh it off. Men, women, children…everybody found him fascinating. He lived life right on the edge and I found that fun to be around. Also there was a certain cockiness, like a quarterback when you have no time on the clock…he is looking at your smiling and saying “Yeah, we are gonna score”. He has this feeling about him and I liked that feeling. I liked being around it and the whole sense of we are all going to do this together whether we crash and burn or not.
Q: Was there any issues during the production for “Smokey”?
BR: Not one. Not a hitch in the giddy up anywhere. In fact we kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, we thought it was going too well. I mean I remember the first day of shooting, Hal and I looked at each other at 2pm in the afternoon and he said “Well, we already have all the shots” and I said “Yeah, I know partner…let’s go home”. We did that every other afternoon. Everybody was scratching there heads but after a while, you can only shoot so many shots of highway going by. You have to move on.
Q: What is your opinion on the action genre today? Is it getting too overproduced and is it losing its emotional attachment it once gained with audiences?
BR: That is a good question, I think what we have almost forgotten how to do is act with our gut…gut and a little cerebral. We have discussed it to the point where we need to stop discussing it. We are going to talk ourself into getting laid and then talk ourselves right out of it. Just do it and roll it. That is the thing about Needham that we were attracted to and that is what makes those kind of films work. They put you right on the edge. I remember him during the rehearsal, “Gleason…what is he going to say…oh Christ he is having another drink…oh shit…here we go…is Sally ok?..Sally is ok…Jerry is crazy…here we go…ok let’s do it”. We are shooting in a car for Christ sake for 90% of the movie, how do you pull that off? Well some people can, but nobody gets credit for it until the movie is over. You know it works on the film in a gut level, but you don’t know why it works. Nobody is going to give anybody credit for it on that level anyway. On that level, it is just works so don’t try and figure it out… just enjoy it.
Q: What would you say is your biggest accomplishment in your career?
BR: Well, I think my major accomplishment is that I am still here. It is pretty scary when you think about it. The chances of my being around now 50 years ago were zero and none. Now that I am around and we are talking in a civilized manor here, we are not talking about “The Conversationalist”, we are talking about “Smokey and the Bandit”. We are talking about a tiny sliver of the pie of what encompasses the entire canvas of film. It is a sliver. But in that sliver that film has had it effects on everyone, in the sense that it bumped up against “Star Wars” and it did alright! It took on the big boys and never once bitched or complained. It just took them on.
Q: Do you still have any of the Trans Ams that Pontiac gave to you?
BR: Yeah I do…I got one right downstairs in fact. I think in the middle of night of me and car driving around town and having people say “Look at that poor bastard, he has really gone over the edge” [laughs].