The good ol’ boy attitude. The laugh. The mustache. For a solid decade, Burt Reynolds was one of the biggest stars in the world. From “Smokey and the Bandit” to “Cannonball Run,” Reynolds epitomized the tough guy before the late ’80s brought in the hulking action stars like Schwarzenegger and Stallone.
In the new documentary “The Bandit,” director Jesse Moss (“The Overnighters”) looks back at the height of Reynolds’ career through the making of “Smokey and the Bandit,” the surprise hit of the late 1970s directed by legendary stuntman and Reynolds’ best friend Hal Needham, which follows a bootlegger (Reynolds) as he illegally travels a truckload of Coors beer across county lines while a sheriff (Jackie Gleason) is in hot pursuit.
Reynolds talked to Business Insider about the documentary (airing on CMT later this year), the bra-throwing welcome he got when screening it at the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival, how he reacted when he met “Saturday Night Live” Reynolds imitator Norm Macdonald, and the one stunt he wishes he didn’t do.
Business Insider: Did it take some convincing for you to be in “The Bandit”?
Burt Reynolds: No. I was really flattered that they wanted to do it and that picture [“Smokey”] was some kind of strange little miracle in a way, for the fact that it made so much damn money and it was so much fun to do. As soon as we got [Jackie] Gleason and Sally [Field], I knew we were off.
BI: What was your relationship with Hal up to his death? Were you guys close until the end?
Reynolds: Oh yes. Very close. He was my roommate when we did our first picture together and I was always taken by how prepared he was when he was doing second unit. I knew he would do a good job [directing].
BI: So have you ever had to buy a Coors ever in your life after that movie?
Reynolds: [Laughs] No, I haven’t. I have all I want.
BI: You talk a little in the movie about the 1972 nude Cosmopolitan spread. How much do you feel it hurt your career?
Reynolds: I wish I hadn’t done it because I wasn’t taken as a serious actor. I think “Deliverance” suffered because of it and a lot of other things and I wasn’t pleased that I did it, but at the time I wanted everyone to understand the humour of it. But who knows what lurks in the minds of filmmakers.
BI: I’m sure you’ve been trying to figure that out for decades now.
Reynolds: I have. I have. [Laughs] And I haven’t figured it out, either.
BI: What was going to SXSW like? I mean, a woman at one screening threw her bra up to you onstage. Where you taken aback by the reception you got?
Reynolds: I was taken aback by it. And with the bra incident, I didn’t know who to give it to, and it didn’t fit me. I looked at it and if it was a double D, I might have tried to find out who she was.
BI: But having lingerie thrown at you is something that’s not new for you, let’s be real.
Reynolds: Well, it happened a couple of times in the old days. But now, I mean, I just had an 80th birthday.
BI: Are you aware how popular you are in the current era? Norm Macdonald playing you on “Saturday Night Live,” for instance, is still legendary. Your persona is widely known, regardless of the generation. Do you realise that?
Reynolds: Yeah, I do. And I’m very flattered by that. Now with Norm, when he met me, he got scared that I was going to punch him out, and I told him I thought he was wonderful. I don’t want to be thought of as a total idiot, but I do like the idea that somebody is playing you and having fun with it and I always had fun. I always felt I was playing a part — I mean I still do. I’m having fun with the business. I’ve been very lucky.
BI: You were known to do many of your own stunts. Do you think actors tend to migrate to the stunt guys? You hear about it with Tom Cruise.
Reynolds: There’s a lot of truth in that. And with Tom, he’s very brave with the stuff that he does. And he wants to be thought of as that because for such a long time he was a pretty boy and smaller than he wanted to be, I think. The stunts that he’s done, it’s obvious it’s him, and I’m very impressed with that. I’ve told him that.
BI: Is there a stunt you did that, looking back, you wish you had a stuntman do?
Reynolds: [Laughs] Yeah, there’s a couple. When it’s cold and I’m limping around I think, “Why didn’t I let Hal make some money and I just sit down?” But you can’t go back. It was a dumb macho thing.
BI: Entertain me with one example.
Reynolds: I went over the falls in “Deliverance” and I hit a rock and cracked my tailbone. I tell everyone I was a 31-year-old guy in great shape before I went over the falls. And once I got in they couldn’t find me. I remembered one of the stunt guys said to me before the stunt, “If you get caught in the hydrofoil and you can’t get out, go to the bottom and it will shoot you right out,” but he didn’t tell me it was like being shot out of a torpedo. I came out of the river about a mile away it seemed like, and I came out with no clothes. I had no shoes, socks — the falls tore them off. It was a pretty hairy stunt.
BI: And did you just play it off and go on with the day, or did you tell the guys you were hurt?
Reynolds: Oh no, I went on with the day and told them I was fine. If I told them I was hurt, they would have gotten all over me for insisting on doing it. So I just went on with the day.
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