By Isadora Rangel
When Burt Reynolds walks into the room where he teaches an acting class at Lake Park town hall, he is received by a round of applause from his students. Reynolds — dressed in a fringed leather jacket, tight black jeans, cowboy boots and red tinted glasses — sits in an armchair to analyze two actresses perform a comedy skit on stage.
Reynolds, who will perform a one-man show at The Lyric Theatre on Monday and Tuesday, gives tips to his students, from how to perform comedy without being over the top to how to sip a glass of fake bourbon in a convincing way. Every direction he gives is usually received by one of the actresses with a ‘Yes, sir.”
In the 1950s, Reynolds sat in this same room for his first acting class as a student. The town hall used to be part of Palm Beach Junior College and he was there taking extra credit classes after his career as a football player at Florida State University ended because of injuries.
“One afternoon, after class, (my instructor) said, ‘You’re going to be an actor.’ I said, ‘You’re crazy.’ But he kept after me,” Reynolds said.
Reynolds won the 1956 Florida State Drama Award and a scholarship to Hyde Park Playhouse in New York City. That led to a move to Hollywood.
The rest is more than 50 years of history, which the Hobe Sound resident talked about in this edited 30-minute interview and will reminisce on during his show at The Lyric. The appearance was rescheduled from January, when he had a severe case of the flu that sent him to the hospital. Reynolds said he has fully recovered.
Q: How was the beginning of your career?
A: I had some talent, but the talent was so green that I desperately needed training. I started doing live television in New York and that was pretty scary. That was in 1959. After six months, I had an offer to go to Hollywood for a contract with Universal. I thought it was crazy, but everything else had been crazy, so I thought, ‘What the hell, I’ll go.’
I had no idea that within a year I’d have a television series. I was on the show “Riverboat,” which was terrible and I was terrible on it. I didn’t know what I was doing. I listened hard and worked hard. It doesn’t matter how hard you work if don’t have training ... . After the third year they fired me because I was terrible ... . So I started studying hard and I got a chance to audition for another show in Hollywood.
I didn’t get it, but I met some people and in that business that’s a little jump.
Q: How did your rivalry with Marlon Brando start?
A: I looked a lot like him when I was younger. People used to follow me on the streets in New York thinking I was Brando and after a while it bothered me. Instead of being flattered by it, which I should, I was kind of mad about it.
When I met him, he was rather rude. He didn’t like the idea that someone looked like him. I said, “I’m not going to get surgery
because you don’t like the way I look.” He gave me the impression that I thought I was going to be an actor because I looked like him. He didn’t realize I had a catty sense of humor. I said, “I don’t want to get that fat.”
He laughed a little bit and then he got a little steamed.
Q: You and Jon Voight became good friends after “Deliverance.” How often do you talk?
A: I talked to Jon last week. I talk to him every couple of weeks. We went down that river (in “Deliverance”). We almost drowned about four or five times. I was a fan of Jon as an actor because he has been the cowboy (in “Midnight Cowboy”) and we became super close. We talk all the time. He has an acute sense of humor. I’m constantly trapping him because he’s guileless.
Q: What about your leading lady in “Smokey and the Bandit,” Sally Field?
A: Sure. We are great friends. I think she’s the best actress I’ve ever worked with. She is that woman that’s indomitable. She doesn’t care if she’s 5-foot-1. She’s just a killer. She works so hard at what she does. If she has a script, she’s not going to do it unless she believes in it. She’s going to fight for everything. I admire that.
Q: What about Dolly Parton from “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas?”
A: We laughed too much. We probably blew more money than the studio wanted. I adore Dolly.
Q: You won a Golden Globe Award for your performance in “Boogie Nights,” but you have said you didn’t like the movie. Why?
A: I just had a very hard time saying the words. It was rough for me. I had grown up in the age of innocence in television. I said to the director, “I can’t say this.” He said, “You have to say it.” We had real arguments when I almost walked off the set. Finally, you close your eyes and you say, ‘It’s a character. I’m playing somebody else.’ It worked out well.
I only saw it once. I don’t think I’ll ever see it again. I wasn’t too thrilled about it. Everybody else saw something in my performance they hadn’t seen before. Had I turned it down, it would have been a mistake. I’m glad I did it.
Q: You have a movie theater at your house in Hobe Sound. Do you ever watch your movies?
A: No. I don’t like watching them. I did them. There might be things I don’t want to relive. The theater for me is to discover an old black and white film I love.
Q: Can you give me an example of a movie you thought you were bad in?
A: No, because everybody will agree with it (laughs). ... I have done pictures that I thought were awful and they made a lot of money.
Q: Which ones?
A: I don’t want to stuff America’s taste in the toilet. There are pictures that you do, that for whatever reasons, have a lot of success and it isn’t because it’s a good picture.
Q: You own a model of the Trans Am from “Smokey and the Bandit.” Do you still drive it?
A: Sure. I don’t drive it around daytime because I feel I’m going to pull up at a red light and people are going to go, ‘Oh, look at that bastard. He still thinks he’s in that movie (laughs).’
Q: Do people usually recognize you in this area?
A: Everybody knows me. But they know me in a different way, as Buddy, which I like better. It’s not so much the movie actor but the hometown boy.
Q: Tabloid magazine National Enquirer published a piece about your health titled “Burt Reynolds’ sad last days.” What was your reaction?
A: Stop right there. Stop right there. I’m not interested in what they have to say about my health, about my general welfare, about how I feel about women, about how I feel about men. If you want, quote the National Geographic, quote the Miami Herald, the Palm Beach Post.
Q: How have you been feeling since you were hospitalized with the flu in January?
A: I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in the last 10 years ... . If I wasn’t great I wouldn’t be teaching. Sometimes people feel disappointed when you tell them you feel great.
IF YOU GO
What: An evening with Burt Reynolds
When: 7 p.m. Monday and Tuesday
Where: The Lyric Theatre, 59 S.W. Flagler Ave., Stuart
Information: 772-286-7827; lyrictheatre.com
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