Smokey and the Bandit: Burt Reynolds stars in 1977 film
Burt Reynolds certainly had an impressive Hollywood career, including the Cannonball Run films, which are back on TV this weekend. His early career was blighted with despite numerous false starts – most of which were caused by his own behaviour when he did get jobs. However, he also made a spectacular series of poor judgements. Most film stars have numerous tales of near misses, roles they narrowly lost to others and others they themselves regretted turning down. Reynolds leaves most of them in the dust and just before he died opened up about some of his biggest mistakes.
In an interview just months before he died in 2018, Reynolds said: “I don’t think there’s any actor who doesn’t think he’s made bad career choices.
“I was recently with my friend Clint Eastwood, who’s had one of the most successful careers of all. We were laughing about the mistakes we made and he talked about a couple of films he wished he hadn’t made. I have a lot more than that! You learn from it though – you learn to be a better actor.”
Although there were two immense roles he turned down, the star made his first mistake years earlier in 1970.
Burt Reynolds admitted his regrets months before he died
Ever since his football dreams ended in injury, Reynolds had been trying to break through on stage and screen from the late 1950s.
Producers repeatedly commented on his physical resemblance to Marlon Brando, and on his undoubted sexual appeal. Talent agent Kew Wasserman signed him to Universal for seven years, saying: “I don’t care whether he can act or not. Anyone who has this effect on women deserves a break.”
But Reynolds was repeatedly boxed into cardboard action roles and then made a cardinal mistake when he was cast in TV Western series Riverboat in 1959, but quit after 20 episodes, complaining about his “stupid part.”
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It damaged his reputation, leading to “depressing years” scrabbling for bit parts on other shows.
He finally landed a lead role on another TV Western Gunsmoke in 1962 and stayed for three years. Minor film roles and others shows followed until he was offered a lead in the film MASH in 1970.
Despite constantly complaining that he wanted to try more challenging roles away from action tropes, Reynolds turned the film down. The classic Korean War dramedy cost only $3million to make but raked in $82million at the box office.
The following year, Reynolds was cast in what would become another all-time iconic film but turned down the role.
Burt Reynolds as Lewis in Deliverance in 1972
The Godfather had already cast Marlon Brando and Vito Corleone, and Reynolds beat out Al Pacino and Ryan O’Neal for the role of his son Michael. However, there was a simmering tension between the two stars and apparently, Brando threatened to quit if Reynolds stayed – so he bowed out.
In 1972, his performance in Deliverance should have won him an Oscar nomination. But he blew his chances by famously posing for Cosmopolitan magazine – lying naked on a bearskin rug with his left arm protecting his modesty.
He later said: “It seemed like a good idea at the time – but now I think it was really stupid. But you can’t regret things like that, you have to move on.”
And still, there were more major misses yet to come, with the tantalising thought that he passed on Randle in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest in 1975. The role, of course, went to Jack Nicholson, and in 2018 Reynolds could only say “I’m an idiot.”
Burt Reynolds naked Cosmopolitan picure
He was then lined up for Rocky Balboa in 1976. The studio was keen, but writer Sylvester Stallone refused to relinquish control of his character and withstood immense pressure to insist he himself should play the title role.
Reynolds’ time would finally come later that decade with a cavalcade of box office smashes once he was finally able to display the innate devilish charm that had been hidden behind his matinee idol looks.
1974’s The Longest Yard was followed by Smokey and the Bandit in 1977, which started a six-year box office reign as the annual highest-grossing Hollywood star. Other notable successes included The Cannonball Run in 1981 and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas the following year.
In the middle of all of that, Reynolds was offered a quirky film about an orphan in a galaxy far, far away. Not the Luke role, but the roguish Han Solo.
He turned it down flat and in 2016 admitted: “I just didn’t want to play that kind of role at the time. Now I regret it. I wish I would have done it.”
A few months before he died, he simply said it was because “I don’t like science fiction.”
The actor’s career would suddenly falter in the mid-1980s but at the start of his golden run he was actually offered the first of the two biggest film franchises of all time.
This time he knew exactly how big it was, since the lead role in a franchise that had already been topping the box office worldwide for twenty years.
Burt Reynolds in Smokey and the Bandit
In 1982 the James Bond producers were told that Roger Moore wanted to leave the role after his previous outing in For Your Eyes Only.
Reynolds was approached and in later life would reflect that he was the actor who turned down Star Wars and James Bond. He explained his reasoning at the time was that he believed the role could only be played by a British star. Clint Eastwood had said the same when he was approached years before.
However, in 2015, Reynolds said: “It was a stupid thing to say. I could’ve done it and I could’ve done it well.” In 2018 on Watch What Happens Live he told host Andy Cohen he absolutely regretted his decision.
On the show, he also responded to the fact he had turned down 1983’s Terms of Endearment. The role, again, went to Jack Nicholson – who won both his Oscars for roles Reynolds had rejected. The actor mimed choking himself at the thought.
And lastly, when it was revealed he had also turned down the Richard Gere role in Pretty Woman, he repeated: “I’m an idiot.”