Burt Reynolds Talks New Memoir and How He's Still Waiting to Hear From Sally Field

The actor reveals the craziest stunt he ever did, why he regrets passing on James Bond and the career advice he wishes he had gotten.
Courtesy of Penguin Random House

Burt Reynolds was the No. 1 movie star in the world in the late '70s and early '80s. Along the way he befriended stars like Jon Voight and Johnny Carson, romanced such beauties as Dinah Shore, Sally Field and Loni Anderson and did many of his own stunts. He is out with a new memoir, But Enough About Me (co-written with Jon Winokur, G.P. Putnam's Sons, $27.95, Nov. 17).

Reynolds talked with The Hollywood Reporter by phone from his home in Florida about the book, revealing what happened after he recently confessed that Sally Field was the love of his life, how he wishes he'd said yes to playing James Bond and the career advice he gives students in his acting class.

THR: You created a bit of a stir recently by saying that Sally Field, whom you dated in the 70s and early '80s, was probably the love of your life. Do you have any regrets about admitting that publicly? 

No, not at all. She’s definitely the one that got away.

Have you heard from her since you made those comments? 

You know, I haven’t, and I’d like to but I haven’t. I thought that I’d hear from her, but I haven’t. I heard that she was very touched by that and wanted to tell me her thoughts, but she wouldn’t tell anybody else. She’s very guarded and for good reason.

Would you be pleased if this rekindled at least a friendship with her?

Very much so. Yeah. I would love that. I saw her son recently. I just spoke to him in a restaurant and he came over and told me that he apologized for writing about me in his book, which I didn’t even know he’d written one. And I said, "Don’t be crazy, don’t be silly. I don’t pay attention to that stuff. You and I are talking right now. I’m really glad to see you and you seem glad to see me and I only have good memories of you," and he got very choked up about it and it was so obvious that it was real. I adored the two boys she had.

The great stuntman Hal Needham was one of your closest friends. Talk about that relationship.

I loved Hal. He was the best in the world in my opinion and I think I have a powerful opinion about that. I can’t walk because I did an awful lot of stunts myself. He was amazing and was a great help to me and also he believed in me. Well, it was wonderful and it was fun. He said he had no place to stay and I said you can come stay in my guesthouse, whatever you want. Well, he was there for four years. He was wonderful. I hung out with the stuntmen and just listened to their problems and things and they were all great guys.

What do you think about an Oscar for stuntmen?

I think that’s a wonderful idea. I always thought that would be a great idea, to have an Oscar for the greatest stunt.

What was the craziest stunt you witnessed?

One that was insane and absolutely incredible was at a live show. He [Needham] went out of the plane without a parachute and flew over to another plane that had the back open — he went in there and they grabbed him, but I mean, it was just insane. And it was only going to be seen by the people who watch that show, and half of them — more than — that would look at these things and say, "Oh that’s all done with, they’ve got something hidden there." They don’t appreciate the courage and also the artistry of what stuntmen do.

What was your most memorable stunt?

Well, it was memorable because it knocked the hell out of me during Deliverance. They had a dummy go over the falls and I said, "I can go over the falls," to John [Boorman, the director]. He said, "Are you sure?" I said, "Absolutely." They had control over the water [from a dam upriver]. They shut it down and I went out, and they had driven a spike into a big rock and I was holding onto it. Then they let the water go and I heard this sound — I dream sometimes of the water coming — I looked around and there was a tidal wave coming at me. I went over the falls and the first thing that happened, I hit a rock and cracked my tailbone, and to this day it hurts. Then I went down to the water below and it was a whirlpool. I couldn’t get out and a guy there said, "If you get caught, just go to the bottom. You can get out but you can't swim against it." So I went down to the bottom. What he didn’t tell me was it was going to shoot me up like a torpedo. So I went out. They said later that they saw this 30-year-old guy in costume go over the waterfall and then about 15 minutes later they saw this nude man come out. It had torn everything — my boots and everything — off.

You teach an acting class in Florida now. What’s that like?

You’d be shocked. There’s a lady who’s older than me taking classes. There’s going to be a reality show that’s in development about the master class that I’m teaching. I look forward to it every Friday night.

What advice would you give to the actors in the class?

If they could learn by my sort-of mistakes, which were that I turned down certain shows that I should’ve done and went after other ones. I didn’t realize at the time that I didn’t do films that I wanted to do — No. 1 in the box office, and I can't believe that I wasn't really going after the shows that I really wanted to do.

What are some movies you wish you had done?

There was a film [Terms of Endearment], Jack Nicholson did it and I should’ve done it. I think, "My god, how often do you get a script like that?" I had done a film for that writer [James L. Brooks] before and we were great friends. He wrote it for me. It was a fabulous, fabulous part and I think I could’ve done it well, but I had said to Hal that we would make a film. Now, in retrospect, all I had to say to Hal was, "We’ll do it after I do this film." And Hal would’ve said, "Sure." I just wasn’t thinking clearly and I had a lot of people that weren’t giving me the right advice —  that should’ve said, "Drop everything and do this film. It’ll do you well."

Others?

There were a couple others. Pretty Woman was one. And, of course, Bond. I said, "Only an Englishman can do that. Americans can’t do that," which is a stupid thing to say. I could have done it.

Is it hard to find good advisers in Hollywood?

That’s exactly right. It’s very, very hard to listen to all those voices coming to you, advice about doing this and doing that. Hollywood isn’t the easiest place to make those decisions. That’s why I got out of there. I’m not down here waiting for a project. I’m down here because I’m at peace down here and my blood pressure drops 10 points when I land the plane. I just feel better down here

Would you do another movie?

Oh yeah. I would do it if it was something that I really think would be a stretch and I could, I guess, surprise some people.

You’re 79 now. Do you think you could do your best work in your 80s?

I hope so. If you can’t do it by then, you should give it up.

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