THE MAN WHO WANTED
TO STOP BEING MISTER MACHO
When I interviewed Burt Reynolds
for The New York Times in 1976, he had no dreams of being the next
Robert De Niro. He had much more interest in being the next Martin
Scorsese. I wonder what he's dreaming about these days? --Guy Flatley
may come as a big shock to most people, especially the people in
New York, but my ego doesnt need stretching anymore,"
said Burt Reynolds, who has turned director with "Gator,"
a spirited adventure-comedy in which he plays a reformed moonshine
runner. "I could walk away from the adulation I get as an actor
and never miss it. Id much rather be a chess player than a
chess pawn. Besides, there are a lot of good actors coming along
to take my place on the top 10. What we need are good directors.
Most of the young directors Ive met only want to sit around
and discuss, Do you want to work from the inside out, or from
the outside in? Which is intellectual bull. They dont
even know where to put the camera."
Mr. Reynolds is not bidding a total adieu to acting, even though
he plans to direct all five of the films he is committed to do for
United Artists. Before then, he will be seen in "Nickelodeon"
Peter Bogdanovichs valentine to silent movies, due
to open here in November as well as "Smokey and the
Bandit," a takeoff on car-crash films in which his daredevil
mission will be to drive 400 cases of beer from Texas to Atlanta
within 48 hours, and "Semi-Tough," a steamy tale of football
players and their women. Clearly, Hollywood producers would be content
to keep the brawny actor-turned-director busy on his customary side
of the camera.
"There is just so long that I can go on jumping out of windows,
off cliffs and over cars, and since no one was offering me the kind
of roles I wanted to play, I felt I had to go into another area,"
Mr. Reynolds said. "I desperately wanted to do One Flew
Over the Cuckoos Nest, but they went with the guy who
had been nominated for an Oscar the year before and had won the
New York Critics Award. I think Jack Nicholson was brilliant in
the movie; I just wish I had had the chance to be equally brilliant.
The role was a serious one, but it also required a gift for comedy,
and comedy is what I do best. Im not trying to compete with
heavy actors like Al Pacino and Robert De Niro, but I would be happy
to compete with anybody including Redford and Newman
in film comedy.
"I made my own bed and now I have to lie in it," he said, referring
to his public identity as a defiantly virile jock, an image he believes
has cut short his growth as a serious actor. "Unfortunately,
Deliverance, in which I gave my best performance, came
out at the same time as that Cosmopolitan centerfold," he recalled.
"And since Im not one to hide out in the mountains of
Utah or the flats of Greenwich Village between movies, I went on
talk shows and became a personality. That hurt me, but its
a little late to do anything about it. I did everything I could
to blow this Mr. Macho thing to smithereens."
A reflection of Mr. Reynoldss sentiments about sexual role
playing is the fact that he changed the ending of "Gator."
Instead of walking off into the sunset with Lauren Hutton, he now
gets dumped by her.
"Ive wanted to make a comment on my image for a long
time," he explained. "Ive never said I love
you to a girl in a film and had her say, Thats
nice and then walk away. I usually ride off in a car with
the grass burning behind me and the girl pregnant. I wanted very
much for this girl to be a 76 woman, an ambitious person capable
of not running off with Harry Handsome, having three kids and going
bowling one night a week. Shes given the choice of going to
New York and becoming an anchorwoman on TV or staying in the swamp
with a guy she finds sexually attractive. So she says goodbye and
goes off to be Barbara Walters."