HOLLYWOOD — At some point in the 1980s, Burt Reynolds came face to face with the fact that maybe he shouldn’t keep trying to play the kind of leading-man roles that had been his stock-in-trade for more than 30 years.
“I’d see (Charles) Durning and (Rod) Steiger come in for two weeks and steal a picture while I was still jumping off buildings,” says Reynolds.
“When you’ve had zigzags like I have, you have to reinvent yourself and do something like ‘Boogie Nights’ and be willing to be the geezer of the month.”
From high-spirited hunk to geezer of the month, Reynolds’ career spans over 80 features and hundreds of TV appearances. At the peak of his popularity in the 1970s, his good looks and boyish cockiness turned him into a box office magnet. And while no longer a star of the same magnitude, he remains popular and productive. In recognition of his body of work, Reynolds will receive a special tribute at this year’s Deauville Festival of American Cinema.
Ruda Dauphin, the fest’s U.S. director, says Reynolds “has been a star in Hollywood for a long time, he’s popular in France and deserves a tribute at this point in his life.”
Deauville will honor Reynolds on Sept. 7, celebrating the occasion with a world premiere screening of the film “Tempted,” in which he co-stars with Saffron Burrows.
“I’m flattered and honored,” says the 65-year-old Reynolds of his Deauville tribute. “I’m not the first to say it, but the French remember you for your best work and not your last. Since ‘Deliverance’ they’ve been very kind.”
Deauville will screen a number of Reynolds’ films from among a list of his choosing, including: “Boogie Nights” (1997), “Breaking In” (’89), “The Man Who Loved Women” (’83), “Stick” (’85) “Sharkey’s Machine” (’81), “The End” (’78), “The Longest Yard” (’74), “The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing” (’73) and “Deliverance” (’72). (The final lineup will be determined in part by whether or not organizers can locate prints with French subtitles.)
“I went with some films that were well received critically but didn’t do a lot of business,” he says. “I was interested in some films, like ‘The End,’ that I directed. It was a comedy about death and until that time no one had done something like that. The studio was a little afraid of it.”
Other features directed by Reynolds are “Sharkey’s Machine,” “Gator” and “The Last Producer.” He also has helmed a number of TV movies, and produced for film and TV.
Reynolds refers to “Breaking In,” directed by Bill Forsyth, as a kind of pilot project in the self-reinvention that culminated in “Boogie Nights.”
“I played much older than I was in ‘Breaking In’ in anticipation of getting to that point,” he says. “I wanted to show I was more than willing to be the father of Tom Cruise or whoever. Leading men have a tendency to hold on too long. The man who’s made the best transition is obviously Clint (Eastwood). He made it with dignity and style.”
Richard C. Sarafian, who directed Reynolds in “The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing,” believes he has a range that was limited not so much by talent but by the roles he chose to play.
“A lot of Burt’s choices as an actor went toward the fun-loving, swashbuckling, romantic-type characters because I think that’s what he thought people wanted,” says Sarafian. “But he has a serious side. You saw it in ‘Boogie Nights.’ He’s as sensitive an actor as I’ve encountered.”
Though he may be revealing hidden sides as an actor, Reynolds isn’t about to lose his wise-guy sense of humor.
“I think I’m just now figuring out how to act,” he adds. “I’m ready to do my best work, if Sean Connery doesn’t get every friggin’ part.”