He’s been in show business for more than 55 years, but it’s not an exaggeration to say that we seem to be in the midst of a Burt Reynolds Renaissance.
The 80-year-old movie star and longtime Jupiter area resident has been in media blitz mode since last fall, to promote the release of his frank memoir “But Enough About Me.” He’s been on talk shows, honored at film festivals and even participating in an impromptu and gleefully viral “Boogie Nights” reunion.
And now, after a well-received appearance at the South By Southwest Film Festival in Austin, the Bandit is returning home to the Palm Beach Book Festival, where he’ll discuss “But Enough About Me.” Local readers know it draws heavily on his Palm Beach County upbringing, including memories of his father, tough lawman Burton Milo “Big Burt” Reynolds, Sr., and Trapper Nelson, the Loxahatchee River outdoorsman.
Reynolds chatted with The Palm Beach Post last week to talk about his dad, the book, avoiding the aroma of Willie Nelson’s tour bus and why it’s a good time to be Burt Reynolds.
Question: You just got back from SXSW to promote “The Bandit,” the documentary about the making of “Smokey and The Bandit” and your friendship with director Hal Needham. How was that?
Answer: It was great. They were nice to me. I hadn’t been to Texas before, at least never got to stop and talk.
Q: It would seem that from all of the appearances you’ve been making, from promoting the book to all the film festival honors you’ve been getting, that you’re having a lot of fun lately.
A: I really am. You know a lot of it is that they think you’re checking out or whatever (chuckles), but they’re so sweet and open about everything, you feel like you can talk about everything. It’s good.
Q: You’ve been a staple on talk shows for your whole career, including your guest host stint on “The Tonight Show.” Do you still enjoy being interviewed or is it a necessary evil?
A: I enjoy it. I always get something out of it, even if the interviewer doesn’t. I like people - you know that - and it’s just good to hear what they want to know. It always surprises me, the questions.
Q: Late last year, the Internet and Twitter kind of freaked out when pictures of you and your “Boogie Nights” co-star Julianne Moore hugging backstage at “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” went viral. I know you didn’t particularly care for that movie, or for making it, so why do you think seeing you two together obviously meant so much to fans?
A: “The Late Show.” That was where the girl threw the bra at me. I haven’t been able to find her. Still looking. (Chuckles.) I guess it was that (fans) had a feeling that what they were seeing (between us) was really true. And it was.
Q: What memories did watching “The Bandit” bring back for you?
A: That was great. I really loved Hal, and he was so damned good at what he did. He was always so prepared, and the crew responded to him. I would see it when he would direct the second unit, and I knew that the crew would be behind him, and were they ever. We started early (in the day) because he was so revved up like he (was with) everything. We’d get out of there at 3:30, 4 o’clock every day.
Q: And I’m sure you didn’t go straight home.
A: (Deadpanned) What?
Q: Moving along…This is not the first book of memoirs that you’ve written, but it’s the first to focus so much on your early life in Palm Beach County. Are you getting a good reaction from locals who remember the great Old Florida things you bring up, like going to see Trapper Nelson?
A: Yes, especially Trapper. He was Tarzan. He swam with the alligators. He was amazing. If he found out we’d skipped school to go up there, he made us swim with the alligators, too.
Q: Why was it important to you to include so much of Palm Beach County this time, especially because most of the readers are outside of Florida?
A: I think it’s important only in the sense that most people don’t know that much about Jupiter and this area, and it’s incredible. It has a whole kind of sweetness that the rest of the state doesn’t have.
Q: You talk about the concept of hometowns a lot, that most people who know of you know that yours is Jupiter.
A: I think it’s really important. I don’t know where a lot of actors are from, or anything about their hometowns, and the ones I do know, it tells you a lot about them, if they’re from a little town and that little town is beckoning them to come back now and then. I understand that. I like that a lot.
Q: You were really open and sometimes brutally honest, as your books always seem to be.
A: I’m reading Willie Nelson’s book, and I really recommend it highly. It’s a wonderful book. My God, he’s so good. It’s like he’s writing a song, (there’s a) rhythm to the way he writes. He beats the hell out of himself, but he always comes out of it.
Q: You guys were obviously co-stars in the “The Dukes of Hazzard” remake, but have you known him for long?
A: I do know Willie. I would get on his bus, but I hated to get on there too long, because if you did, you’d get stoned. (Chuckles) I remember I was doing a picture with Candice Bergen, and Willie came in, and she said to me, “Who is that ugly, dirty old man?” I said “He’s a friend of mine,” and she said “He can’t be!” I said “Come to the bus, we’ll talk” - I didn’t take him to his bus, they came to mine. Willie came in and said “What’s your favorite song, little lady?” and it was totally some song that she figured he wouldn’t know. I was surprised he did. Not only did he know it, but he sang it so beautifully. He got to the soul of every song. “Well,” she said, “that man is a giant.” “I said “What happened to ‘dirty old man?’” And she said “Did I say that?”
Q: Back to your book…Among the things you were open about was your relationship with your dad, who seemed to loom large not just with you but to the community. You wrote that he was a tough guy who didn’t communicate his emotions. Do you think you understand him any better now that you are older and also a dad?
A: I didn’t understand him as much as I do now, and I miss him so much now. I remember once we came in and he was on the chair, sleeping. He was looking like…like he had gone. I put my hand on his cheek and started rubbing it…The sun never set on him. That’s when it really hit home to me, that I could lose him.
He was tough, but he had so many qualities I wish I had. He used to work for Mr. Mac (billionaire John D. MacArthur), and he said to me, ‘You know something, Buddy? Your dad is the most honest man I ever met.’ And I was dumbfounded, to hear that coming from him. That was the point of writing this. It was like ‘By God, I gotta write it, soon. For my soul.’
Q: Do you think you have enough material for another book?
A: I really do. I have a lot of stuff I didn’t go into, that I should have. I didn’t have the time to do it. This book could have been the encyclopedia, for crying out loud.
Palm Beach Book Festival Schedule
April 1 at Palm Beach Dramaworks, 201 Clematis St., West Palm Beach
10:15-11:15 a.m. - Women’s Fiction featuring writers Jacquelyn Mitchard and Dorothea Benton. Moderated by Scott Eyman.
11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. - Conversation with Molly Ringwald. Moderated by Christopher Bonanos.
April 2 at Norton Museum of Art 1451 S. Olive Ave., West Palm Beach
10:15-11: 15 a.m.- Women and Film from the 1960s to Today featuring author Gail Sheehy and movie critic Owen Gleiberman. Moderated by Leigh Haber
11:30 a.m.-12: 30 p.m. - In Conversation with Burt Reynolds, Memoir of the Year winner. Moderated by Scott Eyman
1:30-2:15 p.m. - Thrillers! From Courtroom to Bookstore featuring prosecutor Juan Martinez and author Paul Levine. Moderated by Christopher Bonanos.
2:30-3:15 p.m. - What is Southern Fiction? Featuring Kathleen Grissom amd Margaret Bradham Thornton. Moderated by Leigh Haber.
3:15-3:45 p.m. - Ten Questions for a Literary Agent with Alexis Hurley of Inkwell Management
Tickets are available at palmbeachbookfestival.com or the Palm Beach Book Store at 215 Royal Poinciana Way. For information, call 429-4008 or visit the website.