Burt and “The Bandit”

Actor Burt Reynolds (left) chats with realscreen about working with director Jesse Moss for the CMT documentary The Bandit, and his long-standing friendship with Smokey and the Bandit director and stuntman Hal Needham (right).
May 30, 2016

In a career spanning almost 60 years, actor Burt Reynolds hasn’t had many opportunities to set the record straight about his professional choices – particularly that 1972 pose on a bearskin rug for Cosmopolitan. But in CMT’s original documentary The Bandit, the 80-year-old star of Deliverance (1972) and Boogie Nights (1997) sounds off about that centerfold, its place in the cultural context of the 1970s and a long-lasting friendship.

Directed by The Overnighters helmer Jesse Moss, who fondly calls The Bandit a “buddy documentary,” the film details the making of the 1977 romp Smokey and the Bandit, an unlikely box office hit starring Reynolds that earned an Academy Award nomination and effectively cemented the actor’s status as Hollywood’s good old boy. The film, which bowed at SXSW in March, also details the close bond between Reynolds and his Bandit director Hal Needham, one of the most successful stuntmen in the business at the time.

photo courtesy of aaron welles

Photo courtesy of Aaron Welles

The film is set to be part of New York-based Rooftop Films’ annual summer series this year, and recently closed the San Francisco International Film Festival. Reynolds, who released a memoir last fall and has, as usual, a number of acting projects on the go, caught up with realscreen around The Bandit‘s Austin premiere.

What were your initial thoughts about being involved in the documentary?
I turned it down and then thought about it and decided I would do it. I thought if we had the right people, it would work. Initially, I didn’t know the people involved [but] I came around because I talked to some people that had worked with them and it was all very positive. They were kind of a class act.

How did you feel about revisiting Smokey and the Bandit, and commenting on certain aspects of your career during this time?
Surprisingly enough for me, I enjoyed it. I didn’t think I would, but I did enjoy it. So many things were written that weren’t true, and I thought if I had some control over it, it would be better for me, and it was.

Was it difficult to revisit the Cosmopolitan cover, among other things?
I wished I hadn’t done [the centerfold], first of all. But I did it and I thought everybody would see the humor in it, but everybody didn’t see the humor of it. I had a good time with it, eventually, once people realized that I was doing it with a smile on my face.

What was it like to discuss your friendship with Hal?
I enjoyed it enormously. I thought he was one of the most interesting men in terms of what he had done and in terms of the stunt world, and to ask any stunt man about him, most will say he was the best there ever was. He did things where they would ask somebody to do it and they’d all turn them down, and they’d say ‘Call Hal’ and Hal would do it. He was a tremendous athlete.

Jesse Moss has mentioned that you presented a lot of your personal archives for the doc.
I had no problem with that. I trusted [him]. I wasn’t worried about letting him have access to whatever I had.

How do you think a film like Smokey stands up today?
It somehow holds up. I don’t know how or why, but it does. It’s just the right time for a film like that, I think. A film that doesn’t really have a particular plot but you enjoy yourself. If you let yourself enjoy it, you will.

  • This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.
  • This article first appeared in the current May/June 2016 issue of realscreen magazine. Not a subscriber? Click here for more information.
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