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BURT REYNOLDS IS THE COMEBACK KID

January 04, 1987|CRAIG MODDERNO

"Ten days after shooting began, I knew I was going to take the fall. Clint was playing formula Clint that always worked for Clint. I was playing Jack Lemmon in this strange film where people were getting blown away. I never read a review of the film, because I knew I was going to get killed by the critics," Reynolds claimed with an absence of malice.

"The public wanted 'Boom Town' or to see us in a contemporary film. They didn't want 'Dirty Harry vs. the Wimp.' It's regrettable the material wasn't there, because Hollywood or maybe just Warner Bros. will never let Clint and I act together again."

The "City Heat" fallout, Reynolds fears, may mean two major stars of equal stature won't make films together in the near future. "It's always difficult when you get two leading men on the screen. If I could get Robert Towne excited about writing for two guys, maybe I could get a project done," Reynolds remarks, adding with a shrug, "If they write for two guys today, it's Rob Lowe and Emilio Estevez."

Reynolds has been reconsidering the type of roles he's best suited for in the future. In "Heat," "Malone" and "Rent-A-Cop," Reynolds portrays men of action and violence with their own honor code. The roles are strong and feature many physical scenes that should silence critics about his alleged failing health;indeed, the performance that Reynolds gives as a Las Vegas loner on the cutting edge of self-destruction in "Heat" may well be his best since the underrated "Sharkey's Machine."

"They don't write aggressive characters for my age anymore. I'm not the swinging bachelor who stepped out of a Cosmopolitan layout and into your bedroom now, either. In the past, I didn't allow myself to be open to new writers or risky roles. I wanted to do them, but I may have isolated myself too much when I was on top."

Look over a list of Reynolds' 42 films and you notice an absence of top directors. Could he call a director, like Paul Newman did with Martin Scorsese on "The Color of Money," and suggest they discuss working together?

"Paul had the great idea of playing 'The Hustler' 25 years later. Can you imagine me phoning a major director and asking if they wanted to direct me as 'The Bandit' 25 years later?

"I don't have the cachet Paul has. He could just play characters he did in the past that started with the letter H. I thought of calling ("Deliverance" director)John Boorman again and asking him if he wanted to send Ned (Beatty)and Jon (Voight)and I up the river again."

Reynolds admitted that many of the A-list directors don't call him. Only Norman Jewison, who directed "Best Friends," and Sidney Lumet have expressed interested in working with the affable actor. Reynolds would have loved to have done either Nick Nolte or Richard Dreyfuss' role for Paul Mazursky in "Down and Out in Beverly Hills."

"I'm not saying I could have done them better than Nick or Richard, but the last three years I've felt like I was down and out in Beverly Hills," Reynolds joked.

He added, respectfully:"I used to admire how Sally would call a director and ask him to work with her. I should be able to do that, but I can't. I would have loved to have worked for Peter Weir in 'Witness.' I thought it was a weak script, but he and Harrison (Ford)made it into an almost perfect movie."

In 1977, Francis Coppola courted Reynolds, then the nation's top box-office star, to star in a movie entitled "Tucker" based on the man who invented the Model T. At Coppola's request, Reynolds went to San Francisco, ate a wonderful dinner with the director's family and spent the night.

Ten years later, the memory still pains Reynolds.

"The next day, Francis showed me seven different endings of 'Apocalypse Now' and asked me which one I liked. Then we watched home movies of Tucker, who looked exactly like my dad. By the time I left, there was no doubt he wanted nobody but me."

Four days later, Reynolds received a call from a Paramount executive telling him they wanted to make "Tucker," but not Coppola's six other projects.

"Francis had tied all six projects, which were mostly films he intended just to produce, to me just because I was the flavor of the month. I was really hurt by it. I called Francis and said, 'Don't you want me without using me to push through your other six projects?' " Reynolds' bitterness still is apparent. "His answer lies in the fact that the movie didn't get made. The 'Tucker' incident was very sad."

Still, Reynolds cast his pride aside after reading the book "Gardens of Stone" last year. The actor asked to meet with Coppola, offered to take a screen test, and felt hurt when the director cast James Caan in the lead instead.

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