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MOVIES : Burt Reynolds Does a Turn as an Old Man

September 11, 1988|DONALD CHASE

As for Forsyth, the director's melancholy comedies have won critical kudos, but only a small (if devoted) following in the U.S.--the art-house crowd. Forsyth is the first to point out: "I can't get away with making $6- or $7-million movies (e.g., "Local Hero" and "Housekeeping") with the kind of audience that my past movies have reached. I've just got to find an audience--or retreat. And I'm quite happy to retreat, I'm happy to go back to Scotland and make smaller movies"--e.g., "Gregory's Girl." "But at the same time, 'Breaking In' seemed a comfortable experiment for me.

"Because," he explained, "although I say I'm trying to reach that audience or see how far that audience is from me, I don't think I'm going that far to get them. . . . You could read (the "Breaking In" script) very innocently as a kind of nice caper with nice characters. But underneath that there is so much compromise and so much duplicity and so much blackmail going on that it seemed to have lots of levels I could work on."

One of the levels that attracted Forsyth is the idea of an older man passing on a legacy--his professional skills, criminal and musty as they may be--to a younger man. This aspect of the script is mirrored in the daily working relationship between Reynolds and Casey Siemaszko, who said, "Just watching Burt work a script, I learned a lot.Like how to make a line work better, or how to make it funnier."

But how have Reynolds and Forsyth been getting on--and how has the former mega-star adjusted to working under low-budget conditions?

Both the director and the star suggest that theirs is a dream collaboration.

"He made the character more human," Forsyth said. "I know people put me down as a director who teases the humanity from situations, but to be honest with you, it's mostly the actors who do that. I'm so objective, so bleak in the way I assess characters that the actors play against me naturally. . . . Maybe the only talent I've got is allowing them to come to the surface when necessary."

According to Reynolds, Forsyth's way of doing that consists mainly of letting the actor "know you own the character." In contrast, "some directors believe they own all the characters in the script." But while Forsyth "wants you to find all the answers yourself," Reynolds stressed, "when you get into trouble as an actor and suddenly feel desperate, he's always right there to ride you through.

"Of course, that is my favorite kind of director. Boorman ("Deliverance") and Aldrich ("The Longest Yard") were that way, and they're among my absolute favorites. Norman Jewison ("Best Friends") also, though he is a bit more intellectual with his work, and Blake Edwards ("The Man Who Loved Women"). Alan Pakula ("Starting Over") is in some ways more similar to Bill Forsyth than any director I've worked with."

This litany of names (and the Reynolds films they evoke) is a reminder that despite his recent lackluster vehicles, despite two "Smokey and the Bandit" and two "Cannonball" movies, "this isn't the first time I've rolled up my sleeves and worked."

Like Forsyth, Reynolds seems split between underscoring and downplaying the "stretch" that "Breaking In" entails. He cites his parable-spouting outdoorsman in "Deliverance," his hurting divorce in "Starting Over," and even the "vain, flip" signature character of roughly 10 films as "stretches" in one sense or another. For his part, Forsyth insists that, departure though Reynolds' "Breaking In" role may be, "it's not a circus trick."

Reynolds also said that "modestly budgeted films are nothing new to me. 'Malone' and 'Heat' were as low- or lower-budgeted than this. . . . There aren't a lot of luxuries, but luxuries sometimes tend to get in the way."

One of the luxuries that Reynolds is doing without on "Breaking In" is the personal costumer who follows him from film to film. He is being dressed by the same costumer who is also taking care of Casey Siemaszko and supporting players Harry Carey, Albert Salmi and Matt Clark.

The crew, or those among them accustomed to sitting out down time in folding canvas "director's" chairs, may simply be getting a load off their feet in Reynolds' bus. Forsyth, out of egalitarian feeling for those crew people not provided with a chair, has banned all chairs, including one for himself, from the set of "Breaking In."

But producer Harry Gittes said he felt it wise to pay the attendant costs of the big black bus that Reynolds has refurbished as a dressing room, so that the star would have some "part of his working routine" on this film. "Instead of making him an island in the middle of all this," Gittes added, "the bus has become a gathering place for the crew."

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