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Burt Reynolds reaches back to his 'Bandit' days before film screening in Tampa

Burt Reynolds reprises his Bandit role in the movie Smokey and the Bandit II. The actor says he’s amazed at the longevity of the Smokey films’ appeal and gives a big share of the credit to his fellow cast members. He’ll travel from his home in South Florida to Tampa on Wednesday for a screening of the original film at the Tampa Theatre.

Universal Studios (1980)

Burt Reynolds reprises his Bandit role in the movie Smokey and the Bandit II. The actor says he’s amazed at the longevity of the Smokey films’ appeal and gives a big share of the credit to his fellow cast members. He’ll travel from his home in South Florida to Tampa on Wednesday for a screening of the original film at the Tampa Theatre.

Burt Reynolds calls Tampa "my other hometown" and it's no wonder. Reynolds spent many of his heydays there, owning the Tampa Bay Bandits football team, filming Cop and a Half, and charming the old Malio's crowd.

Reynolds, 75, hasn't visited lately, in part due to a quintuple bypass, chronic back problems and an addiction to painkillers that briefly put him in rehab. He'll return Wednesday for a screening of his biggest hit, 1977's Smokey and the Bandit, at Tampa Theatre.

"I'm in great health now," Reynolds said by telephone from his South Florida estate. "I have all new plumbing and all new electricity. Never felt stronger."

Here's what Reynolds said about his Smokey and the Bandit cast mates Jackie Gleason, Sally Field and Jerry Reed, and his current Pontiac Trans Am fantasy:

What do you think about TCM showcasing Smokey and the Bandit?

I'm flattered. It's amazing, the afterlife of that film. It seems like 100 years ago. I'd hate to think I spawned the car chase but we certainly were among the first to make it a movie; three acts of a car chase. You couldn't have gotten away with that without Gleason, Jerry and Sally. All those ingredients made it work.

I always believed the movie's secret weapon was Jerry Reed.

I agree. He's possibly the most underrated actor I think I've ever worked with. I used him in a film (Gator) where I had him play the heavy. He kept saying: "Son, I can't beat you up." I said: "Yeah, you can. You can do anything." And he really could. I saw him pick up a guitar and play some of the so-called best guitarists in the world right out of the trailer. He was so amazing with anything he did.

And Gleason?

He was the real missing ingredient. (Director) Hal (Needham) wanted to go with Richard Boone, who I love. Wonderful actor. But I thought we needed somebody totally outside the box, running under their own power, a legend. He'd carry his portion and we could just live up to it. And it worked. Having (Gleason) on your a-- would be frightening.

You wanted Sally in the movie when nobody else did, right?

I remember fighting for her casting all the way down the line. I kept saying: "We have to go with Sally." And (studio executives) kept saying: "She's not sexy." I told them: "You don't understand. Talent is sexy." She is so talented and they didn't get it. She really wanted to gouge that in the eye. She was absolutely fearless.

Smokey is one of those rarities when obviously everyone's having a great time working, and it actually enhances what's on screen.

That's absolutely true. Generally it doesn't. Usually you're having the best time in the world and it doesn't translate. But that situation, it totally did.

Unlike, say, Cannonball Run?

Cannonball Run was so scattered. It was a shotgun with 42 shells in it, just blasted all over the screen. With Smokey, we zeroed in on Sally and Jerry and Jackie; strong personalities and nothing let up. The minute Gleason dropped out of the picture for a second, everybody picked up their portion and then some. Amazing group of people.

Did Pontiac really promise to annually give you a Trans Am for boosting their sales?

True story. They told me I was going to have a Trans Am for life. For six years, I think, I got a new one every year. The seventh year I didn't get one, and I didn't want to be one of those putzes who calls up and says where's my Trans Am. But I became one of those putzes. I said, sorry, maybe you sent it someplace else. The guy tells me: "We didn't mean your life, Mr. Reynolds. We meant the life of our (company) president." Well, he died.

Maybe it's for the better. At 75, you'd need a lot of garages.

I have a beautiful Trans Am sitting just downstairs right now. I often think of getting in that thing, putting a cowboy hat on and driving around town, having people say: "Oh, that poor bastard."

.IF YOU GO

Smokey and the Bandit

Turner Classic Movies presents Smokey and the Bandit with Burt Reynolds attending, Wednesday 7:30 p.m. at Tampa Theatre. Tickets are sold out.

Burt Reynolds reaches back to his 'Bandit' days before film screening in Tampa 03/21/11 [Last modified: Thursday, March 24, 2011 7:46am]

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