A Fitting Tribute to a Legend in the documentary “Burt Reynolds: The Last Interview”

Burt Reynolds sits down for his last interview

Burt Reynolds: The Last Interview

Rating: 9/10

Director and Writer: Rick Pamplin

Style: Documentary

Time: 103 minutes

Trailer: www.imdb.com/video/vi4087333913

Review by Mike Szymanski

The first time I was lucky enough to meet Burt Reynolds and interview him as an entertainment journalist, he sized me up and guessed my age and said, “You probably made out during ‘Smokey and the Bandit.’ “

I blushed and recalled my first girlfriend and the drive-in we were at the year before I graduated high school, and said, “How did you know?”

And he said, “Every journalist your age tells me that.”

That interview I did was during the publicity for “Boogie Nights” in 1997, exactly two decades after “Smokey and the Bandit.” Burt was as affable and nice and good-old-boy as the characters he portrayed, and exactly the way you would think he would be.

Writer and director Rick Pamplin also got to fulfill his Burt Reynolds fan-boy worship by interviewing him for a documentary about film financing called “Movie Money CONFIDENTIAL” (see my review about that film here: https://medium.com/@mikeszythewriter/if-you-dream-of-getting-into-the-industry-this-is-a-must-see-movie-money-confidential-movie-d229e51927c7.

It turned out to be the last interview Burt Reynolds did, and shortly after it was filmed in 2018 in front of an acting class in Florida, he collapsed and died of a heart attack at 82.

What remains is a fascinating hour-long interview and this documentary shows the entire unedited version, and it’s supplemented with interviews from friends.

Quentin Tarantino sought Burt out to play George Spahn

It also has a fascinating interview with director Quentin Tarantino, who originally cast Reynolds in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” as George Spahn, the guy who owned the ranch where the Manson Family lived. The part went to Bruce Darn after Reynolds died.

But, Tarantino is in the documentary telling some fun facts about doing a table read with Reynolds and co-stars Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, Dakota Fanning, Al Pacino and others. Tarantino says he is delighted that Reynolds was working on his part for the film when he passed away and the table read was an incredible experience for him to watch.

“He played the part, it doesn’t matter that it wasn’t captured on film,” Tarantino says. “And what a way to go, that’s how I want to go.”

Documentary director Pamplin says he tried to get a script to Reynolds for many years for different films he was working on, and was pursuing him in Las Vegas and Florida. Finally, he got a greenlight from Reynolds when he was filming the documentary and doing this final interview.

“Afterwards, Reynolds asked me to help him out of his chair, as he was having difficulty walking. I lifted him up, he hugged me tightly and whispered in my ear, “Kid, let’s make some movies together,” ‘ Pamplin recalls.

Unfortunately, they never did, but this movie is a record of the legendary actor’s life and career. He talks about making more than 80 films, and enjoying his work in independent films which he did more of toward the end of his life.

His favorite film: “Deliverance.”

His favorite neighbor: Gregory Peck, who lived next door in Beverly Hills.

His favorite job: teaching students acting.

He is good at telling stories; walking with Charlton Heston when neither of them were walking too well, working with Carol Burnett, meeting John Travolta.

This last interview is uncut, unscripted and uncensored, and Burt explains himself, his career, success, secret passions and advice for others. His friends talk about how this superstar sex symbol felt toward the end of his life never having a longterm relationship with a woman at the end, and whether he was lonely.

I was lucky enough to also interview him during the release of the Adam Rifkin film “The Last Movie Star” where he plays an aging star who visits a low-end film festival. He said it was perhaps the best acting he had done in the past 20 years.

Former wife of Burt’s, actress Loni Anderson, unveils his marker at Hollywood Forever (photo by Mike Szymanski)

I also had the honor to see the unveiling of Burt’s bust over his grave that was moved from Florida to Hollywood Forever — one of Los Angeles’s most iconic graveyards. In September 2021, his ex-wife Loni Anderson and his son were there with a small crowd for the unveiling.

The documentary director was writing a treatment for a film for Burt when he said, “I got the call he had collapsed and died at home while reading lines for the Tarantino film. Producers and media offered us tabloid-like money for interviews, photographs or our footage, but we declined, finished and released our movie. There were offers to make a Burt documentary or sell our extra footage as a TV special.”

Pamplin held out to create his own film about the superstar, and bracketed the entire interview with memories from his friends.

What made him such a success in movies? Reynolds paused and said, “You take chances. When they think you’re turning left, you turn right.”

And his advice to new up-and-coming actors is to head to New York before going to Hollywood. “I don’t teach my students acting, I teach them behavior,” he said.

Oscar-winning Tarantino gives a loving tribute to the actor whose career he certainly would have revived (as Tarantino has done with other past screen legends). Quentin was actually named by his mother after Burt’s character’s name on “Gunsmoke.”

He talks of what might have been for Reynolds, but that he left loving what he was doing.

The documentary is scheduled to be released on June 1, 2023.