What I've Learned

Burt Reynolds: What I've Learned

"I’ve had to reinvent myself four or five times. And I’m now working on the most challenging reinvention: survivor."
IMAGE REX/Shutterstock
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I was number one five years in a row at the box office. But what’s really stunning is that no one until me had ever gone from number one to number thirty-eight in one year.

The greatest actors in the world are the people around you when you’re at the top of the mountain.

God forgive me, but I love the attention of people.

Your bullshit detector gets better with time.

I’ve had to reinvent myself four or five times. And I’m now working on the most challenging reinvention: survivor.

I once said to my friend Ossie Davis, “You know, I was first-team all-state when I was in high school.” And he said, “How many blacks were on that team?” I said, “None.”

For a white guy, I was fast. I ran a 4.4 forty on grass in football shoes.

When I told my dad I was going into show business, he said, “If you ever bring any of those sissy boys around here, I’ll shoot ’em and make a rug out of ’em for your mother.” At the end of his life, whenever he saw Charles Nelson Reilly, who’s rather flamboyant, he’d kiss him on the cheek.

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When my dad said something to me, I said, “Yes, sir.” I didn’t question him. And I was forty years old.

My son said, “If you go to an actor’s house, there’s a picture of the actor and other actors. If you go to a producer’s house, there are Picassos. I think I’ll be a producer.”

I could have won millions of dollars in lawsuits about the AIDS rumors back in 1984. I survived it by my father’s philosophy: “I’ll piss on your grave.”

Nowadays, instead of saying, “He’s a prick,” I’ll say, “He’s complicated.”

Bankruptcy? It’s not pleasant. There are some people who look at you like you’ve got leprosy and their bank account might drop if they touch you.

I don’t play golf. I don’t have a hobby. I’m pretty passionate about my work, even though I sometimes have this realization on the second day of shooting that I’m in a piece of shit. So I can do one of two things: I can just take the money, or I can try to be passionate. But the name of the boat is still the Titanic.

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Paul Newman is the personification of cool.

I’d rather be shot in the leg than watch an Ingmar Bergman picture.

The best direction I ever got was on Deliverance, when John Boorman said, “Stop acting. Just behave. We’ll wait for you, because we can’t take our eyes off you.” I didn’t know he said the same thing to Jon Voight and Ned Beatty.

I can tell a young person where the mines are, but he’s probably going to have to step on them anyway.

"I CAN TELL A YOUNG PERSON WHERE THE MINES ARE, BUT HE’S PROBABLY GOING TO HAVE TO STEP ON THEM ANYWAY."

For a long time, if you were seeing a psychiatrist, you were thought of as being a wacko. But because of good ol’ Dr. Phil, people know we need to talk to someone who just sits there and is nonjudgmental and says, “Do you think it’s a good idea not to have a bowel movement for three months?” Because a lot of stuff gets clogged up there, and you gotta get some of it out. And getting it out is painful, and you can bleed.

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If I hadn’t been an actor, I would have been a coach, and I would have been a good one. All teaching is is communicating.

I once went to group therapy. Everyone there blamed someone else—their mother, their father, their agent. When it got to me, I said, “You’re all full of shit. You’re gonna be here forever. Look in the mirror. You are responsible for every mistake you made.”

The stupidest thing I ever did was turn down Terms of Endearment to do Cannonball Run II. Jim Brooks wrote the part of the astronaut for me. Taking that role would have been a way to get all the things I wanted.

I’ve made fun of myself the person, but I don’t take roles where I make fun of the actor. I’ve worked too hard and too long with too many good people, and I respect myself as an actor.

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What makes me feel good? Old friends.

I hate prejudice of any kind, whether it be color or sexual preference. I don’t give a shit if you had a goat. If it’s a happy goat, and you’re happy, I’m happy for you. However, I may not want to have dinner with the both of you.

My autobiography is a good book, considering it was written in three days.

I live in Jupiter, Florida, which is Perry Como’s hometown. I get second billing.

This article appeared in the June 2005 issue of Esquire.

This story originally appeared on Esquire.com.

* Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.

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