Are you Burt Reynolds in disguise? When plastic surgery, toupee and clean shave left actor almost unrecognisable
Then 60 years old, actor was a jarring sight on the interview circuit for Striptease, box office bomb that preceded his star turn in Boogie Nights a year later
When a film looks like it will be a smash hit, it can be a dream job to interview actors and actresses. But when it’s a stinker, interviewing the cast can be another experience altogether. Following the New York screening of Striptease in June of 1996, the feeling was that the movie might be a mega-bomb, a summer disaster.
Perhaps sensing this mood, Demi Moore, the film’s star, who was paid a record US$12.5 million, skipped the interview circuit altogether. Co-stars Ving Rhames and Robert Patrick, also picking up on the unease among journalists, turned their sessions into lighthearted, anything goes forums. Director Andrew Bergman gamely endured questions with a mixture of acceptance and defiance.
However, for Burt Reynolds, his turn as philandering Congressman David Dilbeck represented a potential comeback of sorts. After being a top box office star in the late 1970s and early ’80s, the roles that he had famously turned down (including Han Solo and James Bond) were infinitely more notable than his most recent output, which consisted of such straight-to-video films as Cop And A Half (1993) and The Maddening (1995).
As Dilbeck, the then 60-year-old was one of the film’s few high points, letting it all hang out literally in one scene as he comically greased himself up with Vaseline and danced around in his underwear.
Meeting him, though, was a different story. In a room that was eerily dark, save for a single spotlight, Reynolds appeared almost demure as he sat in a basic steel chair. His outfit was elegant and conservative, consisting of a grey suit, red tie and button-down shirt. But his face, close up, was virtually unrecognisable from his smirking Smokey and the Bandit heyday.
Obvious plastic surgery around his eyes had made his face flatter and wrinkle free. The lack of his trademark moustache was another jarring sight. A tasteful, wavy salt-and-pepper toupee completed the appearance. The total effect was like looking at a Burt Reynolds doppelgänger, one that kept you transfixed, mesmerised and off guard.
His conversational style was friendly and reserved, far from the outsize performances he had given in many of his films. His genteel Southern upbringing revealed itself in a manner that was honest and reflective.
Striptease, he admitted, was an opportunity he wanted to take to get back on the comeback trail. He noted that he had turned down a lot of iconic parts, some of which he ruefully regretted, but hoped that he could turn things around. Dilbeck, he said, was a role modelled after a lot of politicians he had seen and met growing up, and was a part he felt he could really have fun with.
Then, the unthinkable happened. A camera malfunction in the room forced filming to stop for several minutes. And there you are, a journalist and a movie star alone in a suddenly silent room together with time to kill. That’s more time to look at that iconic face, a face that’s Burt Reynolds’, but somehow not at the same time.
“Where’d you say you were from?” Reynolds asked. “Hong Kong?”
“Do you know Jackie Chan? He and I did a few projects together and talked about doing more,” Reynolds said, warming to the theme. “He and I did the same kind of stunts. This was at a time when stunts were real stunts.
“I’d been to Hong Kong a few times and even did stunts there. There was one where I jumped from a six-storey building into nothing but a bunch of boxes. Foolishly, I did it. Even now, on certain days I can feel the wind all the way down to my tailpipe.”
He smiled, smirking at the memory.
The camera problems got fixed and the interview resumed all too briefly before coming to its conclusion. As Reynolds shook hands, you realised he probably had a lifetime of these stories, and precious few opportunities to share them.
Striptease would go on to be a critical bomb, winning six Golden Raspberry Awards, but a successful video at the same time. Reynolds, meanwhile, would receive a Golden Globe for his appearance in 1997’s Boogie Nights and continued to act both in television productions and films until his death.