Burt Reynolds to share memories of 'Deliverance' after Aug. 16 screening at Lyric

Friday, August 10, 2012

In 1972, a tanned, athletic Burt Reynolds rose to stardom with his portrayal of macho man Lewis Medlock in the backwoods thriller "Deliverance."

The film gave the Western actor prestige and bona-fide star status, but also left him with a broken tailbone from shooting its dangerous canoeing scenes without any stuntmen.

This year, the movie turned 40 years old. It remains a cult classic as well as a source of many stories for 76-year-old Reynolds.

He will share some of those memories with the public during a special anniversary screening Thursday at The Lyric Theatre in Stuart.

But before that, the Martin County resident and Palm Beach High School graduate spoke with Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers about his experience. He explained how he hurt his tailbone, his competitive relationship with co-star Jon Voight and the legacy of the film.

Reynolds, who teaches acting classes at The Lyric's Flagler Center, said not all actors could be in a movie like "Deliverance."

"I wouldn't recommend it unless you're athletically inclined," Reynolds said. "You will get killed."

Q: Why do you think "Deliverance" is still relevant?

A: I think (the movie is about) men trying to find out if they really are men. Men are always talking about how manly they are and how well they would handle themselves in treacherous situations. But you never know until you get into a situation like that.

Q: Why the decision to not use any stuntmen?

A: (Director) John Boorman wanted to use a long lens and bring us down the river and show it was us rowing the canoes. Then, we got down on running water, which was very treacherous. ... It was challenging and we got quite good at it. By the time the film was over, the four of us were very proficient at water rafting.

Q: Some movie stars, such as Marlon Brando and Henry Fonda, are said to have turned down your role in "Deliverance" because of the dangerous canoeing scenes. Why did you accept?

A: (Boorman) wasn't going to use stuntmen. I knew that. So it was going to be almost impossible to find good actors, especially big names like Brando, to do it. Jon Voight is a very good athlete and Ned (Beatty) and (Ronny) Cox had never done movies, so they were too dumb to be scared (both actors came from theater).

Jon and I both knew it was going to be challenging. We have a tremendous affection and respect for each other. But we have always been competitive. We played in softball leagues in L.A. and basketball. So I knew whatever he did I'd do it, and he knew whatever I did he would do it. It worked out good for Boorman that way.

Q: Do you still keep in touch with Jon Voight?

A: We probably see each other in L.A. every other week. I tickle him and he tickles me and we both make each other laugh. We both are very, very fond of each other.

Q: How did you break your tailbone during filming?

A: I went over a waterfall. We had a dummy go over it in my place and I say, "John, this looks ridiculous. I can do that." So he said, "Well, if you think you can do it."

I knew when I got over the falls that I would get caught down below. So they told me to swim to the bottom and the fall would shoot me out. What they didn't tell me was that I would go out like a torpedo out of a submarine.

I went over the falls a 35-year-old man in pretty good shape and when they saw me the next time, I had torn all my clothes off, my shoes, my socks, everything. I looked like 108 (years old) stumbling back toward them and they actually thought I drowned because they couldn't find me. I had gone down to the bottom of the river and it shot me so far, probably 65 yards.

Q: Did you ever go back to Chattooga River?

A: People had been down the river in a rubber raft before, but never in canoes. After the picture came out, they had what they called the "Deliverance syndrome" and they rented canoes and in four years 12 people drowned. They don't allow anyone to go down anymore.

I've done a lot of canoeing since then, like on Colorado River and places like that. I love the sport. I'd never done it before (the movie).

Q: Is it true you used a bone from a butcher shop in the scene when your character fractures his leg? (In the movie, Reynolds' character has an exposed bone after a canoeing accident.)

A: That's right. I wanted it to be terrifying and so I went out to the butcher and found this great piece of pork bone. I said I want to break it backwards and so he did it for me. Then I said, "Do you have any blood?" And he said, "I have lots of blood."

I cut a hole in the wet suit I had on and pushed the bone into it and poured the blood on it. When Ronny (Cox) saw it he got sick. It scared the hell out of him. That's when I knew I had done something right.

Q: Are you similar to your character in the movie, Lewis Medlock?

A: Very much so. If anything challenges him physically, he's all for it. He's one of those guys who think they can handle almost anything.

Of course, I'm an old man now and get myself in problems because I forget how old I am. Somebody was roughing up a girl the other day and I jumped in and grabbed the guy and it ended up OK. But after he walked away, I realized he was about 30 years younger than me.

Q: Did he recognize you?

A: I think he did. But I don't think he did it until the end (laughs).

Q: How was it to work with the author of the book "Deliverance," James Dickey? (Dickey collaborated on the script along with Boorman. He also played the sheriff in the final scenes of the movie.)

A: It was tough. He was loud. He was overbearing and usually in the evening he was drunk.

One time (at a hotel bar) he had the three other guys (Voight, Cox and Beatty) cornered. I was quite a few feet away over at the bar talking to a pretty girl behind the bar and he came over and leaned over me. He was a big man. He was about 6-foot-5 and had one arm on one side (of me) and one arm on the other side.

He always called us by our character names. He says (imitating a drunk Dickey), "Lewis, I'm talking to you, boy." And I said, "My name isn't Lewis. My name is Burt. Tomorrow morning at 7, I'll be Lewis. Until then, you get your damn face out of my face." And he said, "That's exactly what Lewis would say." (laughs)

Q: You have one of the canoes from "Deliverance" at your museum. How did you get hold of it? (The Burt Reynolds Institute for Film and Theatre in Jupiter, home of The Burt Reynolds and Friends Museum, is moving out of its current location on U.S. 1 and Indiantown Road. The Palm Beach County Commission voted unanimously to lease one acre of land in Burt Reynolds Park to the museum, but a new permanent location has yet to be determined.)

A: I was very good friends with all the guys from the crew and I said, "Can I buy the canoe?" And they said, "We'll sneak it out of here at night."

Q: You have a close relationship with The Lyric Theatre, where you will perform for a second time next year. Why do you like the theater and Stuart?

A: I love Stuart. It's a wonderful little town. I like the people there ... I might move the museum up there.

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