Why Burt Reynolds Hated One of His Most Famous Roles

This film earned the late Burt Reynolds critical acclaim, a Golden Globe win, and an Oscar nomination just when his career needed it most. And yet, it's the one he openly despised, turning it down seven times and then firing his agent after.

Why Burt Reynolds Hated One of His Most Famous RolesCROLLALANZA/Shutterstock

If actors work long enough, chances are that there will be at least one or two projects they’d prefer weren’t on their résumé—unfunny comedies, big-budget stinkers, stories that didn’t age well, gigs they clearly took just to pay off the I.R.S. (or the divorce lawyer). It’s almost never a film showered with awards nominations and fawned over by critics, let alone one that is stacked with decorated and respected stars, directed by an auteur, and beloved by audiences.

But such was the case with the late Burt Reynolds, who died at 82 of cardiopulmonary arrest, as he absolutely hated playing neckerchief-wearing porn director Jack Horner in 1997’s Boogie Nights, even though the character won him a Golden Globe and secured him his only Academy Award nomination. (He lost to Robin Williams and at the time said he’d rather win a Heisman Trophy than an Oscar.)

The job, the praise, and the renewed fame came when his career needed it most. He had been the top-grossing star from 1978 to 1982 thanks to films like Smokey and The Bandit, The Cannonball Run, Starting Over, and The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas, but the mid-1990s were rough for the mustachioed macho man. He took a series of forgettable and terrible parts, got involved in some bad investments, went through a very messy public divorce from actress Loni Anderson, and ultimately filed for bankruptcy. Still, he hated Boogie Nights so much that he’d turned down the role seven times, according to an interview with Conan O’Brien earlier this year, and was so unhappy with it, despite never seeing the finished product, that he fired his agent afterward. Find out the movie role Burt Reynolds regretted turning down the most.

What could possibly be the reason for his disproportionate distaste for the Dirk Diggler story? It “just wasn’t my kind of film,” he told O’Brien. He went further saying it “made me very uncomfortable.”

It didn’t help that there was great tension between him and director Paul Thomas Anderson. Reynolds explained on O’Brien’s talk show, “I don’t think he liked me. I wanted to hit him.” He also told GQ in a 2015 interview that “personality-wise, we didn’t fit. I think mostly because he was young and full of himself. Every shot we did, it was like the first time [that shot had ever been done]. I remember the first shot we did in Boogie Nights, where I drive the car to Grauman’s Theatre. After he said, ‘Isn’t that amazing?’ And I named five pictures that had the same kind of shot. It wasn’t original.”

Anderson, who still asked Reynolds to act in his next film Magnolia (and was immediately turned down), was also open about the disconnect and “intensity on set” when he appeared on The Bill Simmons Podcast last year. Anderson admitted, “Burt and I kind of got into it. There was a really tense three days on the set. It was the middle of summer, it was really hot, and we were all stuck together in that house for a long time. Things were just heated. The other 57 days were really fun and a lot of laughs.”

It wasn’t the first time Reynolds hated something that was otherwise appreciated by a large group of people. He also really regretted the totally nude (and very hairy) Cosmopolitan centerfold he posed for on a bearskin rug in 1972. (Ironically, that raw and simultaneously goofy ’70s sexiness that originally sold 1.5 million copies filled social media sites and news reports after his death.) “It was really stupid. I don’t know what I was thinking,” he told AOL in 2016, adding that he was “totally zonkered when I did the picture. That stupid smile, that’s what it is you know.”

Reynolds felt that photo shoot cost him an Oscar nomination for the backwoods survival film Deliverance, famous for its uncut and uncomfortable hillbilly rape scene, as it was released two months earlier because the spread meant he “wasn’t taken as a serious actor. I think Deliverance suffered because of it and a lot of other things, and I wasn’t pleased that I did it, but at the time I wanted everyone to understand the humor of it,” he had said.

“I look back on it and I shudder, I just shudder,” he said in 2017, according to The Telegraph. “What an ass. What an egomaniac would do something like that.”

Reynolds did, however, admit to “enjoying” the fuss made over the “fiasco” in his 2015 biography But Enough About Me, and that “it would be a milestone in the sexual revolution and [editor Helen Gurley Brown] said I was the one man who could pull it off.”

Next, find out why we’re so sad when celebrities die, even though we never knew them personally.

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Carrie Bell
Carrie Bell is a Los Angeles-based writer who has been covering travel, entertainment, food, and other culture/lifestyle topics for nearly two decades. Her work has appeared in Reader’s Digest, People, Yahoo, Cosmopolitan, Fodor’s, and Bridal Guide and she is Southern California specialist for TripSavvy. She earned a BA in journalism at Humboldt State University in only three years and co-authored The Bathtub Reader: An Amusing Miscellany for the Discerning Mademoiselle.