Burt Reynolds' career was on a major rebound before his death on Thursday, thanks to his patience and a great performance in "The Last Movie Star."
Director Adam Rifkin told TooFab on Friday morning that the actor "waited seven years" to make the indie drama that is currently streaming on Amazon Prime, and as a result, he was "starting to get offered big things."
"Quentin Tarantino's film was one of them. He was really excited about that, and he felt so good about how in demand he was," Rifkin said, referring to upcoming Manson murder crime drama "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood."
The filmmaker confirmed the 82-year-old actor, who died in a Florida hospital after having a heart attack this week, never got a chance to shoot the scenes, though, since they were scheduled for production later this fall. Reynolds was set to play George Spahn, an 80-year-old blind man who rented out his Los Angeles ranch for movie productions, and allowed Charles Manson and his followers to live on the property in the months before the infamous murders of Sharon Tate and six others.
"He was so excited about it, it was such a great cast and such a great film, he was really looking forward to it," Rifkin said.
Rifkin didn't know specifics about the projects his longtime Hollywood hero and friend was considering, but he assured TooFab the movie star went out feeling like one.
"He felt so good about how in demand he was," Rifkin said. "If he had to go, the fact that he went out on top, it makes me feel good knowing he went out happy."
Rifkin told us "Burt loved my film and he was really, really happy with the way people reacted to the performance." But the opportunity to deliver such a soulful performance at the climax of his third act in life was a longtime coming. Rifkin said he was expecting the actor to give up on the project after years of nearly finding financing, only to have the money fall through, yet Reynolds never lost hope and remained loyal to the project.
"On paper, it didn't scream slam dunk to money people, but Burt was very patient," Rifkin said. "Every time the movie would fall through again, I'd have to call Burt and tell him -- because many times we were getting ready to shoot it a bunch of different places and it fell through -- every time I called him I assumed he'd say, 'Look, we gave it our best shot, good luck with it in the future.' But no, every time it fell through he was the one telling me, 'Don't worry, I'm not going anywhere, we're going to get this movie made. Just let me know when the money comes in and I'll be there.' And he held to his word. He waited 7 years."
Although "The Last Movie Star" flew under the radar with only a small run in arthouse theaters, the quality of Reynolds' performance is undeniable and the movie will go down in cinematic history as his last hoorah. "I know he shot a small role in something else, but 'Last Movie Star' is definitely his last substantial role," Rifkin said.
Reynolds played Vic Edwards, a former movie star struggling to reconcile with the reality of his present, uncertainty about the future and the glory days of his past, all while being duped into attending a film festival in Nashville that is far from prestigious. The actor is immediately offended when he shows up to the venue to discover it's being held in a bar and organized by a bunch of young fan boys, led by Clark Duke.
The meat of the movie, however, is the actor bonding with a hot mess of a teenager, perfectly played by Ariel Winter. Her character is given the job of driving the guest of honor wherever the hell he wants to go, including his childhood home in Nashville and eventually a stranger's wedding, but she really just wants to go home and spend time with her lousy boyfriend. As the movie unfolds, the odd couple's tension slowly turns into mutual respect and admiration. The scenes between them work particularly well because the chemistry between them feels real and according to Rifkin, it absolutely was.
"Working with young actors is sort of his greatest joy. The whole young cast really looked up to him and he mentored them all, and it was really sweet to see," he said. "He and Ariel Winter bonded so solidly and he would just be there for her. ... Seeing them bond and seeing them be close and really become good friends, that was really special to see."
When TooFab reached out to Winter for comment, she shared the same statement she posted on Instagram along with pictures posing alongside her legendary co-star. "The world lost a legend today. Not only on screen, but also in life," the actress wrote. "Burt Reynolds was an incredible man to everyone he encountered, and I am deeply grateful that I got to spend time with him in the way that I did. They don't make them like him anymore -- he truly was the last movie star."
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To add an extra emotional punch to "The Last Movie Star," Rifkin seamlessly incorporated footage from Reynolds' actual classics, including "Deliverance" and "Smokey and the Bandit," in dream sequences where the fictional actor literally talked to himself to reflect on career highlights and regrets. While Reynolds' said in interviews promoting the film that he related quite a bit to the character, who appears drenched in melancholy in the film, Rifkin told TooFab Burt was the opposite of Vic in that sense.
"The character he plays is a guy who's down and out, but in real life, Burt has always had a great life," he said. "He's never felt like people forgot who he was. The character I wrote feels that way, but Burt Reynolds in real life [does not].
Rifkin added his friend "always felt like Burt Reynolds, but he just loved to work so much and wanted to work on more substantial projects."
And after watching "The Last Movie Star" or all of the TV interviews he did to promote the film this past spring, it's easy to imagine that Reynolds still had so many great performances up his sleeve.
"He was so quick-witted," Rifkin marveled. "You'd think that because of the guy's age maybe he'd been slowing down a little bit -- no, he was so sharp and so witty."
And surprisingly sensitive, too, considering his reputation as a womanizing macho man who was never shy of holding back his true feelings on a subject. (In fact, just Google "Burt Reynolds hates Boogie Nights" to see just how blunt the man could be about his opinions, even if he's bashing a movie that earned him his only Oscar nomination and a Golden Globe trophy.)
"His persona has always been the swaggery, macho smart ass, but in real life he was a total sweetheart," Rifkin told TooFab. "Just absolutely the most gentle giving, sweet person. And that's something that doesn't necessarily mesh with the public persona, but that's the Burt that I knew."