Shortly before his death at 82 last September, Burt Reynolds was cast as George Spahn, the blind rancher who allowed the Manson family to stay on his property, in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in … Hollywood. Sadly, the iconic actor died before filming began, and the role went to Bruce Dern. But the Pulp Fiction director still got to spend quality time with his childhood idol, and he relished every minute of it.
“One of the things that was most fun for me on this movie was getting to know Burt,” the 56-year-old enthuses. “I grew up watching Burt all the time. To get to know him at the end of his life, for just a brief amount of time, and spend significant time with him, both in person and on phone conversations that went on for a long time, was incredibly gratifying.”
The Oscar winner isn’t just a fan of Burt’s movies, some of which influenced his own. He was a fan of the Smokey and the Bandit alum’s legendarily charming and uncensored talk-show appearances. “I’d grown up listening to Burt Reynolds tell Burt Reynolds stories on Dinah Shore, Merv Griffin, Johnny Carson and Mike Douglas,” the filmmaker recalls. When they finally met, “Burt Reynolds would tell me a Burt Reynolds story, and I’d tell him a Burt Reynolds story,” Quentin marvels.
But the best part was actually working with Burt. “He came down to the script reading, and that was a thrill,” Quentin says.
“Did Burt get to play the role on film? No, he didn’t. But it was the last role he ever played. He rehearsed,” the Django Unchained writer explains. It seems apt the wisecracking Burt, who was often unfavorably compared by critics to legendary actor Marlon Brando (whom he resembled) early in his career, left Quentin with a wickedly funny quip.
As the cast, including Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio, went around the table introducing themselves, Burt deadpanned, “‘I’m Burt Reynolds. I’m playing the role of Marlon Brando,’” Quentin reveals. The room roared. And that’s no pulp fiction.
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