He played an alpha male who goes wild in Deliverance, an ex-football star in The Longest Yard, and a porn director in Boogie Nights. Now, at the age of 80, Burt Reynolds is shedding his tough-guy image to show his tender side. In Apple of My Eye, which arrived on DVD on Jan. 10, Reynolds stars as an animal trainer trying to help a young girl — who lost her sight in a riding accident — by teaching a miniature horse named Apple to be her surrogate set of eyes. We caught up with the legend on the phone during his downtime in Jupiter, Florida.
How was it working with a costar with four legs?
Apple [was trained] really well, and it was beautiful to work with him. In my lifetime I’ve worked with many horses and had many horses. I’ve had probably 100 horses at one time. They have a mind of their own. I did a picture called Navajo Joe that was not terrific, but the horse was wonderful. His name was Destifinato, and I swear to you, this horse and I just were connected. He wasn’t a beautiful horse: He didn’t have a tail, and he didn’t have a mane. So I said, “Well, let’s give him one.” They looked at me a little strange, and I said, “Well, you know, I understand that really well.” We gave him a mane, and we gave him a tail, and I swear to you, he looked at me and said, “You’re the guy that did this for me.” He used to just follow me around. I mean, it was amazing.”
So you’re an animal guy — is that why you decided to do this movie?
I don’t think it’s covered much in films, the relationship between a blind girl and a horse, and it’s something that I wanted to do. I wanted to do a family film. I haven’t done one. I hope there will be a whole audience of kids. I haven’t had an awful lot of success in terms of audiences, say, 18 and [below]. And I always wanted to pick up part of that audience.
This isn’t exactly PG-rated, but I have to ask about your now-infamous Cosmopolitan centerfold, and the editor Helen Gurley Brown, who asked you to pose nude.
Well, I got along great with Helen. I think she had a different idea about how the picture was going to be taken. I wanted to send up the whole lecherous idea of men looking at Playboy.
That was my whole point — the women that were ogling, or whatever you want to call it, I think they were having fun, you know? It was not anything more than that. I wasn’t expecting to start any riots. It was fun. I don’t regret it. If I had it to do over again, I might do it a little differently. It cost me some very good reviews in Deliverance, because it came out at the same time and there was a lot of talk. But I don’t pay much attention to that. You just do it, that’s all. I mean, the question is, “Would I do it again?” Yeah, I think so.
Seems like you don’t have too many regrets. Are there some film roles that you turned down in the past that you wish now you had taken? For instance, James Bond?
Well, I thought at the time that the man should be English and not American, and in retrospect, I think I could have done it, I think I could have done a good job with it, and I figure I would have had a hell of a lot of fun with it. But at the time, quite honestly, I was a little afraid of it. I just didn’t think it should be as American as I am.
Who is your favorite Bond?
I know them all, and I like them all. Sean Connery is the best one, I think. But in terms of just being Bond, Roger Moore is Bond. I mean, Roger is so well-trained in terms of just panache and knowing — I don’t know what to order first in restaurants and where to go. It’s not my cup of tea. But Roger has just always been made for the manor. He’s very well-versed. And yet, he’s tremendously well-liked. I’ve had great laughs with him, and he gets along well with Sean Connery and the other people. So, I don’t think there’s anything about him that you wouldn’t like. He makes fun of himself, which I really think is the most important thing.
What are some films or performances of yours that have been under-appreciated? If you could get people to take a second look at them, which would you choose?
I’d say Starting Over is my favorite film, only because it’s so close to me and the way I, Burt, feel about things, life and getting along with people, etc. And I just had a great time doing it, too. I thought the cast was wonderful. Jill Clayburgh was so sweet, and Candice Bergen is truly special. The Longest Yard was my favorite movie because I got to play football and get paid for it, and that’s what I always wanted to do.
What about young actors who are working today — who do you like to watch?
There’s the guy in a drummer picture [Whiplash], Miles Teller. I think he’s terrific.
You have a history with President-elect Donald Trump. [They both were owners of football teams in the short-lived United States Football League in the 1980s.] Did you happen to hear Meryl Streep’s speech at the Golden Globes?
No, I didn’t hear it. I like Donald, but I’m not interested in politics. I like him only because of the way he treated a few athletes I knew. He had a terrific kind of empathy and feeling for them. I wish that we could have handled the football league that I was in better. And I think he was responsible for its demise. He’ll admit that. But I like him because he’s always spoken the truth, to me, anyway, and he’s been very open.
You recently told the Guardian that Trump is “doing what I used to do — having a good time being arrogant.” Why the past tense? Are you less arrogant now?
Yes, I am much less, I think. You have to be. After you get to be my age, you’re going trip over yourself anyway. It’s time to cool it, especially with the ladies. I’ve had some wonderful ladies in my life, and I want to keep it that way. I don’t want to have them turned off by this arrogant jerk. You know, I’ve had a lot of success playing those kind of characters, and I don’t like them, either. But they’re fun for me to play, and I’ve been offered a lot of parts like that. I guess I do them well.
What’s a story that you think still should be told on film?
There are some characters down here [in Florida] that are wonderful. A guy named Trapper Nelson is gone now, but he was amazing. He lived way out in the boondocks. He captured gators and wildlife. I fancied the way he lived his life, which was on his own terms.
Watch the trailer for ‘Apple of My Eye:’