‘The’ Reynolds is here for RIFF
Film legend Burt Reynolds sits at a table in a room just off Broad Street on Friday afternoon.
He’s here for a press conference ahead of his appearance at this year’s Rome International Film Festival and it’s clear that locals are excited about his being here.
The room, the front office of V3 Magazine, begins to fill with members of local and regional media. There are video cameras set up in the back of the room, photo cameras are clicking constantly and everyone has their phones out, pointed at the 81-year-old star.
Rome’s mayor and city manager are here, as well as several members of the business community. There are even look-alikes of the characters from “Smokey and the Bandit,” one of Reynolds’ most famous films.
An armed law enforcement officer guards the door.
And the press conference hasn’t even begun yet.
Reynolds is signing autographs and posing for photos. Over a bright blue shirt, he’s wearing a jet black jacket that sparkles when it catches the light. There’s a small gold cross on his lapel, and he’s wearing pink-tinted sunglasses.
His salt and pepper hair is mostly salt, now, and he smiles easily while talking to the people asking for photos and autographs. He’s done this for years. He’s used to this adoration.
When the press conference begins, a RIFF official introduces Reynolds and what follows is more of a walk down memory lane than a press briefing.
Reynolds’ first statement was a compliment to the state of Georgia and its residents when asked about his relationship with the state.
“I just fell in love with Georgia,” he says, his voice low but clear. “The people are so nice. They have always been so welcoming and kind. And my movies I filmed here have always been a success.”
Reynolds offers anecdotes about filming some of his most famous films here, from the iconic “Deliverance” to “The Longest Yard” and of course “Smokey and the Bandit.”
He mentions Sally Field, Jerry Reed and the incomparable Jackie Gleason. His stories and memories elicit laughter and smiles from the crowd.
“Deliverance,” he says, holds a special place in his heart.
“I’ll never forget ‘Deliverance’ as long as I live,” he says. “Ned Beatty should have won an Academy Award for that. And I still have dinner with Jon Voight whenever I’m in town.”
He also speaks highly of Ed Spivia, crediting him with being responsible for the birth, growth and success of Georgia’s film industry.
And then a member of the press asks about his memories of his friend and co-star, the late Dom DeLuise. Reynolds grows emotional at the memory.
“I miss him every day,” he says. “He made me laugh. He couldn’t stand pain, even a little pinch. I would step on his foot right in the middle of a take and he’d start giggling so bad he couldn’t stand it. I don’t know why that amused me. I loved Dom so much. There’s never been another one like him.”
Reynolds will appear at the screening of “Smokey and the Bandit” today at 7 p.m. at the Rome City Auditorium as well as his newest film, “Dog Years” on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. at the DeSoto Theatre.
The new film premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and Reynolds says he’s “real proud” of it.
“It’s a sweet story that nobody would think I’d make,” he says.
Throughout the press conference, Reynolds is remarkably candid and, even at 81, remembers the tiniest details about films he made several decades ago.
As the press conference winds down, Mayor Jamie Doss, City Manager Sammy Rich and City Clerk Joe Smith walk to the front of the room and Doss reads a proclamation recognizing Reynolds’ contributions to the film industry and particularly to the Georgia film industry and proclaiming Nov. 10, 2017, to be Burt Reynolds Day in Rome.
Doss has asked Reynolds to remain seated during the reading of the proclamation. At 81, the film star needs the assistance of a cane to walk and his posture is somewhat stooped.
But he insists on standing.
“I want to stand for this,” he says as he rises from his chair to accept the framed proclamation from Doss who reads a long, glowing list of Reynolds’ accomplishments. “This is wonderful. Now I know how you got to be mayor. Thank you.”