No, that didn’t really happen. The All-American king of ‘70s cinema and guys with mustaches, Burt Reynolds, passed away this week at the age of 82. He starred in plenty of classic movies, including Deliverance, The Longest Yard, and, of course, Smokey and the Bandit. But as much as Hollywood would have liked him to, he couldn’t be in everything. Here are some of the roles Reynolds turned down.
Reynolds. Burt Reynolds.
Reynolds could have been the first American actor to play what might be the most iconic and quintessentially British role of all time: secret agent 007, James Bond. In 1969, Bond movie producer Cubby Broccoli approached him. At the time, Reynolds wasn’t yet a movie superstar, but well known for his work on TV shows like Gunsmoke and Hawk. Reynolds listened to an impassioned, 10-minute pitch from Broccoli, but he turned it down, believing that an American just can’t play the spy extraordinaire. “Every night I wake up in a cold sweat,” Reynolds later (sort of?) joked about his decision.
They made him an offer he easily refused.
Al Pacino became a star and one of the most acclaimed actors of his generation after making a splash as reluctant crime family son Michael Corleone in 1972’s The Godfather, widely regarded as one of the greatest movies ever made. Reynolds was offered the part first, and he declined. The reason: Marlon Brando, already cast as boss Don Corleone, threatened to quit it Reynolds was cast. (One reason that was too bad—young Burt Reynolds looked exactly like the man who would’ve played his father.)
Burt Reynolds…walkin’ down the street…
One of the biggest hits of 1990 was the comedy Pretty Woman, starring Julia Roberts as a golden-hearted prostitute who falls in love with a suave businessman named Edward, played by Richard Gere. But Roberts’ Vivian could have fallen for Burt Reynolds as Edward. When asked on the talk show Watch What Happens Live why he turned down the future blockbuster, Reynolds quipped, “Because I’m an idiot.”
Jack Nicholson took home the first of his three Academy Awards for playing rogue mental hospital resident Randle McMurphy in 1975’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. It’s a role that Reynolds desperately wanted to play, and lobbied hard to get…but producers went with Nicholson. Eight years later, Terms of Endearment director James L. Brooks offered him the role of Garrett Breedlove in eventual Best Picture Oscar winner Terms of Endearment. It shot at the same time as the race-car action comedy Stroker Ace, and Reynolds went with that one, because he felt he owed it to that film’s director, Hal Needham, who had given him huge career boosts by directing Smokey and the Bandit, The Cannonball Run, and Hooper. Nicholson played Breedlove…and won another darn Oscar for it.
A cosmic mistake?
Harrison Ford will forever be associated with Han Solo, the most dashing pilot in the galaxy in the Star Wars films. Burt Reynolds could have been Han, but he turned down director George Lucas because he just wasn’t into the idea of making a science-fiction movie.