'THE BANDIT'

Burt Reynolds on Old Pal Donald Trump: ‘Like a Sheriff That’s Quick on the Draw’

The iconic actor opens up about his new documentary ‘The Bandit,’ which premiered at SXSW, that memorable Cosmo spread, and Trump’s presidential run.

03.21.16 4:46 AM ET

Burt Reynolds knows Donald Trump. Burt Reynolds likes Donald Trump. And yet Burt Reynolds can’t quite bring himself to back the controversial GOP frontrunner.

“I don’t think there’s any question that Donald is going to be nominated,” Reynolds said, phoning The Daily Beast from his home in Jupiter, Florida. “You know, our current president has kind of messed things up the last four years. But I don’t know who I would vote for.”

Reynolds, 80, has a curious history with Trump dating back to the 1980s, when he was a co-owner of the USFL pro football outfit the Tampa Bay Bandits. Trump, of course, owned the New Jersey Generals. Reynolds was among those who blamed Trump for pushing the league into ruin after the USFL folded.

“I still and will always feel that his ambitions—his personal ambitions—were what sunk the league,” the actor later said.

Three decades later, Trump’s charge toward the White House is dotted by inflammatory podium rhetoric and rallies marred by ugly outbursts of racism and violence.

“I’m worried about Donald in terms of us getting into a war, because he’s all for certain things,” added Reynolds, who says he’s neither a Republican nor a Democrat going into the November election. “I like him very much personally. I know him, and I like him. He’s always been nice and sweet and kind to me. But he seems to be like a sheriff that’s quick on the draw.”

SXSW

SXSW

Burt Reynolds and Hal Needham.

He’s got a better idea of who should run the country: His close buddy Jon Voight, who earlier this month endorsed Trump’s presidential bid and declared him to be “an answer to our problems.” 

“If any actor was going to run for office, it should be Jon Voight,” offered Reynolds. “I think he’s quite brilliant in terms of handling himself and he always knows what’s going on in politics.” 

Reynolds has even encouraged his Deliverance co-star to run for office. “I have! He gets red in the face and says he couldn’t do it. But I think he would be wonderful.”

He paused, rethinking that endorsement. “It’s Jon Voight’s daughter that should run,” he laughed, noting that he’s known Angelina Jolie since she was a child. “I like her a lot. She’s not afraid to tackle anything, and she’s a very, very sweet girl.”

Reynolds had just returned to Florida after a brief trip to SXSW, where he premiered his latest film—the showbiz documentary The Bandit, about his longtime friendship with the late stuntman and director Hal Needham.

The swarthy leading man made his bones in Hollywood with charismatic turns in films like Navajo Joe, The Longest Yard, and the Oscar-winning Deliverance for helmer John Boorman, “the best director I ever worked with.” At the height of his popularity, with a knack for playing likeable good ol’ boys, he famously turned down the chance to play both James Bond and Han Solo.

By the late ‘70s, Reynolds had the pull to get movies made on the strength of his star power alone. He used it to give pal Needham his break into directing, agreeing to star as an interstate bootlegger in a film called Smokey and the Bandit.

The Bandit tracks Reynolds’ swaggering career ascent, including the infamous Cosmopolitan centerfold spread he posed for, wearing only a mustachioed smile.    

“I thought I’d made a horrible mistake and I wished I hadn’t done it!” he said with a laugh. He’s warming up to the idea that time has given his fans a renewed appreciation for that pictorial, particularly in the age of Magic Mike. “A lot of people took it in the spirit that it was meant. They saw that I was smiling and it was meant to be a Playboy takeoff. I had fun, but as I remember the only way I could do it was I had to have a few toddies before… quite a few, in fact. It took a few hours and then I kind of wobbled home. I wobbled in there and I wobbled out, and hoped for the best.”

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The film’s main focus is Reynolds’s close friendship with Needham—the kinship that lasted longer than Reynolds’ famed relationships with fellow stars like Sally Field and ex-wife Loni Anderson.

“He was amazing,” said Reynolds. “He was one of those guys that when every other stunt man in town turned down a stunt because it was too dangerous, they said, ‘Well, get Hal’—and they did, and he did them.”

Needham even moved into Reynolds’s guesthouse for a time. “It was fun,” Reynolds remembered. “His wife had thrown him out, and he said, ‘Let me come stay with you for a little while’ and I said, ‘Sure.’ Five years later he was still staying there.”

The friends would go on to collaborate on several more Reynolds classics, including Hooper, Cannonball Run, and Stroker Ace. Needham passed away in 2013 after being diagnosed with cancer.

Reynolds put down roots in his native state, Florida, but leaves to film projects when they arise—like his recent appearances on Archer and an episode of the newly revived The X-Files, in which he played God.

“I didn’t want to have to talk about show business all the time,” he explained. In Jupiter, he teaches acting every week. “Down in Jupiter I don’t get in any trouble!” he laughed. “It’s a quiet little town that most people don’t know anything about, and it’s just gorgeous. I look out my window and there’s the river going by the house. Palm trees swaying. I get to go to football games. It’s great.”

Does that mean Burt Reynolds is done sowing his wild oats? He erupts into a boisterous chuckle at the thought. “Well, I hope not! I just hope I have better taste in how I sow ‘em.”