In the mid-1990s, Burt Reynolds hit an especially rough patch. A number of questionable career moves had caused the charismatic actor, once the highest-grossing in the business, to fall out of public favor. Bad investments and spending habits — coupled with a very public, very expensive divorce — led him to file for bankruptcy. His star was fading, and quickly.
Until “Boogie Nights,” that is. Paul Thomas Anderson’s second feature, set in the porn industry during the late 1970s, hit theaters in October 1997 and received a great deal of critical acclaim — something Reynolds, who played auteurist porn director Jack Horner, hadn’t experienced in years. It earned the actor, who died Thursday at 82, his only Oscar nomination. He ended up losing the best supporting actor award to Robin Williams for “Good Will Hunting.”
The Chicago Sun-Times’s Roger Ebert and the New York Times’s Janet Maslin agreed that his portrayal of Jack Horner was a career highlight: “Burt Reynolds rises to this occasion by giving his best and most suavely funny performance in many years,” the latter wrote, adding that he gave Jack “an extra edge by playing a swaggering, self-important figure very close to the bone.” The Los Angeles Times observed that Reynolds’s “veteran been-there presence” brought “an essential stability to the father figure role.”
But the actor had the opposite reaction: He was so unhappy with “Boogie Nights,” despite never having seen it, that he fired his agent afterward. He told Conan O’Brien earlier this year that he had turned down the role seven times. It “just wasn’t my kind of film,” he explained, and “made me very uncomfortable.”
And what was that about Reynolds wanting to hit Anderson in the face?
“No, I didn’t want to hit him in the face — I just wanted to hit him,” he corrected O’Brien. “I don’t think he liked me.”
It’s quite a statement to make about Anderson, whose works have earned numerous awards and — at least in the case of “There Will Be Blood” — landed on lists of the greatest films to ever be made. But neither one has shied away from discussing the tension. Reynolds told GQ in 2015 that “personality-wise, we didn’t fit.”
“I think mostly because he was young and full of himself,” Reynolds continued. “Every shot we did, it was like the first time [that shot had ever been done]. I remember the first shot we did in ‘Boogie Nights,’ where I drive the car to Grauman’s Theater. After he said, ‘Isn’t that amazing?’ And I named five pictures that had that same kind of shot.”
Anderson, who was just 27 when “Boogie Nights” came out, nevertheless presented Reynolds with an offer to star in 1999’s “Magnolia,” his next movie, that was swiftly turned down. The director appeared on an episode of “The Bill Simmons Podcast” late last year and recalled the “intensity on set” when the cast and crew filmed a scene in which Reynolds and Mark Wahlberg’s characters fight.
“I think that when Burt and I kind of got into it, it may have been the day before or the day after, but it was a really tense three days on the set of ‘Boogie Nights,’ ” Anderson said. “The other 57 days were really fun and a lot of laughs, but there were three tense days there in the middle where Mark was fighting with Burt, or in the film. . . . It was the middle of summer, it was really hot, and we were all stuck together in that house for a long time, and things were just — they were heated.”