Burt Reynolds knows it's nice to work close to home.
And "Burn Notice" is letting him do it. The iconic actor-director has resided in Florida for many years, making it convenient for him to guest on the seriocomic, Miami-based USA espionage series July 22. Reynolds' part smartly pays homage to both the show and his image: a former intelligence agent who's like central character Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan) in many ways.
As ex-CIA man Paul Anderson, Reynolds, 74, even has such lines as "You remind me of me" as Westen tries to deliver him safely into government protection while a well-armed Russian black-ops team chases them. The new partners certainly take chances, since there's also the matter of their safecracking expedition to retrieve a file that exposes a corrupt politician.
"When they approached me about this, I was very happy," Reynolds reflects, "but I forgot how hard you work on those shows. The hours were unbelievable, but I really was very fond of both those guys" - the "guys" being Donovan and series co-star Bruce Campbell, who plays Sam Axe, Westen's pal and frequent resource for spy information.
Reynolds has many scenes with them, and he says they were "incredibly respectful. I was very touched by that. Maybe it's because I'm old, but they were very sweet, and I had a lot of fun with them. They like to horse around a little; you'll die in that heat if you don't have a laugh or two."
While holding true to the spirit of "Burn Notice," Reynolds' character also pays homage to his past roles in action movies from "Operation C.I.A." to "Malone." Reynolds agrees Paul is Michael's older mirror image in the world of "Burn Notice" . . . and he confirms he "would have wanted a shot" at the part of Michael, were it a different time.
"I like the writing on the show," he adds. "It's a little off-center. Everybody's not perfect. What really drew me to this character was that he's flawed, and he also is one of the walking wounded. It's not just that he's gotten to a certain age, but he has a lot of devils. They wrote a lot of stuff in for me, and I was very grateful."
In fact, the show's producers and episode director Jeremiah Chechik ("National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation") brought in Glenn Wilder, whom Reynolds says he's been "doing stunts with for 50 years. He came down from Orlando, where he's been working at Universal Studios, and we started giggling immediately. He said, 'Are you going to beat me up again?' And I said, 'Yes. That's right.' "
As he aims to put together a new movie project, the performer whose box-office hits include "Smokey and the Bandit" and "The Cannonball Run" is continuing his other interests.
The Burt Reynolds & Friends Museum in Jupiter, Fla., has a related Institute for Film & Theatre where Reynolds reports he's "teaching acting with all these wonderful people. The graduation show went well, and we're staging 'The Fantasticks,' so all of that keeps me busy."
An Emmy winner for the sitcom "Evening Shade," Reynolds notes he's being sought to appear on the new A&E series "The Glades" - which also is being filmed on location in Florida - and more "Burn Notice" may be in his future, too.
"They could bring the character back if they want to," he says, "but I left there so exhausted, I said, 'Just don't make it next month.' "
Burt Reynolds' small-screen roles before the movies called
When Burt Reynolds makes a rare TV guest appearance on USA's "Burn Notice" Thursday night, he'll be back in the medium where he toiled a dozen years before his film breakthrough in "Deliverance" (1972). And while Reynolds starred in the 1990-94 CBS comedy "Evening Shade," winning a 1991 best actor Emmy, he'd already been in the casts of several earlier series.
"Riverboat" (NBC 1959-61) - Before the starship Enterprise, there was the 1840s stern-wheel paddle steamer Enterprise, hauling freight and passengers up and down the Mississippi under Capt. Grey Holden (Darren McGavin) and pilot Ben Frazer (Reynolds) - at least until Burt went bye-bye halfway through season one.
"Gunsmoke" (CBS 1955-75) - From 1962 to 1965, the quarter-Cherokee Reynolds played the "half-breed" Native American blacksmith and occasional deputy Quint Asper on the 20-season Western, still U.S. TV's longest-running live-action prime-time drama.
"Hawk" (ABC 1966) - Reynolds retained his Indian heritage to play full-blooded Iroquois Lt. John Hawk in this shot-on-location NYPD drama. Capitalizing on his movie stardom, NBC reran the 17-episode series in summer prime time a decade later.
"Dan August" (ABC 1970-71; CBS 1973, 1975) - They're cops. They're partners. It's Burt Reynolds and . . . Mr. Roper of "Three's Company" Norman Fell! Like "Hawk," this show got summer prime-time reruns pegged to Reynolds' movie success. - FRANK LOVECE