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The life-changing advice that Spencer Tracy gave to Burt Reynolds

The iconic Burt Reynolds was a sex symbol of Hollywood for a long time. Unapologetic and unabashed, he had been a delight at press interviews, talking about his numerous love affairs and the wild Hollywood parties he attended, including one in which everyone showed up nude. 

For decades Reynolds worked as a prolific actor who has played varied roles, starting from adorable rogues to pornography filmmaker. While he rose to prominence with the TV series Gunsmoke, his breakthrough role in Deliverance brought him to Hollywood spotlight. After a successful run at Hollywood, he returned to television which earned him a Golden Globe as well as an Emmy. Starring in Paul Thomas Anderson’s legendary Boogie Nights, earned him a Golden Globe as well as nominations for a BAFTA and an Academy Award, cementing his place as one of Hollywood’s leading men.

The octogenarian breathed his last in 2018, and the world would forever be deprived of “his great laugh” as his ex-wife Loni Anderson best described it. Although films like An Innocent Kiss and Defining Moments comprise his final performances, his 2017 film The Last Movie Star, can be considered his final performance where he took the lead. The film seemed to be tailor-made for him, and the director, Adam Rifkin, said he had written it exclusively for Reynolds, who had been his hero growing up. Quite ominously yet in jocund spirit, Reynolds had said in an interview with A24filmsthat the film was probably “closer to me than anything” because it is a kind of movie that an actor would like for to be his/her last work. 

The Last Movie Star is about an actor who has reached the sunset of his career. The character was a football star who became a stuntman and then an actor in the TV and went on to become the numero uno in the box office for six years, much like Reynolds himself. The role is no longer ‘acting’ for Reynolds as he can feel the character residing within himself. He plays Vic Edwards, an ageing film star who had been invited to a local festival in Nashville where he is forced to face the consequences of his past and the reality of being a fading star whose glory days are far behind. 

Spencer Tracy, one of the biggest stars of Hollywood, and a well-known actor in Hollywood’s Golden Age was Reynold’s inspiration. Tracy’s effortless performances never seemed phoney or an act. He was natural and enigmatic, charming and dignified in his own way. As Reynolds admitted, “I loved his style of dignity and class, and I have never been able to catch him acting. It’s like somebody just snuck a camera in. there’s no doubt in my mind that he is the best actor in the world.”

Tracy gave a piece of life-changing advice to Reynolds which resonated with what his friend Wynn Handman had told him, which was “Don’t act. Behave”. According to Reynolds, his dressing room was right across Tracy’s, and he would follow Tracy around. Once, Tracy asked him if he was an actor to which Reynolds quipped a smart “the jury’s still out”. Tracy’s life-altering piece of advice was: “Well, don’t let them catch you acting,” and it has been inspiring Reynolds ever since. 

Watch the video below on the premiere of The Last Movie Star where Burt Reynolds recounts Spencer Tracy’s life-changing advice which altered his way of viewing his career.