Burt Reynolds had big hopes for one his final movies before he died on Thursday at age 82.
The legendary actor received strong reviews for his performance in The Last Movie Star, which was shot in 2016 and released wide earlier this year. The movie’s director and writer Adam Rifkin created the movie with Reynolds in mind and shaped the main character after him, which follows an aging movie star as he reminisces about his past.
And as Rifkin reveals to PEOPLE, him and Reynolds had plans to get the late actor his first-ever Academy Award. Over the course of his illustrious career, Reynolds was only nominated for one Oscar, in 1998 for Best Supporting Actor in Boogie Nights.
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“Not only was he fabulous to work with professionally, we became friends and collaborators,” Rifkin says. “He’s such a sweet guy, and it’s all the more heartbreaking that he’s gone. We were planning to do an Oscar campaign in the fall, he was so excited about working on the Quentin [Tarantino] movie.”
Reynolds was set to star in Tarantino’s highly-anticipated movie Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, which is filming in Los Angeles now and stars Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, Al Pacino, Kurt Russell and Margot Robbie. The movie is set in 1969 and deals with Hollywood at that time.
Rifkin says Reynolds’ death came amid a resurgence in his career, which is giving solace to those who loved him most.
“It’s horrible and heartbreaking that he’s gone but the one little bit of solace I can take is knowing he went out on top – he was thrilled with our movie, he was thrilled with the reactions of people by his performance, he was thrilled he was going to have this big role in Quentin’s movie, he was thrilled he was going to be eligible for an Oscar again. He went out on top and that takes the sting away for me a little bit,” Rifkin says.
Reynolds costar in the movie, Ariel Winter, also paid tribute to the actor on social media, saying, “The world lost a legend today. Not only on screen, but also in life. Burt Reynolds was an incredible man to everyone he encountered, and I am deeply grateful that I got to spend time with him in the way that I did. They don’t make them like him anymore — he truly was the last movie star.”
The Last Movie Star is available to purchase on streaming platforms and DVD/Blu-ray.