Ronny Cox didn't land his role in “Deliverance” because he knew how to paddle a river.
“John Boorman wanted me to play the guitar and I was hired for the picture because I play the guitar,” the actor/musician said in a recent phone interview from his Los Angeles home.
It was his ability to play that also won Cox a role as Woody Guthrie's musical friend in the 1976 biopic “Bound for Glory,” and he'll be playing his guitar — and singing his story songs — at the Crystal Theater in Okemah on Friday during the 15th annual Woody Guthrie Folk Festival.
The performance will mark his “sixth, seventh or eighth” year at WoodyFest, he's not exactly sure.
“I loved being in ‘Bound for Glory',” Cox said. “You know, I'm a touring folk musician. I just played the Kerrville Folk Festival. Although I still act, I spend most of my time playin' music these days 'cause I love playing.”
But while Cox is celebrating Woody's 100th birthday with song, he'll also be acknowledging the 40th anniversary of his first film acting gig at 3 p.m. Saturday in the Okfuskee County History Center, where he'll be signing copies of his new book, “Dueling Banjos: The Deliverance of Drew.”
It's a collection of stories from the making of the Boorman-directed backwoods thriller “Deliverance,” which stars Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty and Cox as four Atlanta businessmen who take a canoe trip down a condemned river and find themselves in a hillbilly hell.
A 40th Anniversary Blu-ray Book edition of “Deliverance” has also been released by Warner Home Video.
“Of all the films I've ever done — you know, I've been lucky with a bunch of films — but more people wanna talk about that film than almost any other film,” Cox said. “And there's so many myths surrounding it. That's one of the reasons why I wrote the book. And one of the reasons I'm so delighted that Warner Bros. is coming out with this new Blu-ray. I went through and looked at that. There's like four hours of other extraneous materials, you know, the interviews and things like that. I find those to be really fascinating.”
One of the many myths about “Deliverance” Cox wanted to dispel was who did stunts for whom.
“I'll tell ya, if I hear one more guy claim that he was our stunt guy in that film. ... There are no stunt men in the film. And I've seen any number of guys — and in print — have claimed they were our stunt guys. And then they always have a caveat. ‘We weren't credited, we were listed as stand-ins,' or something like that.”
Georgia poet James Dickey wrote the screenplay based on his first novel, about macho outdoor fanatic Lewis Medlock (Reynolds in his first major film role) leading three skeptical city slicker friends — cautious Ed (Voight), klutzy, out-of-shape Bobby (Beatty) and good-hearted Drew (Cox) — into the Georgia outback to ride the rapids of the Cahulawassee River one last time before a new dam obliterates it forever. They soon learn that some of the Appalachian inhabitants are as wild and merciless as the river, when one of the outsiders is sexually assaulted by a woodsman, who is in turn dispatched by an arrow from Lewis' bow. A second woodsman escapes, triggering a deadly game of cat and mouse for the remainder of the journey.