Plenty can and has been said about what makes The Natural special behind the camera, but there would be no film without the actors in front of the camera. Actors are sometimes classified by their acting style. There are times when that has more to do with the movie than the actor’s training, but more often than not, a given actor sticks to what suits them.
There are three styles of acting: Stylized, Realistic, and Method. Stylized acting if often over the top and unrealistic, but the role or the movie calls for acting that draws attention to itself. Almost anything by the Marx Brothers or the Stooges would follow this style. Realistic style strives for natural and realistic portrayals of characters, just as the name implies. Method acting is a type or approach to acting based on searching the actor’s own emotions and experiences to find the personal motivation for the role.
Robert Redford as Roy Hobbs
For all of his career, Redford was a realistic actor. His approach in The Natural is likewise realistic. This approach can be seen in his still and unexpressive nature. Or said better, very expressive with the smallest of gestures or facial expressions. It’s been said of Redford that he acts with his eyes, which is true for Roy Hobbs. Examples of Redford’s realistic style could be seen in other well-known roles of his, such as Jay Gatsby in The Great Gatsby, Butch Cassidy in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and John “Kelly” Hooker in The Sting.
Glenn Close as Iris Gaines
As the love interest of Roy Hobbs, Glenn Close plays Iris Gaines as she normally does as a realistic actor. While her co-star in The Natural is another realistic actor, Close has acted around Method actors for the greatest part of her career. But she like Redford was able to keep herself from giving in to the histrionics and often overly emotional expression common to the Method hysteria that ruined so many movies in the 70s when Method dominated Los Angeles and New York.
Wilford Brimley as Pop Fisher
Unlike his co-stars, Wilford Brimley trusted in his Method acting background to perform Pop Fisher in The Natural. One can see the difference between his emotionally based interpretation of Fisher in contrast to Hobbs’s and Gaines’s quiet dynamics. Brimley uses his Method style with more control than others who have rather sloppily misused it. But the role of Pop Fisher required someone with more clear emotions and expressions, as opposed to the smolder in Hobbs.
The Natural is very well acted by everyone in the cast regardless of their style. Their excellence in front of the camera matches the proficiency of all of the roles that went on behind the camera. The result is a classic film superior in both its baseball and mythology.