SI Vault
Ron Fimrite
May 07, 1984
Actor Robert Redford, who plays the lead in the new baseball movie 'The Natural,' is himself a fine athlete. In fact, Redford is a natural
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May 07, 1984

A Star With Real Clout

Actor Robert Redford, who plays the lead in the new baseball movie 'The Natural,' is himself a fine athlete. In fact, Redford is a natural

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"Yes, I respect that," says Redford, "but I'm getting less out of more. It has something to do with the juxtaposition of images." Deutch looks hurt. "And we should bag The Star-Spangled Banner."

"It's unconventional," says Deutch, pointing up the irony of the anthem accompanying such a picture.

Redford gets up and begins pacing before the screen. "Nobody goes away humming The Star-Spangled Banner. It's a lousy song, for one thing. Definitely not Top 10. But beyond that, this movie has a schizophrenic quality that's better suited to the contrapuntal stuff. That's where we get the contrast. People don't expect that kind of music over a baseball story. The Star-Spangled Banner chops up the spot too much. The spot seems to be competing with itself. We need more of a solid impact."

"That's a real good argument," says Deutch. The Banner is bagged.

"The truth is, I don't like seeing myself on the screen at all," Redford says, eating a tuna fish sandwich in Johnson's small office. "I don't really have a feel for how I translate to an audience. I just do what I have to do. And when my work is finished, I don't spend any time here. Hollywood is a legitimate place to be; I just prefer to live elsewhere. I don't think of myself as a loner. I just don't belong to any social strata here. I have all kinds of friends: Tom Brokaw is one, the novelist Tom McGuane is another, and so are Senator Bill Bradley and Dave DeBusschere—I was a big Knicks fan—and Dr. Leakey. That's variety. But I do believe in spending a certain amount of time alone. It's particularly important for keeping perspective. If you're in my business and you're committed to raising a family, as I have been, it's not easy. In this sort of high-volume, high-altitude life, you're constantly searching for balance and for sanity.

"Things get misunderstood. I'm intensely interested in the political process, for example, but I have no interest in being a part of it. My interest makes it appear otherwise. It's all the attention people get now. Gary Hart is a friend of mine. When he started this campaign, he was considered to be some kind of issues-oriented intellectual. Then as soon as he started winning, he became a shallow man with no issues at all. Just a pretty face. Now that's amusing to me. I can relate to that personally.

"I don't see myself as a screen hero. I like to play characters who discover something about themselves, who start off in one direction, learn something and then end up in an entirely different direction. I like endings that ask a question. In The Candidate, you'll remember, the candidate gets elected on cosmetics and then asks at the end, 'What do we do now?' And in Downhill Racer, where does the skier go from there? The Natural is about a man trying to regain a dream. But things just aren't what they seem to be. The picture's got seduction, corruption, good, evil, and beyond that I don't know. All of that's interesting to me."

Redford, Levinson and Johnson are watching the first reel of their film in a Todd-AO screening room. Redford and Levinson are in their 40s and Johnson is getting there, but in their shirts and jeans, these three, sprawled on seats in the back of the little theater, could easily be a bunch of high school kids watching another Friday night movie. Both Johnson and Levinson, who began their partnership with Diner, admit to having been a trifle awestruck at the prospect of working with Redford. "You do get jaded in this business," says Johnson, "but it's tough to forget who he is. Every so often in the middle of a conversation, you'd find yourself saying to yourself, 'Oh my God, this is Robert Redford.' There's just a handful of people in this world you can look up to. Bob's one of them. He's never disappointed me. He's exceptionally bright and very giving."

"Working with him was rather simple, really," says Levinson. "I guess I was a little nervous the first day. I'd go up to him and say something like, 'Hey, what do you think if we do this?' But after that it was easy. I really expected bigger differences. But we both like baseball and this movie. The scope of this picture is rather large, you know. It's like making a large intimate movie."

The scenes they are watching—time and again—are of young Hobbs saying goodby to girl friend Glenn Close before his tryout with the Cubs, of his encounter with the Whammer on the train, his meeting him again in a carnival during the train delay and of his accepting the challenge to pitch to the Whammer, as the mystery lady, Harriet Bird, watches with sweet menace. Waitkus might have been mature enough to recognize danger here, had he been given the chance; Hobbs is too innocent. The dialogue in the Whammer scenes is taken almost word for word from Malamud's book, and Joe Don Baker as the Whammer looks and talks strikingly like the Babe himself: "Pitch it here, busher, and I will knock it into the moon...."

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