Natalie Suzanne Canerday (1962–)

Natalie Canerday is an Arkansas actress known for such films like October Sky and Sling Blade. The bulk of Canerday’s filmography comprises films set in and/or filmed on location in Arkansas.

Natalie Suzanne Canerday was born in Russellville (Pope County) on March 9, 1962, to Don and Nancy Canerday. She has one older brother, Jon Canerday. Canerday had big dreams of performing, though not necessarily acting, and wished to pursue tap dancing, especially on variety shows such as The Bozo Show and The Tommy Trent Show, hosted by Arkansas singer Tommy Trent and based in Little Rock (Pulaski County).

Canerday’s first significant acting work concerned character performances at the Ozark Mountains–themed Dogpatch USA amusement park during the 1980s. The park offered a variety of stereotypical hillbilly personas that Canerday was able to explore, from the beautifully brash Moonbeam McSwine to Dogpatch’s frightful witch Nightmare Alice, all characters based on the Li’l Abner comic strip. She also performed in several plays while attending Russellville High School.

Canerday attended Hendrix College in Conway (Faulkner County), earning a bachelor’s degree in theater in 1985. Her first major motion picture role came shortly after, with a small appearance in the comedy Biloxi Blues (1988) starring Matthew Broderick. Canerday followed this with the Arkansas-based comedy Little Marines 2 (1992), as well as working as a production secretary on the set of Laurence Fishburne’s television film The Tuskegee Airmen (1995), filmed at Fort Chaffee Maneuver Training Center in Fort Smith (Sebastian County). Her early career also featured her first project with fellow Arkansas actor Billy Bob Thornton, One False Move (1992), which was co-written by and starred Thornton.

Four years later, Canerday was cast in Sling Blade, written and directed by Thornton, who also starred in the film. An adaptation of Thornton’s short film Some Folks Call It a Sling Blade, the feature-length Sling Blade features Canerday as Linda Wheatley, an abused mother whose son befriends Thornton’s protagonist character, Karl. Canerday and the rest of the cast were praised for their performances, with the actors earning a nomination for the Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Cast in a Motion Picture in 1996.

Shortly after this role, Canerday would return to the big screen, playing another protagonist’s mother. October Sky (1999), an autobiographical drama about a young man’s pursuit of rocketry, featured Canerday in the role of Jake Gyllenhaal’s supportive mother, Elsie Hickam. Canerday cited October Sky as her favorite filmmaking experience.

She immediately followed October Sky with a role in South of Heaven, West of Hell (2000), again appearing with Thornton. Canerday also had roles in the early 2000s in Hilary Birmingham’s directorial debut Tully (2000), an episode of King of the Hill, the Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line (2005), and the low-budget film Shotgun Stories (2007), the latter of which was the directorial debut of Arkansas native Jeff Nichols. Canerday has also appeared in a variety of short films since 2000 set in and around Arkansas, including The Mount Nebo Chicken Fry (2009), inspired by the annual Dardanelle (Yell County) festival celebrating the local poultry industry.

Canerday has maintained a continued presence with both the Arkansas Repertory Theatre and Murry’s Dinner Playhouse in Little Rock. She has also appeared in a wide variety of stage plays, from Shakespeare productions to August, Osage County. She also appeared in Valley Inn (2014), filmed in Hindsville (Madison County); God’s Not Dead 2 (2016), filmed in central Arkansas; the CMT television show Still the King (2017); and the third season of the critically acclaimed show True Detective (2019), filmed in northwestern Arkansas. Outside of film, television, and theater, Canerday has become a feature of guest speaking and film festival circuits, including judging 2006’s George Lindsey UNA Film Festival in Alabama.

For additional information:
Cochran, Robert, and Suzanne McCray. Lights! Camera! Arkansas!: From Broncho Billy to Billy Bob Thornton. Fayetteville: Arkansas: University of Arkansas Press, 2015.

Damron, Caroline. “The Natalie Canerday Story (According to Natalie).” Little Rock Soirée, August 1, 2011. Online at (accessed November 23, 2021).

“Natalie Canerday.” Internet Movie Database. (accessed November 23, 2021).

“Odyssey Medal: Natalie Canerday.” Hendrix College. (accessed November 23, 2021).

Chad Hall
Arkansas Tech University


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