Actor James Cromwell walks the walk
James Cromwell was arrested last week. It wasn’t his first time behind bars and likely won’t be his last. The Emmy award-winning actor for American Horror Story placed himself in a shipping crate at LAX to protest the way Air France treats primates when shipping them to laboratories.
“The real horror story is the pain and terror of the monkeys in Air France’s cargo holds beneath the feet of unsuspecting passengers,” said Mr. Cromwell. “My friends at PETA and I are telling Air France that cruelty shouldn’t fly.”
To say that James Cromwell is a humanitarian with a social conscience is an understatement. Some actors talk the talk when it comes to supporting causes. After all, it’s good PR to have “something” charitable to do off screen to garner good press for your name.
But James Cromwell does more than talk the talk. He walks the walk, even if the press isn’t necessarily good. He does things just because he thinks they’re right.
Last year, he was arrested after storming into a board of regents meeting at the University of Wisconsin objecting to the school’s treatment of cats in experiments, which he called torture. Many students sympathized with him and called the university out on its policies.
Cats at UW have holes drilled into their skulls, metal coils implanted into their eyes, are deafened with toxic chemicals and starved to force them to cooperate in experiments that are obviously cruel and aren’t contributing anything to human health. I am not at all moved by the fact that the federal government considers this hideous experiment legal. That only indicates that our federal animal welfare laws are grossly inadequate, not that this cruelty is morally acceptable. —James Cromwell
There’s more. In 2001, he was arrested during an animal rights protest at a Wendy’s, claiming the fast food chain confined cows to stalls so small that the animals couldn’t turn around, and that the company bought chickens with broken bones caused by mishandling.
He also has a petition on change.org, telling Walmart to stop torturing pigs. Farmer Hoggett, the character Mr. Cromwell played in Babe, which snagged him an Oscar nomination and jump started his acting career, would be proud. “That’ll do James. That’ll do,” he might say.
Lest you think James Cromwell is a bleeding-heart liberal, don’t. He’ll gently tell you he is a “radical progressive.”
Perhaps he came to that way of thinking as a boy when saw his father, actor/director John Cromwell, blacklisted and unable to get work in the 1950’s McCarthy era.
Or from his involvement in the 60’s with a theater troupe down south where people were murdered during the civil rights movement, or his involvement with the Committee to Defend the Black Panthers.
In any event, while lately he has loudly called attention to issues he holds important, he also works quietly for what he believes in. After making the beautiful film The Education of Little Tree, about a Native-American boy who struggles to find a home, Mr. Cromwell founded the organization Hecel Oyakapi (heh-shel o-yah-kah-pi), which in the Lakota language means “They Tell It This Way.” The organization is dedicated to providing arts training and facilities to the Lakota people and preserving the Lakota culture.
A couple years ago, I had the pleasure to have tea with James Cromwell (whose friends call him Jamie) at the home of legendary soap opera villain Charles Keating (Carl Hutchins, Another World). The two have been friends since the mid 60’s when both were struggling actors grinding out a living at the Charles Playhouse in Boston. Both had a crush on the same girl, Mary. But Charles Keating won out and married her.
During our chat (o.k., it was an interview for a newspaper article, but it was so informal and fun it felt like a friendly chat), we talked about Mr. Cromwell’s career, his rooted beliefs, and his personal life (very interesting and worthy of its own post… another day). Suffice it to say, he has been there, done that, and survived in a cutthroat business where bitterness and disappointment reign supreme.
He credited his friendship with Charles Keating for keeping him grounded. “Usually there are strings attached in relationships. This is the only one I have ever had that had no strings whatever. You are just accepted for who you are,” he said.
He also credited his good friend for convincing him to take the part of Farmer Hoggett in Babe, the film that launched his movie career. “I wouldn’t have done Babe except for Charles. I got the script and didn’t want to do it. It was a kid’s film. I told Charles about it and he said ‘Take it! It’s a free trip to Australia and if the film fails it’s the pig’s fault.’ ”
Lucky for his fans, James Cromwell doesn’t just talk the talk, he also listens.
In this video clip, James Cromwell explains how his “friend from Connecticut” convinced him to take the role in Babe: