Veteran actor and activist James Cromwell has had quite an impressive multi-decade long career in the spotlight. With notable film roles over the years including, but not limited to “Babe,” “Star Trek: First Contact,” “L.A. Confidential,” “The Green Mile,” and “Space Cowboys,” Cromwell has left a huge mark on the industry throughout his time involved in it.
Now, the actor is getting fairly candid about the part of his life that isn’t so well-known, his younger years. In a new chat with The Guardian, Cromwell opens up about music preferences, home life, sports, and morals.
Cromwell recalls being born in Pottstown, Pennsylvania to a less-than-diverse crowd. He recalls his younger years as quite whitewashed and strongly rooted in age-old tradition, and that he didn’t deviate from the norms much.
Despite relatively enjoying rock & roll when it gained traction, he wasn’t fully endeared to the music. It took until his 20s for Cromwell to come into his own with regard to musical preference.
“Music didn’t play a part in my life until my early 20s, when I was introduced to folk music by artists such as the Clancy Brothers, Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan. The folk revival was music that you really hadn’t heard before. Joan Baez and Bobby Dylan spoke about things that, as a young man, I had begun to understand were happening in the world,” he said of the revelation.
Having Three Parents
“I am fortunate that I am the offspring of three incredible actors,” Cromwell said confidently of his family life as a young boy, referencing his father, mother, and stepmother as integral figures in his development.
“My father [John Cromwell] took me on to the set of Anna and the King of Siam, which he directed, when I was about five, and I hid under the table with the little Thai kids,” he said of his father, followed by his birth mother, “My mother, Kay Johnson, was Cecil B DeMille’s first leading lady when he moved from silent to sound films,” and referring to her endearingly.
He also referenced, “My stepmother, Ruth Nelson, who I consider my second mother, was a member of the New York Group Theater.”
Cromwell recalled that an early pastime of his was playing tennis, something that he admitted he wasn’t the best at, but enjoyed nonetheless.
“In the summers, I played junior tournament tennis – not very well, I must say, but I had natural coordination and I looked good. The problem was returning a backhand – or a forehand. I would probably only hit the ball every one out of 10. I was incredibly hard on myself and there was much racquet-smashing,” he said of his sporting follies.
Morals Leading To A Career
At the age of 18, when Cromwell was at Middlebury College in Vermont to study engineering, he had a moral revelation when his father saw the state of a defaced fraternity house, leading his stepmother to suggest his father takes him along to film “A Matter of Morals” in Sweden.
The moment was pivotal in his career and realigning his morals, “I was so entranced that I quit Middlebury and went to the performing arts college HB Studio in New York. It was the last thing my father wanted. He said: ‘Well, don’t be an actor. You’re too damn tall.’ [Cromwell is 6’7″] I thought: ‘I guess I’ll have to be a director.’ I tried and failed for 10 years to be a theatre director but did get jobs as an actor. Every year I’d go to a different theatre and burn all my bridges; the next season, I’d go to another theatre and burn them all over again.”