Born January 27, 1940 in Los Angeles, CA and raised in Manhattan, New York, James Cromwell is the son of actress Kay Johnson (Madam Satan) and actor-director John Cromwell (Since You Went Away). His parents divorced in 1946 the year the senior Cromwell married actress Ruth Nelson (Wilson).
The younger Cromwell studied acting at Carnegie-Mellon and like his parents and stepmother, went into the theatre appearing in everything from Shakespeare to experimental plays. He made his TV debut in 1974 in an episode of The Rockford Files and that same year appeared in three episodes of All in the Family as Archie Bunker’s friend, Stretch Cunningham. He made his feature film debut in 1976’s Murder by Death, the year he married first wife Anne Ulvestad with whom he had three children before divorcing in 1986. That same year he married Julie Cobb, the actress daughter of actor Lee J. Cobb.
A familiar face on both TV shows and films, Cromwell become a name player with his Oscar nominated performance in 1995’s Babe. Subsequent films of the 1990s included The People vs, Larry Flynt, L.A. Confidential for which he was nominated for a SAG award as member of the ensemble, Babe: Pig in the City, The General’s Daughter, Snow Falling on Cedars and The Green Mile for which he was once again nominated for a SAG award as a member of the ensemble.
Cromwell continued to alternate between TV and film and played his first famous person in the 1999 TV movie RKO 281 in which he received an Emmy nomination as William Randolph Hearst in the film about the making of Citizen Kane. He later played Lynden Johnson in the 2002 TV movie RFK. Still later, he later played England’s Prince Philip on the big screen in 2007’s The Queen and the following year played George H.W. Bush in W.
In 2011, Cromwell co-starred in The Artist for which he received his third SAG nomination as a member of the film’s ensemble. The Artist was the fifth film nominated for a Best Picture Oscar in which he had a major role, following Babe, L.A. Confidential, The Green Mile and The Queen. Divorced from Julie Cobb in 2005, he married third wife Anna Stuart in 2014.
Most of Cromwell’s recent appearances have been on TV where he won an Emmy for 2012’s American Horror Story: Asylum. He also had memorable roles in Boardwalk Empire and The Young Pope and can be seen in the current film, The Landrodmat in which he plays Meryl Streep’s husband.
Cromwell is a political activist who had been active in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. More recently he has advocated for animal rights and has been arrested numerous times for protesting animal abuse, the latest just last week on October 31, 2019.
James Cromwell is a sprightly 79.
BABE (1995), directed by Chris Noonan
Cromwell was top-billed as Farmer Hoggett in the Australian-U.S. co-production about a pig who acts as a sheep herder, but the central character was the pig which was played by 48 different pigs. When Cromwell asked the film’s producers to campaign him for an Oscar, they told they couldn’t because he was top-billed, Cromwell used his own money in his campaign, receiving one of the film’s seven nominations, which also included Best Picture and Best Director. The film won for its Special Effects. Cromwell said that the $60,000 he spent on his campaign was the best $60,000 he ever spent on anything.
L.A. CONFIDENTIAL (1997), directed by Curtis Hanson
Fourth billed behind Kevin Spacey, Guy Pearce and Russell Crowe, ahead of Kim Basinger, Danny DeVito, David Strathairn, Ron Rifkin and the rest of the cast, Cromwell was nominated for a ScreenActors Guild award for his ensemble work along with Spacey, Pearce, Crowe, DeVito, Basinger and Stratharin. The film which examines police corruption on the fringes of show business in the early 1950s was nominated for 9 Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director. It won for its screenplay and Best Supporting Actress for winning for Basinger for her portrayal of a Veronica Lake look-alike call girl.
THE QUEEN (2006), directed by Stephen Frears
Nominated for 6 Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director, the film won an Oscar for Helen Mirren for Best Actress for her portrayal of England’s Queen Elizabeth II in the immediate aftermath of the death of Princess Diana. Although Mirren had won every major acting award that year, it should be noted that other members of the ensemble were also outstanding including Cromwell as Prince Philip, Alex Jennings as Prince Charles and Sylvia Sims as the Queen Mother. Aside from Mirren, however, the only other actor singled out for major awards was Michael Sheen as Prime Minister Tony Blair.
THE ARTIST (2011), directed by Michael Hazanavicius
Nominated for 10 Academy Awards and winner of 5 including Best Picture, Director and Actor Jean Dujardin, this French-made film was a throwback to Hollywood’s silent era, a film shot in black-and-white without dialogue but with a diverting cast lead by Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo, director Hazanavicius’ wife, and featuring John Goodman, Cromwell and Penelope Ann Miller in principal supporting roles, the film was compared at the time to such Hollywood classics as A Star Is Born and Singin’ in the Rain, but despite its immediate popularity is seldom mentioned a mere seven years later.
THE LAUNDROMAT (2019), directed by Steven Soderbergh
This highly anticipated film from acclaimed director Soderbergh (Erin Brockovich, Traffic and TV’s Behind the Candelabra landed with a dud at the Venice and Toronto Film Festivals in September, dashing all hopes of major Oscar season pushes for the film about insurance fraud starring Meryl Streep as old lady who is conned out of the insurance money she anticipated for the accidental death of her husband (Cromwell). Streep is at best, OK, but Gary Oldman utilizing a ridiculous fake German accent is totally obnoxious and Antonio Banderas as his fellow swindler isn’t much better.
JAMES CROMWELL AND OSCAR
- Babe (1995) – nominated – Best Supporting Actor