At age 73, James Cromwell has just scored his first leading man role in Still Mine. It doesn’t surprise the actor that it’s taken him this long to break out of supporting roles.
“I don’t look like a leading man, whatever they look like. It’s changing a little. For my entire career, I wanted to be a director,” he explained to Interview. “When I was in the theater, it was very difficult to get directing jobs, and I fell into the acting by default. I got in the habit of accepting whatever came my way. Not things that I disagreed with, though. It’s not like I had aspirations—well, I did have aspirations to play Hamlet, which I ended up doing. I’m a character actor. Nobody’s ever seemed to think of me as a leading man. I’m 6’6”. I’ve got a big nose. I’m gangly. I’ve got crooked teeth. That’s certainly not Brad Pitt. I’m still around and alive, so if they need older guys, I guess they’re thinking of me.”
Cromwell wasn’t immediately attracted to the script for Still Mine. “I didn’t give it a very thoughtful reading,” he admitted. “I think I missed the whole point to the script when I first read it. I thought it was a sweet little story. Very Canadian. Two nice old people going through it blah, blah, blah. The secret of the picture is in the detail.”
“You get so used to reading scripts that are full of violence and people losing their temper and shooting each other. Car chases, explosions, or whatever it is. So, I sort of missed it. But, I had the good sense to say to my agent, ‘Yeah, I’m not working. If they want me to do the picture, there’s nothing in it to offend me.’ Luckily, when I actually began to work on the script, I saw that all the suggestions I had made originally were all completely wrong.”
Even if Cromwell goes back to supporting roles (like the ones he did in W. or Babe), the actor realizes he’s been lucky. “It’s a good time to be James Cromwell, period, because this is it. Make hay while the sun shines. Now’s the time. Seize the day,” he said. “That I’m still working means there are opportunities. I didn’t expect this film to come along. I didn’t expect American Horror Story to come along. I have my fingers crossed that Lear will come along. Yeah, it’s a good time. But, it happens. I remember a teacher of mine, Bill Hickey, later in life Richard Farnsworth, Chris Plummer, who’s been a star all his life, gets an Academy Award for a supporting role. I’ve worked with Max Von Sydow, who’s been doing it for, how long’s it been? I saw him in college. He was a grown man when I was in college! He’s still at it. If you’re lucky enough, and you take care of yourself, don’t make a whole lot of enemies, and grow to some degree, life will provide.”
Still Mine is currently in theaters.