On the Farm with James Cromwell

What a pleasure it was to spend an afternoon with actor James Cromwell on the farm at Buck’s Rock Camp in New Milford. If you need a memory jog, one line should do it, “That’ll do pig, that’ll do”. Yes, he was the farmer in Babe, a corrupt cop in L.A. Confidential, and most recently, he played Ewan Roy, Logan’s older brother in Succession!

Jamie regaled us with stories of growing up in Connecticut (Waterford), glamorous Hollywood parties, and working with other acting legends like Sean Connery, Al Pacino, and Laurence Fishburne.

And at the end of our time together, we fed the pigs…

On the Farm with James Cromwell

James Cromwell (from here on, Jamie, as he prefers to be called) was kind enough to come to Buck’s Rock Camp (where Bev works) to teach some workshops over a few days. We caught him between sessions and invited him up to the farm for an interview to which he agreed (willingly 😆). He’s an incredible storyteller, and we could have listened to him all afternoon!

Teaching an acting workshop at Buck’s Rock Camp

Growing up in CT…

 I grew up much of the time in Waterford, around New London. 

My mother’s best friend was Elvia Enders. They were New England Brahmins, and her father was the head of Hartford National Bank. They lived on a compound, it must have been 100 acres. It was a grand old house with a circular driveway. Each of the children had their own house on the compound, all connected by hedges on either side of a grass path, which was always meticulously mown. Everything was PERFECT! 

Dr. John Enders, Elvia’s brother had an abhorrence of New England Brahmin cocktail parties. He’d sit there and get a couple of drinks in him and then he would drop a bomb. Out of nowhere, he would say something that would immediately polarize the entire room. And while they were screaming at each other, although Brahmins don’t scream, they’d get pretty heated. And he would keep drinking, it was like a play to him, and then he would get up to walk home. But, being as inebriated as he was, he didn’t actually make it home. He would fall through the hedge on the path. They would send out a search party for him and there they would find him in the hedge, happily asleep. [laughs]

Was it always acting for you?

I went to Middlebury College as a mechanical engineer to do 3 years of undergrad work and 2 years of engineering. I wanted to design sports cars. 

Then what happened?

My stepmother, bless her heart, a wonderful actress called Ruth Nelson, pressured my father to take more of an interest in me and see what I was doing now that I was in college. As a prep school student, he had written me many letters, none of which I had ever returned, in fact, many of them I didn’t even read. And he had just given up and was at a loss. 

My father [John Cromwell] was making a picture in Sweden and I watched my father work. My focus had always been somewhere else, but this time I was actually watching the work and I thought, “That’s a lot better than designing sports cars.”

So I said to my father, “Dad, I’m quitting college and I’m going to go to New York and be in theater.” And he said, “Don’t be an actor, you’re too damn tall.” Which is all the advice he ever gave me. 

First break?

I got to Hollywood and I didn’t know anyone. I’d gone to school in Middlebury with Eric Sevareid’s son, Michael Sevareid. Michael was working at CBS so I went to see him. He said, “Yeah, sure, I’ll show you around. Why don’t we go and see Norman Lear’s casting director?” so we went down and met her.

About a couple of months later, I got a call from my agent, “Get to CBS right now, you have to be there by 5. It’s for a series.” I went, I didn’t know the series; it was called All in the Family, and they handed me a script. I didn’t know anything about how to read a script, I only knew theatre…so I picked this character I loved, Art Carney, and I did sort of an impersonation I thought this guy Stretch Cunningham would talk like. I did it for her and to Norman, and he said, “I’ll see you on Monday.” I thought well, I got a job, but what is this series? Oh, it’s All in the Family? The number one show?

Somebody said something funny!

And first movie?

After that, I auditioned for my first movie, which was Murder By Death, and I got the part of a French chauffeur. This was Neil Simon’s first picture with Peter Sellers, Maggie Smith, Truman Capote, Nancy Walker….and here I was, surrounded by the crème de la crème…and James Cromwell! I was adopted by Alec Guinness and we became friends. 

After Murder by Death, I didn’t get another movie role for 8 years. They would always say, oh that Jamie Cromwell, he’s a situation comedy actor. Too tall, too big, too loud…

So, I was very lucky that my first picture back was a little picture about a pig. 

And then the next picture was about a corrupt cop, LA Confidential. 

I got wonderful projects because I got an Academy Award nomination for Babe

Favorite vacation or place you’ve visited in the world?

The best place I’ve visited in the world was Africa with my wife. We went to Rwanda and hiked up into the mountains to hang out with the silverback gorillas. 

Which actor inspires you today?

Oh, a number of people. I think Jake Gyllenhaal never puts a foot wrong. I did a film with Al Pacino. Al is a magnificent actor. George Clooney, Morgan Freeman is very grand and dignified. I’m very fond of Laurence Fishburne. Denzel Washington. 

What’s your life motto?

“Be here now, or, wash the bowl.”

In other words, whatever is in front of you, celebrate, concentrate, and communicate with what’s there. Simplicity. 

Cute story: The pigs are visiting @bucksrockcamp for the summer from @kimberlyfarm_ (the next hill over!)

A huge thanks to Jamie, his wife Anna Stuart, and Johanna for visiting, and to Jeff Oliver for jumping in to take some pics and video!

Words: Bev / Pics: Lora + Jeff Oliver

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