Actor James Cromwell, whose film credits include “Babe” and “L.A. Confidential,” recently spoke with “Breakthrough Entertainment” about his role in the new drama “Still Mine.”
In “Still Mine,” which opens Friday, July 19 exclusively at Harkins Camelview 5, Cromwell and Geneviève Bujold play an elderly couple who fight against local authorities in rural New Brunswick to build their final home.
Question: What was it about this project that initially appealed to you and drew you to the role?
Answer: Making a 90-year-old man at my age be believable without any makeup. Dealing with the 900-pound gorilla – dementia and Alzheimer’s – which nobody wants to talk about. And the opportunity to show a resistance to authority without resorting to violence. That just a principled stand against the imposition of government and the overreaching of government has its consequences but that it can be done. And that is how we change the world. That appealed to me.
Q: This is based on a true story. Is Craig Morrison – the man who inspired your character – still alive? And, if so, has he had a chance to see this movie?
A: The man is no longer alive. He died soon after this picture was completed. But he did get to see the picture. And he seemed to be pleased with it. I met him when we were shooting in New Brunswick. He is completely different from me but very impressive. I met him at his house that he built, which is extraordinary because he not only built the house but he sawed the logs and milled them, framed it, poured the foundation and roofed it.
Q: How closely did you study Craig to prepare for this role? In other words, what is your process when it comes to researching the real people you portray in motion pictures?
A: I don’t want to do caricatures. And I have come very close. I have done some historical figures. And I find that when you are too slavishly responsible to presenting an accurate representation of Lyndon B. Johnson that you wind up caricaturing him – because, of course, you are not Lyndon B. Johnson. You have to find something in the character that resonates with who you are and what you believe in. And you have to project that clearly. I have done, in my career, a pretty broad range of characters. But I do not wear makeup. So, basically, if people think that Dudley Smith is different than Farmer Hoggett, it is only because of the nature of how I approach the action of the narrative. And people are not tired of me yet so I guess that it is OK.
Q: What did the opportunity to briefly walk in Craig’s shoes teach you?
A: Craig is far more empathetic, forgiving and accepting than I am. I have those traits in me but I often do not acknowledge them or exercise them. I was reading the new book by Tom Sadyak, who I am very fond of. He is on a spiritual quest and was saying that in his mind there are these two wolves – the dark, egotistical, self-destructive and violent wolf and the compassionate, empathetic, generous and grateful wolf. And he asks, “In your life, which wolf wins?” The answer is the one you feed. So, I think that, for the most part, Craig fed the lighter wolf. And I respect that immensely. And I have that as a goal in my own life.
Q: If viewers come away from this movie with only one theme or idea, what do you hope that would be?
A: Each person, in themselves, is enough. And the only thing that matters are your principles. Those are the things that you cannot live without. And when you lose them, they are really gone and it is a different kind of life. My driver today, bless his heart, was a man from Sri Lanka. They have been fighting for their freedom and for their liberation for many years. He finally got to America and raised a family but his kids know nothing about where he came from or the hardships that he has been through. They know nothing about a religion. So he asks his kids, “What religion are you?” They say, “We are from the religion of do the right thing.” That is a religion that I believe in. Do the right thing.
Q: There is a line that I really like in the movie: “Age is just an abstraction. It is not a straightjacket.” Can you apply that line to the idea that, at least as I have observed, the roles seem to get richer for actors as they get older?
A: When I was younger, the roles – although I had a number of wonderful ones – were less substantial. As I get older, I have a certain amount of gravity to bring. So people now cast me because I have a body of work. I project something. I have always wanted to play a proletariat. I guess that I do not look like proletariat. I guess that I do not sound like a proletariat. But this was really one of the few times that I have had the chance to play an ordinary person. A role is only as rich as you make it. But this is a good role. This is a really good role. It is a wonderful role and I hope that I get a few more.
Q: Finally, still speaking of the richness of roles such as this, how has your life prepared you to play a person with this much passion?
A: I am often criticized by those who know me for having too much passion and being a little on the strident side. My life has been very full – not only in terms of my career but also in my private life. I have a family. I have had marriages – marriages that failed and relationships that worked. I have been through it with my kids. I continue to be a father – and continue to be frustrated as a father. I have been politically active since my early 20s – mostly in radical politics. I have hitchhiked around the world. I have lived a very full life. And that gives me a leg up on somebody who, I suppose, has been less out there and, at a certain point, sort of runs out of things to say. I have never run out of things to say. My wife is smiling at me at this moment. She knows damn well that I never run out of things to say. I have had a full and rich life and I try to bring that – my life and what I have learned – with some humility – because it is just my life – to the work that I do. And people seem to respond to that. The response that I get from a lot of people is, “I like your work.” So, instead of thinking of me as a movie star or as a curiosity, they understand that I am a working man. And they appreciate the job that I do. They see it as a job and they say to me, “Whenever you are in a picture, I see it because I always know that I will like what I see.”