It’s been over 25 years since actor and activist James Cromwell played one of his most indelible roles, the kindly farmer Arthur Hoggett in “Babe,” but he’s been both a friend of animals and a champion of their rights for even longer.
During Friday evening’s 23rd annual gala for Mercy for Animals – dedicated to preventing cruelty to farmed animals and advocating for compassionate food choices – Cromwell received the organization’s Hope Award for his steadfast commitment to furry and feathered causes, a dedication that’s seen him frequently ending up in handcuffs as a result of his passionate protests. He was feted along with additional honorees: author and content creator Joanne L. Molinaro, aka the Korean Vegan, and influential vegan chef Babette Davis.
“[My arrest record] really isn’t such a big deal,” Cromwell told Variety with a chuckle as he arrived at the Gala at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, saying his experiences being booked and mug-shotted was well worth raising awareness and challenging unnecessarily cruel institutions, often in concert with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
“We’ve been arrested a couple of times and it seems to make a difference. It wouldn’t be just as fun if it didn’t,” added the 82-year-old Oscar nominee. “And there is progress being made, which is a counterpoint to the despair and grief that you feel about what you see mostly around us, which is unconsciousness and cruelty and abuse.”
Cromwell raised his hand to illustrate his advantage when the authorities clamp down on him. “This is the club: the nice white skin,” he explained, noting that he thinks his whiteness has proven to be a shield against excessive treatment when under arrest, rarely encountering any threat of violence – but not never.
“One of the first times we did it, the cops, they were pissed at us because there was a funeral for a cop at the same time and they thought we did schedule it on purpose,” he revealed. “So when he put the cuffs on me, he really ground them in, then he put me on the plastic seat in the back and your hands are [behind you] and there’s no room for my knees, so you’re pushed against the seat back with your handcuffs on, it hurts like my son of a bitch!”
But Cromwell doesn’t mind risking a little pain: earlier this year he superglued his hand to the counter of a Manhattan Starbucks to protest the high cost of the coffee megalith’s surcharge for plant-based milk.
“It wasn’t painful at all – it was as simple as a piece of cake: just squirted it down, put my hand in,” he shrugged. “The acetone’s not probably the best thing to put on your skin… It took about 10 minutes to get off.”
“The real strange thing about that was that not only was I glued and sitting on the counter, but I was at the top of my voice – not yelling, but at the top of my voice explaining why we were doing it,” he added. . “People came in, and except for one moment, no one looked at me or said, ‘Oh, that’s a celebrity guy.’ Or, ‘What’s he doing? What is he against?’ It just shows you how docile and unimaginative and always wanting to think, ‘My little cocoon protects me from anything, so I’m not going to stick my nose out because I might get it cut off.’ Which is a shame.”
Meanwhile, when not under arrest, Cromwell’s still thrilled to be popping into HBO’s “Succession” periodically in his Emmy-nominated role as the savage Roy family’s uniquely principled Uncle Ewan.
“I would like to do more, because I think the show – personally, my opinion – needs the balance of another point of view that is effective,” he said. “But I’m mostly pleased with the guy and what he stands for… I said to [creator] Jesse [Armstrong], I can’t turn out to be a schmuck. He has principles. Yes, he’s harsh. Yes, he’s part of the family. Yes, he’s privileged. But he does have a moral compass, which nobody seems to have or care about. And I appreciate that.”