07/12/2013 08:36 am ET

James Cromwell On His New Film And On Why He's Still So Angry


On the surface, James Cromwell should have a lot to be happy about. The versatile actor perhaps best known for his Oscar-nominated supporting role in 1995's "Babe" has a new movie coming out this month -- and, in a rare occurrence, he's actually playing the romantic lead.

In the film "Still Mine," which opens in New York City on July 19 before enjoying a limited release later this summer, Cromwell stars as Craig Morrison, a Canadian farmer whose wife, played by Genevieve Bujold, is quickly descending into dementia. Morrison has to fight government bureaucracy in order to work towards his goal of building a smaller house to replace the couple's dilapidated two-story home.

Cromwell won lead actor at the Canadian Screen Awards earlier this year and also has nabbed lead actor honors at the Seattle International Film Festival.

Even so, a phone interview with Cromwell takes some angry twists and turns, with the 73-year-old political activist -- who's been arrested for speaking out against animal brutality -- often railing against the Bush family as well as the state of the planet.

Here's what Cromwell, who soon will begin filming the new ABC drama series "Betrayal," had to say.

I remember when I first saw you. It was on "All In The Family" in the 1970s and you were playing Stretch Cunningham. What do you think about that experience now?

I had been in the theater for 10 years. Then I decided to hitchhike around the world. I was searching for something but I'm not sure what. And then I came to Los Angeles and I was going to be a probation officer. But then I got a call from someone I had worked with before and I got an agent and I met someone at CBS. I was asked to come and read for a part. I had never seen the show before. I wound up reading for Norman Lear. He told me to report to work on Monday morning. It was an a great show. But I'm glad I didn't play Stretch forever. I would have been like the Fonz. I would have always been known as Stretch.

Do you have any favorite TV shows today?

I don't watch TV now. I have an allergic reaction to commercials. I can't even bear them with the sound off. I have an allergic reaction to network TV where every 12 minutes there is a crisis so that people will keep watching after the commercial. I think it leads to the worst kind of acting. They are trying to justify some kind of outbreak of emotion that hasn't been set up at all. I don't think it's very healthy for an actor.

You've appeared in all sorts of shows and movies, but you are probably most known for "Babe."

I almost turned down "Babe." I thought they stuck peanut butter in animals' mouths and moved them around. I didn't understand computer-generated imagery. I thought, "This is a picture made for kids in Australia ... Why should I do this?" But then a friend said it was a free trip to Australia and that if the movie failed it would be the pig's fault. So I did it and it turned out great.

Tell us about your new film.

This one I almost turned down as well. This picture has a contemplative rhythm. It has the kind of rhythm as the movie "Amour." There is a measured pace of silence and gestures and expressions and that is the story. When I first read the script, I didn't give it its due. But luckily I accepted the role because I wasn't working at the time and I like Canada and now when I look at it and look at my performance, I really like it. I did it for all the wrong reasons and it turned out great. It's not a big Hollywood picture and I couldn't stand up in my trailer. But it was okay and now it's all fine. Remember that the last picture I did was "The Artist." Again, I thought, "is this going to fly in America? Who's going to buy this picture? Nobody knows the stars." But then, of course, it was a work of art.

What was your most challenging role?

Well, playing George H.W. Bush in [Oliver Stone's] "W" was very challenging. That was personally obscene to me. [George W] lied to the American public and in front of Congress. He got us involved in a war that led to the death of so many servicemen. You can tell I have a lot of problems with the Bush family. There's a picture of Bush on the front of the New York Times today. And here his party is blocking immigration legislation. It's disgusting.

Talking about your new film again, do you think it will appeal to all ages?

Age is an abstraction. We're still human beings. I'm 73. I still have aspirations. I still have sex. I still get turned on and hope I still turn others on as well. I'm still capable. The appeal may be that everyone knows dementia. Of course, cancer is horrible. They take your breast and this and that and there's no guarantee it will help. Alzheimer's and dementia can be even worse. Whereas "Amour" showed the darker side, this film shows that things don't necessarily have to be that bad. You have to have compassion and patience. For most people, it does turn out badly. But in this instance the couple prevails in having some semblance of the life they had before. What does a 14 year old or 15 year old make of "King Lear"? Probably not much. But it doesn't diminish "King Lear." And there's the element of the fight against authority. If young people don't start fighting authority pretty soon there will not be any water to drink or enough food to eat. I'm very worried about the planet. People need to fight for what's right in a very peaceful and principled way.

"Still Mine" has garnered rave reviews. Here's just one.