James Cromwell is still awesome

The longtime Hollywood character actor talks about appearing in a small Canadian film, Michael McGown’s touching story Still Mine.

James Cromwell and Geneviève Bujold in Still Mine

James Cromwell has been a busy Hollywood character actor since the late ’70s. He was nominated for an Oscar for Babe, played George Bush I in Oliver Stone’s W and has appeared in everything from The Artist to several roles in the Star Trek franchise, not to mention the first three Revenge of the Nerds movies.

So what is he doing in a small Canadian production, Still Mine?

“Hollywood takes less and less interest in you as you get older,” Cromwell explains in a phone interview. “If you want to do good work and do something that’s original, something to express a part of yourself that you can’t do in Hollywood, independent film is the way to go. The chance of getting a script like Still Mine or The Artist in Hollywood is almost nil. So you don’t get the money you would in Hollywood, but you don’t need that kind of money to live anyway! So you do it for the joy.”

Still Mine is writer-director Michael McGowan’s story of Craig (Cromwell) and Irene (Geneviève Bujold), an elderly couple in rural New Brunswick. When she starts to have trouble getting up and down stairs, he decides to build them a new house on their land. Before long, a pesky government inspector (Jonathan Potts) is giving him a hard time for building without the proper papers.

“I’m intrigued by the very subtle political message,” says Cromwell, who’s known for his activism and outspoken lefty views. “We live in a world where we have regulated ourselves out of our humanity, mainly to defend ourselves from ourselves and our worst impulses. Today, houses are built by people who only care about profits and not about people. Governments make regulations and don’t care about the impact.”

But the story’s politics are indeed subtle; it’s more of a love story between the old couple. “The relationship reminded me of my father and stepmother, who were married for 46 years and had that intimacy and support,” Cromwell says. “I watched my stepmother minister to my father as he was dying.” He and Bujold ably capture the tragic yet touching relationship, and Cromwell speaks fondly of his co-star. “I had a crush on her since I was in college. She was a big movie star, and there she is just as beautiful as ever standing in front of you — it was a treat.”

McGowan avoids what could easily have been a corny cheese-fest, largely thanks to Cromwell and Bujold’s genuine emotions and unsentimental performances. The director was either lucky or savvy to get this calibre of actor. But when I ask Cromwell what it was like to participate in such a small-scale film, he disagrees. “I wouldn’t call this small-scale — this is a full-fledged production. It doesn’t have the fat of a Hollywood film,” he says. “When you have money to throw at everything, you get sloppy and lazy and you think throwing more money at it will solve everything. When you don’t have the money, you scale down to what’s essential.” ■


Still Mine opens Friday, May 10

Leave a Reply