Long-time character actor James Cromwell has spent much of his career on stage and television, only occasionally appearing in feature films until the early '90s, when his film work began to flourish. The tall, spare actor first became known to an international audience with his role as the taciturn but kindly Farmer Hoggett, the owner of a piglet that wants to be a sheepdog, in the smash hit Babe (1995). His work in the film earned Cromwell an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor, as well as numerous opportunities for steady work in Hollywood.
The son of noted director John Cromwell and actress Kay Johnson, he originally aspired to become a mechanical engineer, attending both Vermont's Middlebury College and the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University). But after a summer spent on a movie set with his father, the acting bug bit, and Cromwell decided to become an actor. He started out in regional theater, acting and directing in a variety productions for ten years, and he was a regular performer at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles. Cromwell made his television debut in the recurring role of "Stretch" Cunningham on All in the Family in 1974, and he subsequently spent the rest of the decade and much of the 1980s on television, as a regular on such shows as Hot L Baltimore and The Last Precinct. Cromwell also appeared in such miniseries as NBC's Once an Eagle and in such made-for-television movies as A Christmas Without Snow (1980).
Cromwell made his feature film debut in the comedy Murder By Death (1976). His film work was largely undistinguished until Babe; following the film's success, he began appearing in more substantial roles in a number of popular films, including The People Vs. Larry Flynt (1996), in which he played Charles Keating; Star Trek: First Contact (1996), which cast him as the reluctant scientist responsible for Earth's first contact with alien life forms; and L.A. Confidential (1997), in which he gave a marvelously loathsome performance as a crooked police captain. Adept at playing nice guys and bottom-dwelling scum alike, Cromwell next earned strong notices for his portrayal of a penitentiary warden in The Green Mile (1999).
The respected character actor continued strongly into the next decade with appearances in Clint Eastwood's Space Cowboys as well as the live-on-TV production of Fail Safe in 2000. He enjoyed a recurring role on E.R. in 2001. He played the president in the 2002 Jack Ryan movie The Sum of All Fears. In 2003 he took on a recurring role in the respected HBO drama Six Feet Under, and also appeared in the award-winning HBO adaptation of Angels in America.
In 2006 he acted opposite Helen Mirren playing Prince Philip in The Queen, and played another head of state for Oliver Stone when he portrayed George Herbert Walker Bush in the biopic W. In 2011 he was the loyal butler to the main character in the Best Picture Oscar winner for that year, The Artist.
~ Sandra Brennan, Rovi