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). ~ Sandra Brennan, All Movie Guide
Engineer and Character Actor