Magazine article The New Yorker

Disobedient

Magazine article The New Yorker

Disobedient

Article excerpt

Disobedient

James Cromwell

The first time James Cromwell got arrested was in 1971. "I sort of--he thought I did, I didn't think I did--assaulted a police officer on a subway train who was hassling a woman," he recalled recently. He was taken to a station house beneath Times Square, where a sergeant asked what he did for a living. "I said, 'I'm an actor.' He went, 'You working on anything now?' Like, You're unemployed, you're a fucking actor. I said, 'Yeah, I'm doing a play.' 'What's the play called?' I said, 'AC/DC,' which is a wonderful English play, very abstruse. Of course, he thought it meant bisexuality." Cromwell was let off with a warning.

He was arrested again a few months later, at the May Day protests in Washington, D.C., along with thousands of other people. Confronting a cop, he felt a baton against his throat, was tossed into a paddy wagon, and spent the night in jail. From his hotel room the next morning, he saw a chaotic scene--tear gas, anarchists clashing with police--that came to mind this past January, when he was protesting Donald Trump's Inauguration. "It was like the seventies," he said. "Nothing's changed."

Cromwell's penchant for civil disobedience may seem out of character. With his woolly voice and "American Gothic" look, the six-feet-seven actor is often cast as salt-of-the-earth types ("Babe") or as flinty authority figures ("L.A. Confidential"). But this summer he's been in the news for rabble-rousing. In July, he was arrested at SeaWorld San Diego for interrupting an orca show wearing a T-shirt that said "SeaWorld Sucks." Days earlier, he served three days at the Orange County Correctional Facility, after refusing to pay a fine stemming from a 2015 sit-in at a new power plant in Wawayanda, New York. He spent his prison time on a hunger strike, and read five hundred pages of "The Pickwick Papers."

"One of the questions people ask you when you go in is 'Are you anxious about being raped?' " Cromwell, who is seventy-seven, recalled. "I said, 'Not unless they're a whole lot hornier than I think they are.' " He was at a hotel in Albany, about to speak at a rally against the Wawayanda power plant, which would run on fracked gas piped in from Pennsylvania. (Governor Cuomo has banned fracking in New York State, but protesters were demanding that he deny the plant a water permit.)

The actor's father, the Hollywood director John Cromwell, was blacklisted in the fifties, but James didn't become politicized until 1964, when, at twenty-three, he joined the Free Southern Theatre and toured Mississippi and Louisiana, playing Pozzo in a mixed-race production of "Waiting for Godot. …

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