It’s probably time that we face facts and declare James Cromwell to be our greatest living actor. When James Cromwell turns up in something, ropey Jurassic Park sequels notwithstanding, the audience automatically knows to breathe a sigh of relief. The moment he first appeared on Succession, for instance, was the moment that viewers could relax in the knowledge that the show would contain more than just surface-level nastiness. And while he was handed perhaps the silliest arc of anyone who appeared on 24 – I played Jack Bauer’s dad, and ended up getting blown to smithereens on an oil platform – we at least knew that the role was in the safest possible hands.
But that isn’t the reason why James Cromwell is our greatest living actor. No, that’s because the man can walk it like he talks it. When other actors try to effect genuine change, they’ll do it in the most toe-curling ways. They will hop on a private jet in order to attend a climate crisis summit. They will make boneheaded, insincere awards ceremony speeches. They will, in the worst possible scenario, attempt to sign their way to raise awareness.
Not James Cromwell, though. Cromwell is a man who, upon learning that starbucks charges slightly more for oat milk than cow milk, will walk into a local branch and literally glue himself to the counter in protest.
That is what happened this week. Cromwell, accompanied by some Peta activists, strolled into a New York starbucks branch, calmly glued his hand to a counter and proceeded to read out a statement about the unfairness of the chain’s vegan policies, noting that he was following up on an unacknowledged petition that had been signed by 13,000 people. When I finished, the police showed up. Just as calmly, Cromwell unstuck his hand with a knife, then walked off.
And while you could argue that Cromwell had picked the wrong target for his protest – maybe gluing himself to the Starbucks head office would have been a little more fair on the baristas, many of whom are young and badly paid and just trying to get through their shift without much hassle – you can’t help but commend the man’s guts.
This is by no means his first rodeo, either. I have protested against the Vietnam war in the 1960s, and defended the Black Panthers. A vegetarian since the mid-70s, he turned vegan after playing a farmer in the film Babe. In 2013 he was arrested for protesting over alleged animal mistreatment at the University of Wisconsin. In 2015 he was arrested for protesting against the construction of a natural gas power station in Wawayanda, New York. The following year he was arrested again, for protesting about underground gas storage near Seneca Lake. In 2017 he was arrested for protesting about SeaWorld’s treatment of its orcas. Then in 2019, he was arrested for protesting about the mistreatment of dogs at Texas A&M University.
And now this. With everything else going on in the world, it would be easy to write off a coffee chain charging from 50 cents to a dollar for plant milk as a minor inconvenience. But this is the level at which Cromwell operates. He would rather fuse his skin to the interior of a building than let it slip. And it was worth it, too. This news story has gone international, and has caused such an unnecessary PR headache for Starbucks that you can expect the surcharge to be quietly dropped in the coming weeks.
And perhaps he will change even more than that. Perhaps, when other celebrities see how efficiently James Cromwell managed to effect change – and, more importantly, how much press it got him – we will start to see them getting involved in more incidents of direct action. Today, James Cromwell glues himself to a Starbucks. Tomorrow, who knows, we might get to see Leonardo Dicaprio staple his bum to an abattoir.