James Cromwell, who plays Jacob Wheeler on AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire, talks about what he collects and shares his thoughts on Joe MacMillan.
Q: Did anything immediately stand out to you about your character when reading the scripts? What caught your attention?
A: I chose to do the project because I thought the first season was quite wonderful. I liked Jacob’s exuberance, his intelligence and the lifestyle he lives. I thought his attitude towards his daughter [Sara Wheeler] was very pleasant and his skepticism about his future son-in-law is interesting.
Q: Jacob’s relationship with his daughter, and Joe, is pretty tense. Do you think he’s a good guy at the end of the day?
A: Well, business is business. It doesn’t matter whether you’re good or bad. It matters if you’re good at business or bad at business. I think he thinks that Joe is, for the most part, good at business and in fact, good enough to ruin my career – or bad enough. I think it’s a struggle in a very civil way between two very obsessed and focused characters. My character has very little principle other than “How do you make the most money quickest?” I think there’s a contest and a tug-of-war between Joe and Jacob about who will get the upper hand.
Q: What’s your favorite thing about the ‘80s? Do you miss anything?
A: It was just swell. The ‘50s was when nothing happened except things went on as they were supposed to, but then suddenly the whole world changed in the ‘80s and it became a free-for-all with some people falling all over themselves to make as much money as possible. I have no favorite part about the ‘80s. I was just trying to make a living.
Q: Do you think the world was better or worse because of all the Internet advancements since the ’80s?
A: It’s both good and bad, just like any tool. I think more and more people are informed. The question is what do you do with that information? People are creating mass movements and informing others of what’s happening. It’s a two-edged sword.
Q: Jacob collects small vintage airplanes. Do you collect anything?
A: Yes, I do. I collect aboriginal art. I have Australian Aboriginal art, Northwest Indian, Canadian art… I also have a number of African pieces because I have been there several times and I really like it. I’m very fond of Australian Aboriginal art, which I can no longer afford to buy. [Laughs] I’m surrounded by what I do have and it pleases me to no end.
Q: Have you come to find any similarities between your character and yourself?
A: Frankly, no. [Laughs] William Shakespeare wrote about the 1%, “they cannot see because they do not feel.” They don’t feel what ordinary people feel and the struggles. I look at this man who is a multi-billionaire in an extraction industry that is killing the planet and there’s no sense of the consequences of what he does and the decisions he makes. So, what do I do with him then? Well, I try to make him as human as possible and I try not to twirl my mustache too overtly.
Q: You’ve played so many different types of characters… presidents, doctors, a bishop. Is there any role or specific character/person you’ve always wanted to portray?
A: I haven’t played King Lear yet, but I am going to! I’m willing and able and I’ve got my lines already learned. [Laughs]
Read an interview with Aleksa Palladino, who plays Sara Wheeler.