Jose Lambiet

‘We are numb to the suffering of animals, which makes us numb to the suffering of people’

James Cromwell, in a scene from ‘Babe.’
James Cromwell, in a scene from ‘Babe.’

Oscar nominee James Cromwell says his epiphany that the world is too cruel to animals came in 1975 while the actor was on a cross-country trip on his motorcycle.

Cromwell, the 77-year-old star of “Babe” and television’s “American Horror Story,” recalls how his passage through Texas stockyards started a process that turned him away from eating meat and prompted him to speak up for the rights of animals.

“It was mile after mile of facilities where beautiful animals were waiting their turn to be slaughtered,” Cromwell said in a phone interview this morning. “You could tell they sensed, smelled, perceived what was about to happen to them.”

Twenty years later, Cromwell won an Oscar nomination for his role in “Babe,” the story of a farm pig who dreamed about becoming a sheep dog.

“I was on the set all day working with pigs and chicken and sheep, and when lunch comes around, you’re eating similar creatures,” Cromwell says. “I just didn’t want to be a part of that system, and I became a vegetarian.”

Wednesday, Cromwell is set to receive a Hero To Animals Award from the People For The Ethical Treatment Of Animals at, where else, vegan eatery Sublime in Fort Lauderdale.

Cromwell, the lanky actor who also starred in “L.A. Confidential,” “The Green Mile” and the upcoming “Jurassic World,” has received tons of awards in his 45-year career. But this one, he says, matters just as much.

“I love PETA,” he says. “for the fact they do whatever it takes to stop abuse.”

Which led Cromwell to the topic of Lolita, the killer whale at the Miami Seaquarium whose life in captivity has been the subject of animal rights protests for years.

Cromwell was charged with trespassing in July when he and PETA activists hijacked a Shamu show at SeaWorld San Diego and harangued the crowd on the wisdom of keeping killer whales in artificial tanks.

In a sense, Cromwell says, the Seaquarium orca may even have it worse than SeaWorld’s because Lolita is the only animal of its kind at the Rickenbacker Causeway park.

“Whales swim around in very small tanks — which by the way are full of antibiotics — fins laying on the side because they can’t get enough exercise,” Cromwell said. “Let them swim where they’re supposed to swim.”

When asked if he plans a protest in South Florida during his trip from his home in upstate New York, the oft-arrested Cromwell said he wouldn’t tell if he did.

“Violence toward animals,” he said, “infects us as a species. It corrupts our nature. We are numb to the suffering of animals, which makes us numb to the suffering of people.”