Mandy Patinkin talks Homeland, leaving Criminal Minds and playing Clearwater tonight
When Mandy Patinkin and I finally meet on the telephone, I have just one real message for the powerhouse performer who has nailed iconic roles everywhere from the Broadway stage to Showtime’s Golden Globe-winning, terrorism-in-America treatise Homeland.
Please, PLEASE don’t leave your latest TV show just yet!
That’s because Patinkin, a brilliant an actor and stage performer, also has developed a history of getting off great television series, just as they are peaking in popularity.
He left CBS’ medical drama Chicago Hope back in the mid-90s, eager to spend more time with his family. After two seasons, he also left CBS’ successful drama about a team of investigators tracking serial killers, Criminal Minds, because the violence of the show bothered him so much.
But ask about Homeland, the successful Showtime drama about a U.S. soldier turned into a secret spy for Islamic jihadists, and Patinkin gives an unequivocal answer.
“I promise you, I’m here,” he said, laughing at my (sorta joking, sorta not) pleas that he stick with playing knowledgeable, driven CIA agent Saul Berensen a little while longer. “I’m not leaving this one, don’t worry.”
Patinkin had some other scoops. He wasn’t, as is widely rumored, considering a cameo appearance on Criminal Minds (“I never received a single phone call”), and he’s bringing a one-man show to Clearwater with pieces from a song cycle about family and country that’s different from his gig last night in Sarasota with fellow Tony award winner Patti Lupone.
“You know I’m shooting (Homeland), and I get to be with Patti and I do my solo shows and I’m giving birth to a new stage show…I feel like the luckiest guy in the world,” he said. “I figure, it means I’m gonna die soon."
I only feel slightly embarrassed that my first thought is: Hopefully, not until after the second season of Homeland is finished.
Deggans: In Homeland you’re an experienced CIA officer mentoring a younger agent, Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) who you discover is bipolar. Why is this show so special to you? Patinkin: For me, the series is about a family – on a variety of levels. It’s the relationship of father and daughter with me and Carrie, also mentor and boss, but she’s also my child figure in the piece. Also, (soldier-turned-terrorist spy) Brody might become another child figure to this man, and also the country is another child. These are all members of his family.”
Everyone almost seems at war with themselves. Brody is torn between his real family and Jihadist family, while Saul is torn between the wife who left him and the CIA and Carrie. “Yeah…You could even see Brody as the ultimate child figure in the piece where we are watching sort of a child’s journey in terms of drinking in the world or worlds around him, and synthesizing them into his own brain.”
Some actors work a lifetime for one good TV part. How did you get three or more? Literally … it’s the four-letter word, luck, L-U-C-K. I mean, what on earth did I ever do to deserve that? I didn’t do anything. I just get up and try to be a good guy and take care of my family and my friends, and how that happened I can’t understand myself.
Can you talk about the difference between your Clearwater show on Wednesday and the show with Patti (yesterday)? I have a new piece that I’m giving birth to called Let Go, which I’m actually birthing in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., the week of the 22nd of February, and that’s a song cycle about family and country, a generic family and the family of country as well. It’s a one-hour and eight-minute piece that I love, and I’ll probably be doing some pieces from that and other material that I’ve been working on (in Clearwater). Clearwater is sort of my smorgasbord … we call it our pops concert, dress casual. It’s a mixture of everything I’m working on and it’s free-form and I say whatever I want and I talk and I change. The Patti show is more formal in terms of structure. It is a figurative journey of two souls, using familiar and unfamiliar material, both spoken and sung.
How did the show with Patti come together? They were opening a new theater in Richardson, Texas, about nine years ago, and the guy who ran the theater called Patti’s people and said we have Mandy, and they called my people and said they had Patti. Could we each do 20 minutes, sing one song together and say, you know, good night? And I hate those kind of evenings. So I was ready to blow it off and I said to my collaborator/piano player for 24 years, Paul Ford, Paul, before we blow this off, do you think we could put together a show that told a story, a figurative journey of two people, that we could change and adapt over time and do it through, you know, till we drop dead? And he said, yeah. And so I went and asked Patti if she was game. I said, Patti, they don’t have me. She said, ‘They don’t have me either, doll.’ They lied.
Probably the best lie of your touring life, that one. Recently, when we were doing it on Broadway, the guy who made that phone call came backstage and I said, ‘boy, oh boy, oh boy, I’ve never met a liar that I’ve loved so much (laughter).’ I said, I’m begging you to find another way to lie to me because what a gift you gave both of us. We’ll do this for the rest of our lives.
Tell me about leaving Criminal Minds and Chicago Hope. The misogynistic nature of the violence (on Criminal Minds), I never thought that that would be sustainable or would want to be sustained, and I was … it really disturbed me. And it was extremely uncomfortable to be a part of that dialog, and so I couldn’t sustain that. Chicago Hope was wonderful, but my real relationship there was with (executive producer/creator) David Kelley, and David said from the get-go that he wasn’t gonna stay past, like, 12 or 15 shows from the first season. And our symbiosis was what was really the joy for me. So that was difficult, and then also I had young kids at the time and I was never … I was shooting 16 hours a day and I couldn’t bear not being with my family. And in hindsight, I wouldn’t trade that time I gave back to my family for anything in the world.
But when I came to Homeland, you know, I came to it in a very different way. I looked at that material very, very carefully. I wanted to make sure that, you know, the pilot script of Criminal Minds I never thought could be repeated. Was there anything in this pilot script that might disturb me to a point where it could be that every week and I would feel like I had made a wrong choice for me? And I felt no, (Homeland) was a piece that asked some of the most extraordinary questions of us as viewers and of us as participants – writers, actors, you know, reviewers, everybody. It really is a piece that asks questions that you rarely hear being asked anywhere in life, let alone presidential debates or the media or newspapers. Who are the terrorists, you know, in our world? Who are the racists? Why are the terrorists where they are? Why are the racists the way they are? And what I think is just such an extraordinary gift to all of us participating in getting to view Homeland does something that I don’t think a documentary can do because a documentary at the end of the day is always in the hands of the documentarian, and he’s manipulating it, as far as I’m concerned, to show his point of view. (In Homeland) you are being asked these very serious questions in this post-9/11 era to really ask questions, you know. Who are the terrorists today? And who are the racists? And why are whoever we think they are, why are they, on whichever side they’re on, that way?
I love the fact that your character is a Jewish man who is conversant with this world; he’s found a way to make peace with parts of it and found a way to oppose parts of it. Did you feel that too; this character was talking about Jewish people’s roles in solving this?
P: Not Jewish people’s roles but the roles of all humanity. I mean, the … you know, I’m a Jew who cares as much about the Palestinian people as I do about the Jewish people. They’re all human beings. I want everyone to live side by side together. I want them all to find a place for peace in their hearts and a place for forgiveness. We’re all brothers and sisters, and those who have suffered violence in this world, whether through acts of war at 9/11 through the World Trade Center or the Pentagon or the field in Pennsylvania or whether they’re in the Middle East in Gaza or in Israel, those hearts that are bleeding, some of them can’t heal. So I think it’s up to the rest of us in the world to get up every day and find the strength to go wherever we can and sing the songs on a concert stage or do the words in a TV show or find plays or find newspaper articles to write, or anything we can do to try to help heal this world – to sit at that peace table and keep the discussion going in a dramatic form, in a musical form, in an op-ed form, and carry on the work that those whose hearts have been too hurt can’t find the strength to do. It’s our job to take their place.