THE LEADING MEN: Mandy Patinkin, Back on Broadway With Patti LuPone

By Mervyn Rothstein
21 Nov 2011

Patinkin in Compulsion.
photo by Joan Marcus

You're back on TV at the same time as you're on Broadway. Why did you decide to return to the small screen?
MP: I was doing Compulsion for a year and a half, at the Yale Repertory Theatre, and Berkeley Rep and the Public Theater in New York. And right before we opened at the Public, [TV producers and writers] Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon contacted me about playing this part in the Showtime series "Homeland," and I read their script and I thought it was fantastic and had the clear potential of being everything that we're getting to enjoy.

I talked to Oskar Eustis [artistic director of the Public Theater], and everybody bent over backward — my agents, my lawyers, the people from Fox TV — to make all the scheduling work. I kept flying back and forth after every scene in the TV pilot to go to technical rehearsals at the Public. And we finished the pilot, and it was one of the best experiences of my life.

It's 12 episodes a year, which for the actors is five and a half months a year, which leaves me the other six and a half months a year to have my concert career, which I can't live without. I need that music to feel alive. Not just the music to feel alive. I need to hear those words. I need to be with those words. I need to be with Patti, I need to be up there with my son Gideon, who performs with me sometimes. I need to be up there with Nathan Gunn. Or Taylor Mac, who I'm working with on a new show. I need to be there with Paul Ford. It is absolutely my lifeblood. And with Patti LuPone most of all.

Patinkin in "Homeland."
photo by Kent Smith/SHOWTIME

You've said before that doing a TV role means living through all the emotions that it brings with it, and on a spy thriller those emotions can be difficult. Has that happened this time?
MP: It's very interesting as an actor. You have to work so much harder when the writing is not up to speed, when it's not as good as you hope it would be. But in the case of "Homeland," the writing is so spectacular that it requires almost the least effort from me that I have ever had to expend as an actor, because they have done so much of it for me. I have a personal litmus test. When the material is very difficult to learn, and I have to go over and over and over it, and it doesn't get into my head, that's exhausting. And this material, that these writers compose for the "Homeland" scripts, it just flows right into my brain. It's the most effortless experience I've ever had in learning lines. And that to me says it all. Because it all makes such perfect sense.

They also say to me, "Do you want to know what happens, ahead of time?" And I say no, I don't want to know — just as I wouldn't know in real life. I can't wait for the next script, to turn the page and see what happens next.

That said, the way I work, I still fill it, underneath the words, with an awful lot of things that I connect to. The key word in my life is connect — to connect. And that's a word that I got from James Lapine and Steve Sondheim, from Sunday in the Park With George, where George kept saying, "Connect, George, connect." So I'm always looking for those connections. And the material is so rich, so present — it's so immediate to our lives at this moment, that there is absolutely no shortage of connection.

This is one of those moments in life where I really am trying to pinch myself, to just go like, let the sun set an hour later every day, I just don't want the days to go too fast, it's just such a wonderful time. And when you get to be 58 — I'm going to be 59 on Nov. 30 — you know that those times don't come every day, so you're a fool if you don't cherish and save them.