Mandy Patinkin wants you to know that Homeland is not just entertainment. The multiple Emmy-award-winning TV hit is an instructive drama that might just help bring peace to the Middle East. And not only that, the success of it, and the influence of his co-star, Claire Danes, have helped him be a better, more humble, man.
It was all this, and more, that the New York-based actor who plays CIA Middle-East chief, Saul Berenson, spoke about in a short interview while on a whirlwind stop in Toronto to help promote the series. (The first season is airing on Bravo; Season 2 is on SuperChannel and SuperChannel on Demand.) The room was a barren corporate affair in Bell Media’s midtown Toronto hub: a table of food, a couple of chairs, a poster for the show, public-relations reps hovering. And there sat Patinkin, a force of nature in a wooly beard, lumberjack shirt, jeans and comfortable winter boots. He may have looked casual, slouched slightly on an office chair, but in tone, he was on a pulpit.
Homeland – a psychological thriller about a CIA agent, Carrie Mathison (Danes) who tries to uncover the truth about Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis), a U.S. Marine, whom she believes was turned by al-Qaeda while a prisoner-of-war – has become a cultural phenomenon. I asked Patinkin if he feels that along with such movies as Zero Dark 30 and Argo, Homeland can be seen as part of the culture’s collective psychic processing of the traumatizing, life-altering event of 9/11.
“Yes, I think that’s right,” he began, leaning forward, as he unleashed a long, passionate explanation. “And I think the core system that we all operate in is a relationship with another human being. In this case [with Brody and Mathison], they happen to be a Romeo and Juliet: adversaries who can’t live with each other and can’t live without each other. Two people in a room are going to make peace in the Middle East one day. Two people in a room will fix the budget crisis in America. Two people in a room will stop hating each other and screaming at each other like a husband and wife at a family dinner table, and they will listen to each other and teach the children that they can disagree with each other but they have to listen to each other and respect each other.”
And he was just getting started. Patinkin, also an accomplished singer who won a Tony for his 1981 Broadway debut in Evita, said he knew immediately upon reading the script of Homeland that it could help the world. “What I said to Alex Gansa [co-producer along with Howard Gordon] before we shot one frame of the pilot, was, ‘What you have written is a chance to see both sides of the situation’ … Then it’s up to the audience to listen to that information, participate and figure out who they agree or disagree with.”
Several times, Patinkin talked about the beliefs of his character, who is a mentor to Mathison, as if they were his own. Another instructive point of the show, he told me, is “to never give up on my belief in this child named Carrie Mathison, whom I found and discovered and recruited, probably from Yale, whom I believed had the gifts that I had wished for the world to benefit from.”
That’s only a fragment of what he said. All I can say is at the end of his clause-heavy spiel, he took a breath, I tried to get a question in – and failed, as he bulldozed on. “She is the Moses on the mountain; she is the Abraham Lincoln; she is the Anne Frank to this man’s mind.
“And Claire Danes is an additional child to Mandy’s life,” the father of two said, providing the perfect segue to a discussion about how she has taught him a few things he says he has spent a lifetime (he is now 60) trying to learn. “She has this off-camera gift, which most of the public never sees, which is a life gift, and that is grace.”
The whole interview was like this, his experience on Homeland explained as homework lessons. But if there’s intensity in Patinkin’s sermon on the chair, there’s also delight. He is one of those people who talks about the significance of his work and experience, not out of obligation, and not out of a sanctimonious sense of superiority, but simply because he’s pleased to discover that there’s meaning to be mined. It is not for naught.
“I’ve had wonderful feelings of success in my life in terms of public awareness. But never like this,” he told me, when I did manage to ask what it’s like to be on such a hit. “So the pleasure to me comes from knowing that this kind of attention, this kind of adulation, this kind of recognition, is here for a split second … I watch some of the younger people on this production, [for whom] this kind of success is a first, and I can hear their wheels turning – ‘How can I parlay this into a good career thing?’ – and I’m so thrilled that I can be in this moment and say, ‘How can I make this day last longer?’”
Time was up, and he smiled.