In a brightly lit room in Mandy Patinkin’s Upper West Side apartment, the actor and his 26-year-old son, Gideon, are singing to each other. Gideon sometimes joins Mandy onstage in concert, and the two are brushing up on a medley for my benefit, fine-tuning songs from Guys and Dolls, The Music Man, and Into the Woods. When Mandy starts to stamp his feet, Gideon reminds him that it bothers the downstairs neighbors. When Mandy flubs a lyric, he shouts, “Fuck me!” before soldiering on. On a shelf overlooking the father and son is a simple piece of embroidery, stitched blue letters over red buttons, that reads UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE: CELEBRATE EVERYTHING.
That could be Patinkin’s motto. In his three-decade career, the 59-year-old has accumulated a Tony for his star-making performance in 1980’s Evita, an Emmy for his role on mid-nineties CBS doctor drama Chicago Hope, and an indelible catchphrase — “My name is Inigo Montoya,” you know the rest — from 1987’s The Princess Bride that is still quoted back to him by at least two or three fans every day (“I’m frankly thrilled about it,” he says. “I can’t believe that I got to be in The Wizard of Oz, you know what I mean?”). The famously intense self-identified Jewbu — Jewish with a dash of Buddhist — is an epic talker, prone to underlining his points with sudden bouts of singing or shouting, whether the topic is politics (don’t get him started on Congressman Todd Akin unless you want to hear him yell) or his busy schedule: Patinkin is currently playing both solo concerts and ones with his original Evita co-star, Patti LuPone, and is developing a new two-man show with performance artist Taylor Mac, all while shooting the second season of Showtime’s Emmy-nominated Homeland, which debuts this month.
On Homeland, the acclaimed psychological thriller about bipolar CIA agent Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) and Marine sergeant Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis), the war hero she thinks might be a terrorist, Patinkin stars as Carrie’s hirsute mentor, Saul Berenson. Patinkin loved the script — the show’s creators, Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon, say they wrote the part with the actor in mind — and immediately arranged a meeting with a real-life CIA agent at Langley to get a handle on the character.
“I was really interested in his emotional reactions,” Patinkin says, sitting on the roof of his apartment building. “Did he pray? How did he sleep? At some point he said something about his daughters, and I said, ‘Can they come over?’ The minute those girls came over, I knew where the story was: It’s about family. I realized that this is a show about Saul and Carrie’s father-daughter bond, the Brody family, the family of the CIA, and the world populace as a family.”
Homeland is Patinkin’s fourth television series. His previous three didn’t end so well. In 1995, he quit Chicago Hope on good terms in its second year. “My kids were little, we were working sixteen-hour days, and I never got to see them,” says Patinkin, who has two children with actress Kathryn Grody, to whom he’s been married for 32 years. His follow-up, Showtime’s Dead Like Me, was canceled in 2004 after two seasons. The next year, he signed on to star in CBS procedural Criminal Minds but abruptly left in 2007, before the third season began, to the shock of the show’s creators.
Patinkin only recently began opening up in interviews about that departure. “The biggest public mistake I ever made was that I chose to do Criminal Minds in the first place,” he says. “I thought it was something very different. I never thought they were going to kill and rape all these women every night, every day, week after week, year after year. It was very destructive to my soul and my personality. After that, I didn’t think I would get to work in television again.”
Even though Homeland has its own share of violence, Patinkin sees its message as antithetical to shows like Criminal Minds. “I’m not making a judgment on the taste [of people who watch crime procedurals],” he says. “But I’m concerned about the effect it has. Audiences all over the world use this programming as their bedtime story. This isn’t what you need to be dreaming about. A show like Homeland is the antidote. It asks why there’s a need for violence in the first place.”
Just don’t expect easy answers. Patinkin hasn’t even pestered his show’s creators for info on whether Saul is really a good guy or — in the sort of twist viewers have come to expect from Homeland — not the man he seems. “I don’t want to know. I don’t know what’s going to happen five seconds from now, so why should Saul? As an actor, I play the scene the same way whether he’s bad or good. My inner motivation is to make the world a better place; the bad guy and the good guy think the same thing.”
So fearful is Patinkin of spoilers that he refuses to watch Homeland himself (actually, he hates the sight of himself onscreen and never watches any of his own work). But he does have strong feelings about how you should watch it. “If you’ve never seen it before, don’t go to the library and turn to the last pages,” he says. “It’s a true serial, not a procedural. It’s cumulative, and you will negatively impact your experience if you cheat [by watching episodes out of order]. People who sell it, they don’t give a shit how you watch, but I do give a shit, and I want you to watch it the way that it was designed.” Luckily, when Patinkin ran into Bill Clinton at an Obama fund-raiser recently, the former president told him he loves Homeland and had watched it the right way: in a two-day binge. “As I’m leaving,” Patinkin says, “President [Clinton] shouts to me at the door, ‘Mandy, keep that Homeland going.’ I went, ‘You too. You too, my friend.’”
This article previously appeared in the Sept. 17, 2012 issue of New York.