TORONTO – Actor Mandy Patinkin did heaps of research for his role as a senior CIA agent in the hit TV series “Homeland,” about a released POW Marine who returns home to his family amid suspicions he’s been “turned” by al-Qaida.
But it wasn’t until he met with an actual CIA veteran and his daughters and talked to them about growing up under the cloak of spy operations in the Middle East that he fully realized the kernel of the show.
“The minute he mentioned his daughters, I just realized, instantly — after all the books I read about CIA and spies and intrigue — it was a story about a father and a daughter, it was a story about a family. And that’s the nuclear centre, why it’s so popular all over the world, in my opinion,” Patinkin said Monday during a stop in Toronto.
“Homeland”‘s second season recently aired on Showtime in the U.S.
In Canada, it’s currently showing on Super Channel, which plans to debut Season 3 day and date with the U.S. premiere on Sept. 29.
Meanwhile, season 1 premieres Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET on Bravo in Canada.
Patinkin plays Saul Berenson, the CIA’s Middle East Division Chief emeritus and mentor to Carrie Mathison (Golden Globe winner Claire Danes), a bipolar agent who sometimes breaks the rules and uses a sixth sense to capture her targets in a post-911 world.
Carrie was first to get the tip that Sgt. Nicholas Brody (Golden Globe winner Damian Lewis) may have been “turned,” and she goes to desperate lengths to learn the truth.
“24″ writers Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa developed the gripping series that features many plot twists and has viewers constantly questioning who is a double-agent.
“One of the things I love about ‘Homeland’ is it asks you to listen to your enemy,” said Patinkin, who also got a Golden Globe nomination for his role on the show.
“I love the old phrase, ‘Is the enemy of my enemy my enemy, or is the enemy of my enemy my friend?’ The real groundbreaker, if you want to say, of ‘Homeland,’ is it’s saying in an entertaining, psychological thriller bracket: ‘You’re all responsible, you’re all terrorists, you’re all free people or not, and if you want to slough it off to the next guy, you’ll pay for it. Everybody pays.’
“So it asks some pretty profound questions and it puts them in a cupcake of heavy-duty psychological thriller stuff.”
Patinkin said he’s grown particularly close with Danes on the series, as their characters are confidantes for each other.
In her Golden Globe-winning acceptance speech last September, Danes even saluted her 60-year-old stage and screen veteran with the slang phrase, “Mandy Patinkin, holla,” which became an instant online meme.
“I had to look that up, I didn’t know what it meant. I thought it was something you do on Friday night for a Shabbos dinner,” the Chicago-born Patinkin, who is Jewish, said with a laugh.
Danes is “one of the most gifted creatures ever to be born in terms of (acting),” he added.
“It was just an avalanche of gifts toward me, you know, being able to be with her, learning from her,” said Patinkin, a Tony Award winner for his 1980 Broadway debut as Che in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Evita.”
Fans of “Homeland” include U.S. President Barack Obama, whom Patinkin has had a chance to meet.
“Actually, one of my pride and joys, I have a picture of myself in the middle of him and (former president) Clinton,” he said. “I love having that picture.”
Another “Homeland” highlight for Patinkin was getting to shoot in Israel, where he said he tried to immerse myself in the conflict and see as much as he could.
“I hooked up with people that took me all over the conflict, all over the West Bank, into Ramallah, into settlements, into right-wing conversations, left-wing conversations, middle-of-the-road conversations,” said Patinkin, who won an Emmy Award for his portrayal of Dr. Jeffrey Geiger in “Chicago Hope.”
“I went to prison checkpoints, I saw roads that were only for Jewish people that could only be on these roads and Palestinian people could be on other roads. I witnessed privilege and no privilege.
“I saw more than I ever dreamed of and it affected me deeply. It will be with me forever.”
Patinkin has also had to learn to speak some Arabic for his role in “Homeland,” and later this month he’ll sing in several Arabic songs for what he calls an intercultural concert in Philadelphia.
The show will feature musicians including a Palestinian-Israeli-Christian violinist, an Israeli cellist, and a Methodist piano player.
“We will be giving birth to a concert that is Arabic, Yiddish, Hebrew, American musical theatre, beautiful classical music, Arabic classical music, Hebrew classical music, American classical music … and to me, that’s what I want the world to be, and that’s the most exciting thing I’ve felt in a long, long time,” said Patinkin, whose film credits include “Yentl” and “Ragtime.”