Q&A with Mandy Patinkin, actor 'Homeland'

Showtime’s “Homeland” is back this month for a second season, this time with main character Sgt. Nicholas Brody as a freshman member of Congress. 

Mandy Patinkin, who plays CIA division chief Saul Berenson, spoke with The Hill about character research, the importance of listening and any possible visits to Capitol Hill.

The new season debuts Sunday. 


Q: It looks as though Congress as an institution will play a significant role this season. How will this affect Saul Berenson?

I think Saul Berenson will continue to have eyes in every part of his body — in the back of his head, on top his head, on his elbows, on his knuckles.

I think he’s extremely concerned about absolutely everything, but first and foremost, he’s concerned about [Claire Danes’s character] Carrie Mathison, because he thinks that Carrie Mathison is the answer to it all. He lives to see humanity learn how to speak to each other again, how to listen to each other again.

What I feel the gift of our show is, and the nerve that I feel is hit not only in America but all over the world … I think it’s a piece that’s learning how to listen to each other, and asking the toughest questions in the world, as to why did 9/11 happen? Why is the world such a mess? Why have we come to this place where people are so frightened and wary?

We have an opportunity here to do something you can really only do in a drama. You can’t be as successful in a documentary — what I’m talking about doing is show both sides of an issue. I’m interested in keeping everyone at the discussion table. And if we place all sides of the arguments, I have great faith that people can come to their own conclusions.

It is something I talk a lot about with my friends and family. To me, the way the dinner-table conversation works in a family is essential. If you don’t listen to each other, it doesn’t work. 

I feel the country’s dinner table is our Congress, and the parental figures are the elected officials. And if the day has arrived that the parental figures stop listening to each other, then the children stop listening.

Q: How do you prepare for your character?

I’ve lived him — that’s how I prepare to play Saul Berenson. I have a family and children that I care deeply about. The children in my life have taught me how to care about the father-daughter relationship of Saul and Carrie. I have learned how it’s sometimes best not to say too much and when it’s appropriate to ever say anything.

I’ve learned about unconditional love from my wife and children, which I feel Saul has and is the basis of his central nervous system … He loves human beings, and it pains Saul Berenson when humans don’t love each other. 

Also, I read the newspaper. Unfortunately, the newspapers every single day of our lives are filled with every single thing that “Homeland” is about. 

Another thing that Saul Berenson/Mandy Patinkin did to prepare is that we went to Israel to shoot the first three episodes of the second season. I never rested for a second. I went and immersed myself in the conflict in Israel. 

I also read a lot of books about guys who were in the CIA, and most were their disgruntled opinions about being in the CIA. 

The creators hooked me up with a guy who was actually a head of the Middle East in the CIA. I took the train down from New York and I went to Langley [Va.]. We had a long talk … I was asking questions about his emotional life, how he dealt with fear, did he pray. 

He told me he had these two daughters. I asked where they were, and he said they’re here, so they came, and they spent the rest of the afternoon with us. And it was that moment that the nickel dropped for me — that this is a play about family.

Q: What was your level of interest in current affairs, politics, national security and intelligence before this role?

I’m a political person. A dear friend of mine said to me one day when I questioned if I’m political, “Do you breathe?” I said yes. And he said, “Well, the air you breathe is political.”

My wife, Kathryn Grody, is my political teacher. She reads me all the articles from the newspapers, brought the world in front of my face and got me to stop looking at my own navel. 

Now I have a 26- and a 30-year-old son, and they’re the most politically conscious people in the family. We laid the groundwork, and they push the limits. They bring the essential causes and opinions to the dinner table. And luckily, we all continue to speak and listen to each other and have dinner together.

I’ve heard this is a different Congress, that they go home all the time. Maybe they need to spend more time having dinner together from opposite sides of the aisle and talk to each other. It’s a good practice.

Q: What kind of feedback have you gotten on “Homeland”?

I was with [President] Obama and [Bill] Clinton at a fundraiser the Broadway community did, and they were telling me they both watch the show. As I was leaving, Clinton said, “Keep the ‘Homeland’ coming!” and I said, “You, too!”