Mandy Patinkin on 'Homeland'

Mandy Patinkin as Saul Berenson in "Homeland."
Mandy Patinkin as Saul Berenson in "Homeland."

President Barack Obama is a “Homeland” fan.

The commander-in-chief also watches such edgy fare as “Breaking Bad,” “Game of Thrones” and “House of Cards.” But he’s particularly public about his affection for Showtime’s Golden Globe Award-winning drama about the cat-and-mouse game between a bipolar CIA agent and a suspected terrorist.

Mandy Patinkin, who plays CIA chief Saul Berenson on Showtime's “Homeland,” said he’s “well-aware” of its high-profile fan following. “I’m not intimidated by it,” the actor added.

If anything, the Emmy Award winner sounds thrilled to be part of such a headline-making show.

“I’m just unbelievably grateful that I get to play along with all these incredibly talented people,” he said. “I feel like I’m the luckiest guy on Earth.”

Unlike live theater, which offers immediate feedback, acting for the camera requires fortitude and finesse, Patinkin said. 

“Your job is to offer, before you leave that set, as many possibilities as time will allow so the editors and the producers can choose and piece it together.”

Patinkin relies on the crew, his fellow cast members and his own intuition to gauge his performances.

“Many times on film you spend your time getting out of cars, opening doors, going into rooms or talking on telephones or talking to computer screens,” he explained. “There is no one else in the room, because they’re part of a conversation being filmed in another country a month later.” 

In the case of “Homeland,” Patinkin added, “We try to record the other person’s part.”

However he approaches a scene, the actor is always aware of “the magnifying power of the lens.”

“All you have to do is be in the moment and think it and the camera will walk into you,” he said. “You need to do so much less than one does on stage.”

Asked what guides his “Homeland” character, Patinkin said Berenson shares his belief that “that the greatest tragedy that’s taken place all over the world is the lost art of listening.”

“Saul Berenson’s first and foremost goal is to try to get humanity to start listening to each other once again,” he said. “The other goal … is to do whatever he can do to … help the character Carrie Matheson, played by Claire Danes, to facilitate her gifts, which are profound and unique.”

“Because he’s a realist and he knows his dreams might not come true in his lifetime … he feels this is the best chance he has,” Patinkin add. “She (Carrie) will be the mailman for his soul.”

Patinkin, who played another gruff yet affectionate father figure on Showtime’s “Dead Like Me,” admitted that the role of mentor comes easily to him.

“I’m a bit rabbinic at heart,” he said. “I love it when anybody else needs me and I don’t have to think about myself.  If you’re having a problem, it rescues me. It gets me away from me and lets me listen to you, talk to you, help you.”

“In most cases, I’m just repeating what people smarter than me have said to me,” he said, including his wife and children. “So I try to grab the opportunity … to say, ‘Hey, this stuff’s helped me. Let me put it out there. If it helps you, fine. If not, throw it away.’ ”

Some of that wisdom was gleaned from Patinkin’s battle with prostate cancer in 2004.

“When I was told I had prostate cancer, it was like a Mack truck hitting me,” recalled Patinkin, whose father died of pancreatic cancer at age 52.

Patinkin described his experiences with cancer as “a great eye-opener.”

“When you have cancer, you do look at the day differently … the sunset and sunrise, your conversations, the time you spend.  You know you’re not here forever,” he said. “When you’re a cancer survivor, you appreciate the day a hell of a lot better.”

“Homeland” starts shooting its fourth season in May.