Actor Mandy Patinkin is best known for his roles in “Yentl,” “The Princess Bride,” and now on the Emmy-winning Showtime series “Homeland,” which keeps the New York-based actor in Charlotte 5 1/2 months out of the year – off and on.
Patinkin is also an accomplished vocalist, who’ll showcase that talent at a benefit concert for Charlotte Choir School at St. Peter’s Sunday at Belk Theater. We recently spoke to Patinkin about music, Charlotte and “Homeland” the morning after the second season’s premiere.
Q. Did you watch “Homeland” last night?
We curled up in bed and watched it like everyone else.
Q. So where are you today?
The Upper West Side, walking toward the Hudson River. When I’m in Charlotte, I take a walk every day when I’m not on “Homeland.”
Q. Are you finished filming this season?
Oh, no. We’re in the middle of the third-to-the-last episode. Last week I was in Charlotte shooting until 2 a.m., then flew to the Emmys. Then Monday it was back to New York. Then it was Yom Kippur, and then Wednesday I headed back to Charlotte, shot all day Thursday, and flew back to New York Thursday night to do a big benefit concert for cancer research in New Jersey with my good friend Patti Lupone. Tomorrow we have “The Princess Bride 25th Anniversary” screening. It’s a new print of it with the original cast members, and then there will be a Q&A.
Q. Do you see that cast very often?
We did a big photo shoot for “Entertainment Weekly” last year, but I missed everybody then. They pasted me into the picture.
Q. Did you have an inkling that movie would become a modern classic?
Oh God, no. We just knew we were having a great time. The only injury from filming was holding my stomach in from laughter. My son was a little boy. There’s a picture in the house. Isaac is 4 years old. My other baby is in our arms. It was the beginning.
Q. Given that your Charlotte show is a benefit concert, what was important about your musical education experience?
I was about one out of 10 white students in an African-American high school on the south side of Chicago. My choir teacher was Lena McClim. I sang in my quiet, shy voice and thought I was going to get yelled at. Instead she said, “Child, any time someone tells you (you can’t sing), tell them to come talk to Lena.” That comment gave me the confidence to try to do whatever I could to express myself and not feel self-conscious about it. It stayed with me, and that singular comment opened the door for the rest of my life. Music is my number one.
Q. Do you sing even when you are on the “Homeland” set?
I take a hike and run about two hours’ worth of songs. I sing quietly to myself. You can hear me if I pass by, but it’s a quiet, soft voice. If I’m in a dark mood, by the time I’m done singing for 20 minutes, I feel great.
Q. What’s going through your mind when you’re on the saner end of a very intense scene with Claire Danes’ character?
Everything is going through my head. I work an average 50 to 60 hours going over these words, not just to learn them, but to go over every thought that comes to me when I’m learning these words. Some of these thoughts I throw in the throwaway column. I like to have things inside of me I can connect to. The creative, fun part for me is to choose thoughts that marry the ideas that the story has. (You) find things in the world and in your life that are the same as what is going on in the story. That goes also for when I sing a song.
Q. Do you get recognized much in Charlotte?
If I have a script in my hand or I’m going over a concert, they don’t bother me. If they do, I don’t consider it a bother at all. Everybody is sensitive if I’m with family. When my son was 4, someone stopped us and my son said, “I feel left out when they interrupt us.” I told him, “If people come up to Daddy, it means they like Daddy’s work. That means you get nice birthday or Hanukkah presents.” The next person we saw he stopped and said, “Would you like to meet my father?”