Mandy Patinkin: Playing the eye of the storm

By Scott Kara

Even when the world's in peril, CIA agent Saul Berenson keeps his cool. Scott Kara talks to Homeland's staunch star, Mandy Patinkin.

'[Saul Berenson's] got his hands full to say the least but he doesn't shy away from anything and that's the core of who he is.' says Mandy Patinkin. Photo / Supplied
'[Saul Berenson's] got his hands full to say the least but he doesn't shy away from anything and that's the core of who he is.' says Mandy Patinkin. Photo / Supplied

Saul Berenson is the man. Because as the serene and solid one opposite his obsessive, terrorist-busting sidekick, Carrie Mathison, in drama series Homeland, he makes everything okay - both for her and the viewers. Because let's face it, Carrie, played brilliantly by Claire Danes, is intense and hard to watch at times.

But Saul is so cool that surely, suggests TimeOut to actor Mandy Patinkin who plays the CIA veteran, he needs his own spin-off show?

Patinkin laughs: "Are you a producer?"

"I could be, I guess. Are you keen?"

"Oh, I'd be happy to become a Kiwi," says Patinkin on the phone from New York. The actor - who you might also remember as Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride and his famous line "You killed my father. Prepare to die" - has a fondness for New Zealand because his son Gideon Irving rode a bike and busked his way around New Zealand for four months earlier this year.

"He did 85 concerts all over the place so many of your countrymen are very familiar with my son," he says proudly.

But back to Saul because he is a fascinating and mysterious character in Homeland, and key to the show alongside Danes' tortured yet brilliant Carrie and Sgt. Nicholas Brody (played by Damian Lewis), the marine turned sleeper agent, and now congressman and possible candidate for vice-president.

For Patinkin, Saul's role in the series is not just as a cunning interrogator and a well-read music lover who's into jazz when he's at home and death metal during an interrogation. It's to protect Carrie.

"He lives and dies for Carrie Matheson. That is his main concern in life, the preservation of this young and gifted human being who he feels, essentially, is the answer to world peace.

"His existence is to serve her, to try to keep her alive, and healthy and clear thinking which is rather difficult in the midst of a world conflict and her own condition," he says with a laughs. "He's got his hands full to say the least but he doesn't shy away from anything and that's the core of who he is. He is for her."

At the end of season one Carrie had been fired from the CIA and the final scene showed her having a seizure while undergoing an ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) procedure in an attempt to treat her bipolar disorder.

As the second season picks up (TV3, Monday, October 1, 8.35pm) she remains in a fragile mental state and has taken refuge with her father and sister. But when Israel stages air strikes on Iran - "meaning the world is on the precipice of God knows what" as Patinkin so dramatically puts it - and one of Carrie's assets comes out of hiding with information about an attack on the US, Saul and her former boss David Estes come calling. They want her to leave her haven and head into the volatility of Beirut to question the asset.

"He knows it's the worst thing in the world to do for Carrie," says Patinkin of Saul's predicament, "but at the same time they serve a greater good. Both of them. So he is willing to sacrifice all rules."

And it's with this he gives a real insight into what makes his character tick.

"There are no rules for Saul Berenson. He is connected to every single person all over the world. There is nothing he can't accomplish if he needs to. There is nothing he doesn't have over someone's head if he needs to hold it over their head. He cares about human nature and he is a man who is full of hope and optimism so however dark the world may be, or Carrie's situation may be, he believes they will find a way to bring things to fruition. And he is a risk-taker, and he will even risk the person he loves most in this world."

Patinkin has played many roles in his long career, from musical theatre in his early years through to film and TV, but he has a special place in his heart for Homeland.

"I pinch myself. It's one of the wonderful true gifts of my life," he says. "A good television show is something that can unpeel very slowly."

Patinkin, who has admitted he regretted his part in crime series Criminal Minds because of its gory violence, realised right from the start that Homeland had a unique quality that questioned why "there's a need for violence in the first place".

"It was a script that clearly laid out the answer to all of this fear and violence and pre- and post-9/11 thinking and attitude in terms of terror and fear around the world. And here was a show that was presenting a very different format which was asking the most serious and toughest questions about why this happened in the first place. Who was responsible? Who are the good guys and who are the bad guys?"

But above all this he believes Homeland is first and foremost about family.

"The nervous system of the show is a father-daughter relationship, or the teacher-student relationship that Saul and Carrie have, the family relationship of the Brody family, and the world family at large of all these countries and people from all over the world.

"And then to create an on-the-edge-of-your-seat psychological thriller that is giving you both sides of the argument, I think is a great feat."

Who: Actor Mandy Patinkin
What: Homeland second season in which he plays CIA spymaster Saul Berenson.
Where & when: Monday, October 1, 8.35pm, TV3
Also known as: Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride with the famous line "Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die."

- TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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