Mandy Patinkin Q&A: “The beauty inside the human body is a phenomenal mystery”

The Homeland actor on childhood injury, Stephen Sondheim and the lack of sensitivity in the modern world.

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Born in Chicago in 1952, Mandy Patinkin is known for his role in the cult classic film “The Princess Bride” and for his work in musical theatre – he starred in “Sunday in the Park with George”. He plays Saul Berenson in the TV series “Homeland”.

What’s your earliest memory?
When I impulsively shoved my hand in a bag of light bulbs in the back of the car when I was four years old or so, and they all broke. My arm was bloody, shards of glass everywhere, and I was afraid to tell anyone because I thought I’d get in trouble.

Who were your childhood heroes?
The Three Stooges. I loved them. That was the only punishment my parents could give me that mattered: if I misbehaved or didn’t clean my room, I wasn’t allowed to watch the Three Stooges.

What was the last book that changed your thinking?
I just read a book that I did splits over: Educated by Tara Westover, about finding your own voice, and no matter what the odds are, answering that voice.

Which political figure, past or present, do you look up to?
The next female president of the USA.

What would be your Mastermind specialist subject?
Stephen Sondheim lyrics.

In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?
One after this administration has left office.

What TV shows could you not live without?
The Honeymooners and All in the Family.

Who would paint your portrait?
Georges Seurat. I played him in Sunday in the Park with George, and I’d like to meet him. I don’t really care about the portrait – I’d just like to have a chat with him!

What’s your theme tune?
The first few notes Sondheim wrote for Sunday in the Park with George. Each note is when Seurat is painting a dot on the famous painting A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.

What’s the best advice you’ve received?
Polonius’s in Hamlet: “To thine own self be true.” I work at it every day. It’s never easy.

What’s currently bugging you?
The global insensitivity to the most vulnerable people among us in the world: the refugees displaced by war, climate change, and the hatred of others. That insensitivity towards our fellow human beings is a wound to our collective soul.

What single thing would make your life better?
If all countries stopped preaching fear and hatred and opened their doors to the most vulnerable people. That’s my global wish, not just for the United States.

When were you happiest?
I’m happiest when I’m singing.

In another life, what job might you have chosen?
I played a heart surgeon twice: to prepare for those roles I scrubbed in on 17 real open heart surgeries. Every race, creed, colour, age, sex: they were all identical. There’s no blood: just beautiful colours. It was miraculous. If I couldn’t sing or act, I’d become a physician’s assistant, which only takes two years. You get to stand at the operating table and do everything. The beauty inside the human body, where everyone is identical, is just a phenomenal mystery and wonder to me.

Are we all doomed?
Oh, God, we’re not doomed at all. This is one of the great awakenings in history.

Mandy Patinkin’s latest record, “Diary: January 27, 2018” is out now

This article first appeared in the 01 June 2018 issue of the New Statesman, God isn’t dead