Exclusive interview with Homeland's Mandy Patinkin

IN a small, dark ante-room, with a one-way pane of glass, Mandy Patinkin is wearing a set of headphones and a highly concentrated expression. On the other side of the glass, in a CIA interview room, Clare Danes, businesslike in a dark blue trouser suit, and Damian Lewis, one of his fists bloodied and bandaged, are engaged in a tense, almost entirely wordless exchange.

I am, television fans will have already worked out, on the set of Homeland, the psychological drama whose first season, which premiered earlier this year on Channel 4, was a smash hit with both critics and viewers alike and has already amassed a hefty haul of trophies including Golden Globe and Writers’ Guild of America awards and upcoming Emmy nominations.

The story of Nicholas Brody (Lewis) a US Marine returning home a hero after eight years in captivity, presumed dead even by his wife and children, but suspected by CIA agent Carrie Mathison (Danes) of having been turned against his country has tapped into popular consciousness on both sides of the Atlantic and around the world.

For Patinkin, who plays the inscrutable Saul Berenson, Carrie’s mentor and former CIA boss, the chance to take part in the show meant some serious logistical wrangling.

“When they offered me the part, I was in the midst of doing a play called Compulsion, in New York,” he recalls.

Homeland is filmed in North Carolina, 700 miles away. “I wasn’t even going to be able to do the pilot episode, and I didn’t know we would work it out,” says Patinkin, 59, who, prior to Homeland, was probably best known for his work on Broadway; he played Che in the original production of Evita alongside Patti Lupone, and has starred in countless Steven Sondheim productions.

“I would fly down here in the morning, shoot a scene, fly back to New York, go to dress rehearsals, finish the evening’s work, fly back down, do the next scene – this went on for a couple of weeks until we got the pilot finished.”

Patinkin is not complaining, however; not a bit of it. “I’m in a constant state of gratitude, I really am,” he enthuses.

“To have been given this gift of a show at this stage in my career is just incredible.”

In researching the role of Saul, who is the CIA’s former Middle East Bureau chief, Patinkin was given rare access to a retired spook, who had been that bureau chief in reality.

“The majority of my questions had to do with emotional reactions, to situations,” he says. “When did you get scared? How did you get scared? Did you pray? Did you want to run? Did you think you were going to die? What about your family?”

For all the intrigue, plot twists and paranoia, the theme of family, Patinkin believes, is what has really touched a nerve with viewers of the show. “This whole piece is about a family: the Brody family, the CIA family, the family of America as a country, and the world as a whole,” he says.

And, of course, the deep, almost familial bond between Carrie and Saul. “That relationship is the world to him,” he nods. “He feels that from the moment he met her, recruiting her from somewhere like Yale, that she had a savant-like gift, an uncanny intuitiveness towards human nature, and he sensed that she was of great value to humanity,” he says. “He would sacrifice anything for her.”

And not dissimilarly, Patinkin’s off-screen relationship with 33 year-old Danes, currently pregnant with her first child with her husband, the British actor Hugh Dancy, has become rather paternal. “I feel like she is my kid,” he says fondly. “I adore her and I admire her. And I can’t wait until this baby is born and I get a surrogate grandchild. I am going to be spending a lot of time in baby shops.”

Homeland: Season one is on Blu-ray and DVD now from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment. The second season will air on Channel 4 from 7 October.