By Steven M. Housman
Mandy Patinkin Talks About His Life On Stage, Screen, TV & Recordings
Where does one begin when describing the multi-talented Mandy Patinkin? Many people are familiar with his Tony Award-winning musicals on Broadway, originating legendary roles in Evita (Tony Award-winner) and Sunday In The Park With George (Tony Award-nominee) with Patti LuPone and Bernadette Peters, respectively. Perhaps you’ve seen him as Barbra Streisand’s love interest in her most personal film, Yentl, for which she hand-picked Patinkin out of hundreds of actors. He has been in blockbuster films such as Rob Reiner’s The Princess Bride, which has gained cult status, and worked with the likes of Warren Beatty, Madonna, Dustin Hoffman and Al Pacino in Dick Tracy. He’s been a permanent fixture on TV for the past two decades. He’s currently starring in the CBS hit drama, Criminal Minds. Not enough for you yet? In between, Mandy has managed to record some of the finest albums by acclaimed lyricists and composers including Stephen Sondheim, Rodgers & Hammerstein, the Gershwins and a wide variety of musical legends. On top of that, he’s on the road touring on weekends, and he’s taking his show on the road this June to Australia and New Zealand. Just to have him find the time for this interview was almost impossible, but Mandy graciously granted me an interview and slowed down for a half hour and answered anything and everything I had to offer. He is a performer without pretense and one of the most down-to-earth “stars” I have ever had the opportunity to speak with. I hope you enjoy Mandy half as much as I did!
You started out on Broadway, and continued to have great success in films, television and recordings. When you were first starting out, did you have one specific genre in mind or all of the above?
I had nothing specifically in mind except for being an actor. As I walked down the road, I discovered the singing and doing concerts out of the context of a proper show. That ended up being my greatest love of all, and the other things I do are to just stay busy.
Congratulations on the success of the TV hit drama, Criminal Minds. How’s it going?
Long hours and exhausting! Nice people. (Laughs)
When you perform this time around, what material can we (the audience) expect to hear?
Paul Ford (pianist) and I have been getting together on weekends and we’re oiling up stuff and going through all of the old stuff. We have about 10-12 hours of material so we’ll just be putting stuff together and won’t make up our minds until probably that night! We have some new stuff we’re playing around with and we may try it there, but I never say what I’m going to do because I change my mind sometimes five seconds before I sing the song. I don’t want to disappoint people and have them say ‘Oh, I thought he was going to sing this.’ One thing is for sure, I will be singing show tunes! (Laughing) I’ll probably sing a Yiddish song here and there and I’ll probably open up my big mouth for awhile and that’ll be that!
Speaking of Paul Ford, why do you think the two of you work so well together?
This is the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me in my professional life. It’s just an amazing marriage of two people who have found each other. Eighteen years ago when we started, I said to him, ‘Let’s not worry about what we did yesterday, let’s just see what happens today and listen to each other. If something good happens, the bigger chunks, like panning for gold, will stay in the pan and the rest will fall away.’ You do that every day for a lot of years and you start to learn things about each other that have to do with listening. I’m sorry if it sounds corny, but there are times when I’m out there with him and we’ve sung a song God knows how many times, we’ve lost count and the songs are so great because they’ve been written by such geniuses, and the meanings are so multi-layered, that one day when I was thinking “X” about the song, that it meant this, all of a sudden on this particular night, it will mean something else. It will change my rhythm or my timing or my feeling and he knows it before it has happened. It’s that kind of thing. He claims vice versa, so I can’t believe how lucky I am that this man is in my life. If I was told I couldn’t work with him, I don’t know if I’d continue doing it.
That’s the greatest compliment you could ever give him.
It’s the absolute truth.
Out of all of the albums (CD’s) you’ve recorded by many different songwriters, do you have a personal favorite or favorites?
No, because it’s such a rich reservoir. If I said Stephen Sondheim, I’m talking lyricists, then I’d be leaving out Oscar Hammerstein, I’d be leaving out Yip Harburg, Paul Simon, Randy Newman, I’d be leaving out guys that wrote some of these Yiddish songs. I’d be leaving out all kinds of people. They all learn from each other. It’s an amazing, eclectic, vibrant, classical pool that never dies.
You have such a magnificent voice do you come from a musical family?
There were some cantors in there before my time, there were great grandfathers and great-great Grandfathers, but not in my lifetime, so no one musical that I actually knew of. My Mom & Dad had beautiful voices and they sang in choirs at synagogue, but nothing where they took it very seriously and spent much time at it. It wasn’t really even a hobby.
So, you became the STAR of the family!
Well, you know, it’s kept me busy and out of their hair! (Laughs)
You have worked closely with many wonderful performers. Do you have a wish list of any musical artists you’d like to work with that you haven’t yet?
I just put a new show together with Patti LuPone and myself. We actually put this show together to open a theater in Texas a few years ago and then I just had to work out all the legal parts of the deal and we’re now oiling that one back up again. As soon as she finishes and gets some free time from Sweeney Todd, and as soon as I get some free time from what I’m doing, we’re gonna start taking the Patti/Mandy show on the road. Other wish list people the person who did the choreography for the Patti/Mandy show is Annie Reinking, so she’s a part of our show backstage. Bernadette Peters is a dear friend, I’d do anything with her always forever at the drop of a hat, and I have some other ideas up my sleeve before I drop dead!
What music would you have liked to record that you never did and are there any shows you would have liked to appear in?
Because I get to do these concerts with Paul Ford and I get to choose the material that I want, I’m never hungry or envious or regretful that I didn’t get to do the shows, because I can do any of them! I don’t get to do the whole show in context but there are often times that it’s not that interesting to me, although it was when I was younger. Frankly, I prefer taking these wonderful songs out of context because they are often so brilliantly written that they don’t need to be in the show to have resonance and meaning to the listener, nor to the performer. Case in point is my entire CD, which I also do as a concert evening called ‘Mandy Patinkin Celebrates Sondheim,’ which is an hour and twenty-seven minutes of all Sondheim songs sung in their entirety, thirty-some songs. They’re put together in a figurative journey that tell my story using his songs, all out of context from his shows but completely in context for my life. There are times when I’ll say to Paul ‘No, I don’t want to know where it came from or what it meant in the show.’ I listen to the words and they talk to me.
Looking back on your career, what is your personal favorite role that you’ve played on stage?
George from “Sunday In The Park With George.”
That came to you fast!
Yeah, that’s my favorite role on stage.
Do you have any film work you’re most proud of?
“The Princess Bride” I would say is right up there.
I thought Daniel was a great movie.
That was my son, who’s now 23 years-old. The baby, the infant Daniel that I hold up in the film, that’s my son! He was six months old in that movie.
Is there anything new that you’d like to try in your career?
Resting! (Laughing) The thing I want to do new is go to foreign countries, so we’re going to Australia and New Zealand in June to do concerts and that’s what I’d like to do with Patti and my own show and anything new we put together. We’ve been traveling around America forever, we’ve been to England, but now I want to really start going all around. I think it will be fun for us.
You’ve touched upon my last question, which is about your touring plans. You read me as well as Paul!
(Laughing) I had to cancel everything when I began this television show [Criminal Minds], but I kept a few dates on the west coast. I’ve started to oil in the TV producers so they’ll lighten me up on the weekends. On Fridays, I have to get out early so I can go do some concerts. I’m slowly working my engagements back in because I miss it and I don’t want to not be able to do it. I’m hoping to tour more in the U.S., and during the hiatus I’m also going to perform in New York and Boston. That’ll happen in May and I’ll be off to Australia in June.
Thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to speak with me.
Thank you! I just have to grab these interviews when I can. Thanks for getting the word out!
© 2006 Steven M. Housman. All Rights Reserved.