Good thing New York is a walking city. In Los Angeles, where everybody drives, Mandy Patinkin would've never bumped into Zach Braff, who was looking to cast "Wish I Was Here," a misfit family comedy opening next Friday.
Patinkin plays Gabe, a dying patriarch looking to connect with his sorry clan (sons Braff, who wrote and directed, and Josh Gad; and daughter-in-law Kate Hudson) before time runs out.
Patinkin, 61, first leaped to prominence in his 1979 Broadway debut, playing Che in the hit musical "Evita." He won a Tony Award and embarked on a longtime friendship with co-star Patti LuPone (the two currently perform concerts together across the country).
He's earned a slew of nominations for memorable roles onstage ("Sunday in the Park With George"), film ("The Princess Bride") and TV ("Chicago Hope," "Criminal Minds" and "Homeland," in which he plays CIA honcho Saul Berenson). He spoke recently with Newsday contributor Joseph V. Amodio.
How'd you meet Zach Braff?
I was walking with my son Gideon down Seventh Avenue in the Village, and a guy pops me on the shoulder and says, "I hate to bother you -- my girlfriend wanted to meet you." It was Zach. We exchanged a few words and walked away. Couple months later, he sent this script, which I loved, because it's about a father and sons, which is what my life's about. We met at Fairway for a breakfast, he took a selfie, and it was a done deal. That was it.
Was there something in the script you connected with?
That's exactly the word. Connect. It's the word I care most about. The film is about a father's desperate attempt to connect with his sons. Zach's character struggles to be present, to be here and not miss a moment -- that's everything I live for. I'll never forget when Patti and I were doing "Evita." It was '79, I was around 27, in a mood, and I mumbled something like, "I just wanna get this weekend over with." And the dance captain -- Carlos Gorbea -- who I didn't have much of a relationship with because I wasn't in the dances -- he grabs me, saying, "You just wished away a weekend of your life. Don't ever do that!" I'll never forget it. I was a kid. He took the time to sorta smack me in the face. I'm grateful to him forever. Carlos Gorbea. Wise man.
A helluva lot smarter than me.
One of my favorite plays is "Death of a Salesman," and if done right, you walk away saying, "I have to change my schedule, cancel appointments, to be with my kid." That's the point. No work or medical excuses -- it's right now. Gideon and I spend as much time together as we can. My older son, Isaac, lives in Alaska, but I recently had a gig in Denver and he met me -- we jumped in a car and drove to Moab to walk around. My dad died when I was 18. He was 52. Every day, whether it's an argument, a belly laugh, a do-nothing day, I say to myself, "This is another day you never got to have with your dad." Whether my sons and I are singing together, hiking, playing, I'm constantly aware of how I didn't get that with my father. I live for those moments with my kids. For my day job, I try to find spies. On "Homeland," we're going to blow up the world. But even there, that role is very parental, too. I'm a father figure for Carrie, Claire Danes' character. That's what hooked me.
Why do you think "Homeland" appeals to so many people?
I have a theory. I think it has to do with the lost art of listening. In Congress, one of the world's largest parental bodies, our elected officials can't speak to each other, won't listen. If you're the parent and that's how you're behaving, how do you expect the children to behave? But in "Homeland," by accident, it became Romeo and Juliet. Enemies became lovers. We live with this fear, fear, fear, everywhere, but I think everyone wishes for the possibility of understanding our differences, rather than killing each other because of them.
Sure, life's too short as it is.
I'm a cancer survivor, and a lot of survivors say how, in ways, it was the greatest gift of their lives -- it woke them up to the gift of life. Nobody gets to live forever, and I completely disagree with that whole system. I'm not in favor of it. It's a tremendous flaw in the design ... but it's a fact. So don't miss a second of it. Not a moment. And if you do -- and we all have -- then don't miss the next one.