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Mandy Patinkin: Anne Frank Is Inspiration for Homeland's Saul

The actor behind Homeland's Saul Berenson joins Chuck to talk about the inspiration behind the character, and his work advocating for Syrian refugees.
Image: Mandy Patinkin
Mandy PatinkinRob Latour / Variety via Shutterstock

It turns out that Homeland, Showtime’s globe-trotting TV show that parallels real-world events with storylines about terrorism, fake news and trust, is informed by some surprising sources, including a play about Anne Frank.

In an interview with Chuck Todd for “1947: The Meet the Press Podcast,” Mandy Patinkin, the actor who plays CIA Division Chief Saul Berenson, revealed the source of his character’s motivation.

In 2011, Patinkin was in the middle of a Broadway run playing Sid Silver in a play called “Compulsion.” Patinkin’s character was obsessed with trying to stage a doomed adaptation of “The Diary of Anne Frank.”

“All he really wanted to do was to protect what he felt were Anne’s true words,” Patinkin explained. “He was quite complicated and screwed up.”

At the same time as rehearsals for the play were underway, Patinkin was filming the pilot for Homeland and struck upon a way to connect the two characters.

Patinkin said that the feeling “in my soul to Anne Frank is the feeling that I have for Carrie Mathison… I made her Anne Frank, in the beginning.”

“It gave me an opportunity to be the polar opposite of the man I was playing in the play. Meaning, instead of a crazy person, I could be the sane version of this man.”

Mandy PatinkinRob Latour / Variety via Shutterstock

Because Patinkin’s approach to acting focuses on making an emotional connection to something in the real world, he believes its important to stay informed about global events. Beginning in 2015, near the end of the show’s fifth season, Patinkin began advocating on behalf of Syrian refugees.

“I just wanted to literally recover from the fictional hell of Homeland by going into the real world and hold children’s hands, and be with families, and offer them water, and just sit with them.”

In reflecting back on a visit to a refugee warehouse in Belgrade, Patinkin said he was shocked to find out the living conditions of many Syrian refugees. Men of ages 18 to 40, he says, were “vilified” and terrified to live in a resettlement camp where they could potentially be sent back to the war zones.

“They are so grateful that you have climbed into their rat-infested quarters to listen to them, said Patinkin. “They’re just almost in tears that you care about their story.”

Patinkin is well-known for playing roles such as Inigo Montoya in the Princess Bride and Agent Gideon on Criminal Minds before becoming Saul Berenson. In 1980, he took home the Best Featured Actor in a Musical Tony Award for his role in Evita.

Patinkin’s grandparents fled the Pogroms in Poland, and that he “wouldn’t be sitting here” had it not been for the “welcoming” arms of the United States. He emphasized the importance and responsibility of those in the free world to “shower” refugees with every opportunity in the world.

He says that, “every imaginable kind of education, health care, living conditions, good water, good food” is needed to show refugees that there is nothing to be “angry” about in the western world.

“Don’t give any opportunity to feed the caliphate’s narrative,” said Patinkin.

“People say to me ‘What, well, what I can do?’ I don’t have a news program, I’m not the celebrity, I’m not rich, I’m not a politician, what can I do? You can do everything,” said Patinkin.“You can call your representatives, your politicians and tell them how you want them to vote. Tell them to stop these bans that are affecting people’s lives.”

As for what he can do, Patinkin sees an opportunity in Homeland to dispel many of the myths surrounding refugees.

“Absolutely, I want it in the storyline.”