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Actor And Singer Mandy Patinkin On His New Album 'Children And Art'

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

When the actor and singer Mandy Patinkin recently came into our studio to talk about his new album, he was preoccupied with subjects that go beyond music - questions like, what am I going to do with the rest of my life?

MANDY PATINKIN: Now I'm really free because I finished the final scenes of "Homeland" and...

SHAPIRO: Of the final season.

PATINKIN: Final season, season eight. I literally just came here from the final photo shoot with Claire.

SHAPIRO: Claire Danes, who stars with Mandy Patinkin in the Showtime drama about terrorism. Patinkin has been in the public eye for decades. In 1979, his breakout role came opposite Patti LuPone in the musical "Evita."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HIGH FLYING, ADORED")

PATINKIN: (As Che Guevara, singing) High flying, adored. Did you believe in your wildest moments all this would be yours?

SHAPIRO: He won a Tony for that role. In the 1980s, the movie, "The Princess Bride," gave him a line that people still quote today.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE PRINCESS BRIDE")

PATINKIN: (As Inigo Montoya) Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.

SHAPIRO: His career has been a nonstop string of plays, films, TV shows, albums, concert tours. And so on this day, having just finished "Homeland" after an eight-year run, Mandy Patinkin's new album, "Children And Art," took a back seat to those bigger ideas.

PATINKIN: Now I'll have all my time and all my mind and all my being to be free of that world, that fictional world that "Homeland" lived in, to be able to live more in a world that I feel is far more hopeful and optimistic and less frightening.

SHAPIRO: I get the sense that at this point in your life, you have a kind of freedom, an ability to take risks and do what you want that maybe you didn't have 20 or 30 years ago when you still had something to prove.

PATINKIN: I don't plan to put anything on my calendar. I want to keep it open. I want to be lost. I want to see what I bump into. I realized that when I was 14 or 15 at the Young Men's Jewish Council Youth Center in the South Side of Chicago, because I hated school, my mother said, why don't you go be in the plays over there? I did a play. Something happened in rehearsal one day. And I thought, this sounds good. If this is what plays are, I'm going to hang here. And I did that for more than 40 years. And there's all the things I didn't choose to do...

SHAPIRO: Yeah.

PATINKIN: ...Which is infinite. And what might I bump into? Now I'm a workaholic. My kids called me the project man. I'm addicted to projects. Whether I'll make it and not take a familiar job in the craft that I've practiced in for my whole life - I may well crumble and go do that. I hope I don't.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) Only you would call, like, starring in a Broadway show or a movie or a marquee television series crumbling.

PATINKIN: Because I'd like to see what else there is out there and what I might find. I'm well aware that any difficulties Mandy has is just getting through the day. If Mandy opens an ice cream shop, you know, like, anxiety - like all of us, I, you know, I deal with anxiety. Who doesn't? But Mandy's going to go with me if I open an ice cream shop. I'm going to worry about the ice cream melting. I'm going to be...

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

PATINKIN: ...Worry about the cones cracking. I'm going to worry about there not being enough chocolate chips in the chocolate chip - I mean, so I'm aware of all of that.

SHAPIRO: Yeah.

PATINKIN: But I'm also really curious as to - you know, I don't know how much time I have left on this planet. I don't want to miss something that might be right in front of my face.

SHAPIRO: I got to ask. You - you've been known for so many roles over so many years - "Homeland," "Sunday In The Park With George," "Chicago Hope," I mean, "The Princess Bride." Is there something you most like when people relate you to?

PATINKIN: I would say the two were working with James Lapine and Steve Sondheim in "Sunday In The Park With George," James having written the words connect, George, connect.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FINISHING THE HAT")

PATINKIN: (As George, singing) And when the woman that you wanted goes, you can say to yourself, well, I give what I give. But the woman who won't wait for you knows that however you live there's a part of you always standing by.

And connect is the word of my life. It's what I long to be able to do every minute that I'm awake. And the other one being the Yiddish album. And when I learned this Yiddish repertoire, it just hit me in the kishkes, as they say. And I didn't grow up speaking Yiddish. I didn't - it wasn't really used as a secret language in my - it just hit me in my soul. What I learned from it is whatever culture you come from, let the sounds and the music wash over you. You don't even need to know the words.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SONG OF THE TITANIC")

PATINKIN: (Singing in Yiddish).

It will take you somewhere you can't even understand, but it will guide you and calm you and make you feel not alone.

SHAPIRO: You talk about the act of making music as a joyful act in contrast to the dark show, "Homeland," you've been making. But between the song about refugees with bodies on the water and the Laurie Anderson track, "From The Air," which describes the plane going down, there is a lot of darkness on this album, too.

PATINKIN: There is. But, you know, I love Stephen Sondheim.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

PATINKIN: People have asked me, why Steve Sondheim? And what I feel Sondheim and Shakespeare are about is turning that darkness into light. So even the refugee song, the effort is to shine the light through the darkness because that's our way to tomorrow, to change narratives that are literally unacceptable that we're living with because they affect human lives as we are witnessing minute by minute while we're talking.

SHAPIRO: There is one song from Broadway on this album. It's the title track, "Children And Art," which is written by Sondheim for the show that you starred in the original Broadway production of, "Sunday In The Park With George." And this was sung by Bernadette Peters in that production.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHILDREN AND ART")

PATINKIN: (Singing) Just as you said from the start. Children and art. Children and art.

It was a song I've always loved from the minute I heard Bernadette hear it for the first time and the minute I heard her sing it for the first time. It was universal and genderless.

Art, never more than these moments were living these days, is the avenue toward expression of existence. The whole system is falling apart, and you need to turn to the fire department to put out the flames. And in this case, I appeal to artists of every nature to guide us and lead us back to humanity and caring for our fellow human beings and doing what is morally and ethically appropriate, and not forgetting what my grandpa Max used to say in Yiddish, (speaking Yiddish), which means the wheel is always turning. So if you're on top, know that one day you'll be on the bottom. And if somebody is knocking on your door, open it and welcome them, or no one will be there when you need help.

SHAPIRO: Mandy Patinkin, it's been a joy talking to you. Thank you so much.

PATINKIN: Same here. Thank you.

SHAPIRO: His new album is called "Children And Art," and he will be on a 30-city concert tour performing songs from the album in the months ahead.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TO BE OF USE")

PATINKIN: (Singing) Now I just want to be of use and be there for the ones I love. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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