'Homeland's' Mandy Patinkin Finds His Characters' Inner Jew

WATCH: The American actor, shooting on location in Israel, talks to Haaretz about life, work, and the connection between prayers and poetry.

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"Homeland" has landed in the Holy Land. Ahead of the second season of the hit American television drama, a snippet of which will be broadcast on Haaretz.com, lead actor Mandel Patinkin is in Israel with his co-star Claire Danes to shoot on-location.

The show, which won the 2012 Golden Globe award for Best Television Series, is the American incarnation of the Israeli television drama "Hatufim" (Prisoners of War). Parts of the first season were shot in Israel, with the Jewish state's rugged deserts and twisting alleys representing Afghanistan and Iraq.

Patinkin is Jewish, as is his "Homeland" persona, CIA veteran Saul Berenson. Playing a Jewish character presents no real stretch for Patinkin, because, the actor says, "All the characters I have ever played in my whole career are Jewish."

At a recent show-biz seminar hosted by the Israeli broadcaster and production outfit Keshet, journalist Ilana Dayan described Saul Berenson as the most "Jewish character" to grace America's small screens since Jerry Seinfeld.

Patinkin is used to typecasting. Because he is Jewish, he says, every role he has ever stepped into ends up becoming a Jew.

His most legendary film character, the lovable yet revenge-hungry Inigo Montoya in 1987's "Princess Bride," was a Jew. So too, he says, were several of his most iconic stage roles, including artist George Seurat, the father of pointillism, in "Sunday in the Park with George," as well as Argentinean everyman Che in the Broadway musical "Evita."

"If you ask me, what does that mean, to be Jewish?" Patinkin says.  "It means to have a sense of forgiveness. It means to have a sense of rachmanus, of compassion. It means to have that desire to be a good person."

This is far from Patinkin's first visit to Israel. He has family here, several of whom live in West Bank settlements, and as a young man he spent time volunteering on a kibbutz. He has also thrown his support behind an actors' boycott of a new cultural center in the West Bank settlement of Ariel.

Asked if he considers himself religious, Patinkin says he prefers to define himself as spiritual.

"I'm not observant, I don't keep kosher, but I do have my own kind of prayers," he says. Those include Hebrew prayers he learned in synagogue as well as Shakespeare, the lyrics of Stephen Sondheim, snippets of poetry by e.e. cummings and also things said to him by his wife and close friends.

Patinkin also pays close attention to the words of two other men, "Homeland" series creators Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon.

"One of the things I absolutely love in the 'Homeland' series is that it demands people's attention," he says. "It asks difficult questions: Who are the real racists? Who are the oppressors and who are the victims?"

He answers his own question.

"We are all of these, victims and oppressors Like Shakespeare and Sondheim, Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon succeed in presenting both sides of the drama. They do it in a way that is credible and not manipulative."

Another writer whose words have become a mantra for Patinkin is Anne Frank.

"I love the words of Anne Frank," said Patinkin. "I just did a play where there is a line that my character quoted all the time that Anne Frank used to say: 'Right through the ages there have been Jews, and through all the ages we have had to suffer, but that is what has made us strong. But one day if we live through this and there are still Jews left when it is over. We will be held up as an example from which all other peoples will learn good.'"

Patinkin took the words to heart and now carries them around with him.

"I say these words whenever I can," he says. "I say them to myself privately, not because I am a Jew but because I am a human being. This woman was a young, innocent philosopher as far as I am concerned and put down wishes for herself and for the world. The world needs to listen to these words."

Playing a Jewish character in 'Homeland' presents no real stretch for Patinkin, because, the actor says, 'All the characters I have ever played in my whole career are Jewish.'Credit: Moti Milrod