To warm up for a scene on the set of Showtime’s “Homeland,” actor Mandy Patinkin thinks melody, not melodrama.
“I pick a song and the sentiment of the song is the sentiment of the scene,” said Patinkin, who comes to Portland on Friday for a solo concert from the American Songbook.
His show, “Dress Casual with Paul Ford on Piano,” at Merrill Auditorium, may surprise fans of “Homeland.” In the spy drama, now in its third season, Patinkin plays Saul Berenson, the CIA veteran who trained Carrie Mathison. Through this terrorist thriller, Patinkin is considered the moral compass. Belting out classics like Judy Garland’s “Over the Rainbow” could be the reason.
“I’ll be singing inside my head as I enter a scene to center myself, to focus,” said Patinkin while on his way to the airport after wrapping “Homeland” scene in North Carolina this week.
At 60, he has an enviable career. He won a Tony for his Broadway performance of “Evita,” an Emmy for TV’s medical drama “Chicago Hope” and yukked it up in “The Princess Bride.” The Chicago native views his accomplishments evenly. Working with actress Claire Danes, the “Homeland” character Carrie, is just part of the fabric.
“It’s all one huge experience. They don’t get separated. I don’t vote for one. The good is only because of the price you pay for the others,” he said. “You have to take both parts of it. The struggle and the good part.”
Singing, which he discovered in a temple choir when at age seven, has always been a positive touchstone. In high school, he tried to mask his mellifluous voice. But a wise teacher knew better.
“I hated high school. Singing was the only thing I did well. A choir teacher told me to sing and in my high, quiet voice, I sang and apologized,” said Patinkin. His teacher Lena Mclin at Kenwood Academy in Chicago’s south side told him to keep singing and if anyone told him not to, that they were wrong.
“That day she gave me the confidence to use my own voice.”
And he hasn’t stopped.
His solo show mixes chestnuts from Rodgers and Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim and new additions like Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” and Tom Waits. He loves the gravelly toned Waits because “his soul just bleeds through his voice.”
Balancing his lyric nature with the industrial grind of network production, “is a wonderful combination,” he said.
Patinkin has been a touring vocalist since 1989.
“I love to be able to do both. I can sing and have some wonderful words to say.”
Though fans of “Homeland” might be surprised to hear him croon “Pennies from Heaven,” like an angel, he’d take that over the movie lights.
“Singing is the first love for me. If forced to make the choice, I will choose singing. I do act the songs when I sing them.”
As a singer, he thinks of himself as an actor with a great script. The songs drive him.
“I’m a lyrically driven person. There is always music under any good story. You put these two together and I’m in heaven,” he said.
How does he encompass such divergent roles, singing “A–Tisket A–Tasket” by night and overseeing the CIA clandestine ops by day?
“I just think about whatever the character’s job is. How he has to get through to somebody, it’s no different from life. In life we need to connect with each other; it’s the same thing in a drama, only in a heightened form, a little more invigorated. We want our normal life to be boring as possible.”
How boring is Patinkin’s life?
“I spend 24/7 learning lines to ‘Homeland’ and shooting. When I’m not doing that, I’m flying all over the world to be with the love of my life, which is to sing these songs,” he said.
To keep everything harmonious, “the trick is getting enough rest, right exercise and hope to wake up in the morning.”
“I’ve been really blessed to have these various experiences. I try to keep both balls in the air with some regularity. I would feel unbalanced if I didn’t.”
To ward off stress, he goes to the gym and tries to read and relax. And sing.
“I’m more comfortable singing than anything I do. I so love the music and I love the crowds and being with the audience, it gives me an adrenaline rush. It really is my vacation.”
Mandy Patinkin: Dress Casual with Paul Ford on Piano, 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 18, at Merrill Auditorium, 20 Myrtle St., Portland. Tickets are $45 to $70 and available by calling 842-0800 or at porttix.com. The show is presented by the non-profit Portland Ovations.