Mandy Patinkin describes himself as an ‘‘American Disneyland Jew informed as much by literature and the theatre as religion’’.
Heaven seems like an unlikely place to find a spy with an ear for opera. But it was where Mandy Patinkin, who plays veteran CIA agent Saul Berenson in Homeland, first encountered baritone Nathan Gunn.
Both men were performing at composer Stephen Sondheim's 80th birthday celebrations in New York City and became fast friends.
"We shared a dressing room on the top floor of the Lincoln Centre," Patinkin says. "They'd put us up in the heavens."
But it was after hearing Gunn sing that Patinkin, a star of Broadway long before he achieved fame on television, realised the potential for bringing together the worlds of arias and show tunes on one stage.
"When he begun to sing I just shut up," he says. "It was like listening to God."
It may come as a surprise to television viewers to learn that Patinkin, who won an Emmy for his role as Dr Jeffrey Geiger in Chicago Hope and played an FBI profiler in Criminal Minds before entering the paranoid world of Homeland, is a tenor singer and noted interpreter of Sondheim.
He has released several recordings, including an album sung in Yiddish and a collection of children's songs for adults called Kidults.
Patinkin's cinematic career includes being part of a love triangle with Barbra Streisand in the 1983 film Yentl and playing a swashbuckling Spanish fencer in The Princess Bride, who famously utters: "Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die."
But live performance remains the abiding passion of the 60-year-old actor, who won a Tony Award, musical theatre's version of the Oscars, for playing Che Guevara in the original Broadway production of Evita in 1979.
Patinkin and the voice of God won strong reviews when they performed together in Chicago last year.
The unlikely pair will tour An Evening with Mandy Patinkin and Nathan Gunn to Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane this month, performing an eclectic song list that includes Broadway standards by Sondheim, Irving Berlin and Rodgers and Hammerstein, Tom Waits' Innocent When You Dream, Over the Rainbow and songs sung in Yiddish.
"I'm lyric driven, words are what move me," Patinkin says.
"I look for connections through stories and ideas."
Some of those stories, such as The Gettysburg Address and Shenandoah, seem quintessentially American, but Patinkin says they contain universal themes that are hardly alien to Australian audiences.
"You don't need to be Jewish to enjoy Yiddish songs. I sing Arabic songs, American songs and Hebrew songs. Nathan sings French songs. Music is universal no matter what language it's sung in."
Patinkin has performed in Australia before but he says the short tour with Gunn is a minor miracle of programming: "It's a little tricky in terms of booking because in the opera world they're booked about five years ahead of time and my world is a little screwy too between the different stuff I'm doing."
Gunn's wife, Julie Jordan Gunn, and Patinkin's long-time accompanist, Paul Ford, will also appear on stage. Patinkin likens his relationship with Ford to Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
''He's a dance partner,'' he says. ''It's a marriage. You get to know each other so well.''
He has known Ford since the two worked together on Sondheim's 1984 musical Sunday in the Park with George, which earned the actor a Tony Award nomination.
As an avid consumer of the news, he says it informs his interpretations as much as the events in his personal life: ''The meanings of songs change for us and Paul sometimes knows the change before I'm even thinking it.''
Patinkin is soon reciting the lyrics of Over the Rainbow, which he has previously said is one of his favourite songs, before declaring: ''So many of these songs have this nature to them, they are like prayers.''
Raised in an orthodox Jewish family in Chicago, Patinkin describes himself as an ''American Disneyland Jew informed as much by literature and the theatre as religion'', according to The Los Angeles Times.
His pre-performance routine for television, as well as the stage, includes a hodge-podge of Hebrew prayers, Shakespeare and Sondheim.
He has also referred to himself as a ''JewBu'' for his mix of Jewish and Buddhist beliefs.
Patinkin peppers his conversation with religious references, which is perhaps not unusual for an American but is a surprise to less devout ears.
He also frequently refers to family, whether speaking about Ford, his wife, Kathryn Grody, and two sons, Gideon, 27, and Isaac, 31, or indeed his Homeland co-star Claire Danes.
Family is of the utmost importance to Patinkin and it was his absence from Grody and his sons that led him to relinquish his role in Chicago Hope. He also walked away from Criminal Minds, objecting to the show's violent content.
"I cannot tell you how many times I was warned about his checkered past in television," Alex Gansa, the co-creator of Homeland recently told The New York Times. "But [the] role was written for him. I've been his biggest fan since Sunday in the Park; that performance was indelible. And I was convinced that the creative environment we try to foster would allow him to thrive. Mandy is a tremendously generous, compassionate, soulful guy and the message of Criminal Minds was not commensurate with his worldview.''
Patinkin speaks about his sons with a reverence that is endearing if unexpected. Gideon joined his father on stage for several songs at one of his Chicago shows last year, an experience Patinkin says deeply touched him.
''Nothing could have made me happier,'' he says. ''I had to pinch myself when my son came up. There was nothing better.''
His other son, Isaac, lives in Alaska and works with children at risk of addiction and going to jail.
Patinkin is a proud father, trumpeting his sons' achievements and how ''they have managed to cut out a path to walk without following the herd''.
''To say the least, and not to be corny, they have truly become their parents' parents and their teachers,'' he says.
Patinkin's personal life has not been free of drama; he has grappled with depression, underwent two corneal transplants to treat the degenerative keratoconus disease and suffered prostate cancer at the age of 52.
Organ donation and men's health are two of the many causes he supports. He is also a passionate advocate for peace in the Middle East, gun control and the environment.
Patinkin credits the actor and advocate Martin Sheen with raising his political consciousness during a conversation more than three decades ago, in which Sheen told him: ''The air you breathe is political.''
Patinkin says his list of political concerns ''right now is endless''.
He is speaking by telephone from New York, while on a short break from filming Homeland in Charlotte, North Carolina.
The shutdown of the US government has just commenced, which Patinkin blames on ''our inability to listen to each other''.
''We are one of the parents of the world, the US government,'' he says. ''If the parents are screaming at each other at the dinner table, what sort of behaviour are the children of the world expected to do?''
The lack of universal healthcare in the US is another great crime, he adds.
Patinkin is at home with the script for the final two episodes of the third season of Homeland, filling in time before watching his actor wife perform in Donald Margulies' The Model Apartment at New York's 59E59 Theatre.
He will jet off to his home town of Chicago to perform with Patti LuPone and travel to New York to appear on The Colbert Report, before returning to Charlotte to film the final episodes of Homeland.
Based on the Israeli series Hatufim, the award-winning show became a hit thanks to a complex plot centred on Claire Danes' CIA officer with bipolar disorder, Carrie Mathison, and Nicholas Brody, played by Damian Lewis, a soldier Mathison suspected of being a terrorist after being held captive by al-Qaeda.
Patinkin's character, Saul Berenson, is Carrie's mentor and erstwhile protector at the CIA. He has been elevated to acting director of the spy agency in the third series, which follows the aftermath of a terrorist attack. He knew the pedigree of Homeland's writers and cast was impeccable when he joined. But he adds: ''One never knows what the chemistry will be. Everyone can do wonderful work but you never know how the audience will find it.
''I use this analogy. It's like taking the love of your life to meet your family. That's what it has been like.''
Homeland's second series had its critics but as Fairfax Media television critic Paul Kalina observed: ''As the uneven second season taught us, the viewer dismisses this fabulously brainy and brawny show at his or her own peril.''
Homeland's success in exploiting America's fears of an enemy within has not diminished, with the show renewed for a fourth series after its audience increased by more than a quarter in its third season, reported UK's The Telegraph. Patinkin was nominated for best supporting actor at this year's Emmy Awards, losing to Bobby Cannavale.
He says he was disappointed for about 30 seconds, but could not be happier for the actor who plays Gyp Rosetti in HBO's Boardwalk Empire.
''You're a liar if you say you don't want to win,'' he says.
''There's confusion about awards and whether actors should compete against each other. But competition can be healthy if it motivates the swimmer to swim faster, the footballer to kick faster, the actor to listen more. It pushes you when someone is better than you.''
Patinkin says he has felt overwhelmed at times by the quality of the material provided by the show's writers. ''If anything I was concerned it was too good and people wouldn't like it,'' he says.
''Sometimes they seem to like things that are not good.''
It's perhaps fortunate that Patinkin continues to enjoy the tangle of conspiracies produced by the show, where he says he spends up to 17 hours on set. ''I live it. I love it,'' he says. ''I never want it to end. It feeds the soul every day.''
But the gruelling schedule is emotionally exhausting, he admits. ''That's where the music comes in. Music is my balance and the hiking.''
Television has brought Patinkin fame but it will never supplant his love of live performance.
''To be with an audience and in the moment, nothing on earth can replace that,'' he says.
An Evening with Mandy Patinkin and Nathan Gunn is at the Sydney Opera House on November 26.