Mandy Patinkin plays Special Agent Jason Gideon — an elite profiler for the FBI — each week on CBS’ “Criminal Minds.” Every other weekend he hops a plane and performs in concert. A seasoned Broadway performer, the singing rejuvenates him. He says he needs it after long days on the set and pretend serial-killer chasing.
He’s not complaining, though, and is more than happy to have a role in a show that’s been picked up for another season. But playing Gideon takes an awful lot of energy — the guy’s intense.
“Gideon’s the one who feels more,” Patinkin says. “(Exec producer) Ed Bernero refers to my character as the mother in the FBI family. He has the more feminine aspect to his personality. He’s also fearless and not afraid to die.”
Being a stage actor, rehearsal is vital to Patinkin, but TV’s hectic schedule doesn’t allow it. So the actor had to train himself, on his own time, to dart into dark mental territory at a moment’s notice.
“The main challenge was developing a mental vocabulary for horror, sadness and pain,” Patinkin says. “I did it by spending mental time in the most horrible space of my life for hours a day. Eventually you start to access it easier. You have greater freedom and you recover quicker.”
So how does Patinkin see his character development coming along?
“Gideon’s evolving,” explains the Chicago-born actor who won the Emmy in 1995 for his role as heart surgeon Dr. Jeffrey Geiger on David Kelley’s “Chicago Hope.” “He’s finding answers. How do you deal with losing lives because you made the wrong choice? How do you deal with being a workaholic? How are young people’s lives affected by your life? What would you like to teach them, and have them teach you? The best television is a slow onion peel.”
Once Patinkin got a handle on Gideon’s dark day job, he began to wish the guy could have more laughs.
“Gideon would love to learn to have more fun and has no idea how to do it. He’s an idiot savant, in terms of psychological crime-busting, and a moron in terms of quality of life,” Patinkin says. “I’d love to have Gideon dance. I’d like next season’s ender to be a counterpoint between finding the worst horrific criminal in the world and whether or not I make the finals of the ballroom dance competition.”
Favorite season of last season?
“Gideon getting to jitterbug and cook dinner, I just love that. It was the first time this season you saw life, other than life at work.”
“I’m not a big television watcher. I watch the news. I watch whatever my wife or kids have on.”
“All of them because I really think TV is a different kind of beast from film or stage work. They’re working in a tremendous pressure cooker. How they deal with that is incredibly admirable.”