Mandy Patinkin ‘back to the living’ in ‘Death and Other Details’

Mandy Patinkin ‘back to the living’ in ‘Death and Other Details’

  16 Jan 2024

After nearly 50 years in Hollywood, Mandy Patinkin still considers himself a “hired hand.”

“That’s how I like it,” the actor says over the phone from his home in upstate New York, while inviting his Great Pyrenees-yellow lab mix Becky to sit with him.

That’s the career advice a friend — a celebrity whom he doesn’t want to name-drop — gave him over dinner back in 1978. All he wanted was to be an actor and to maybe, just maybe, one day sing some songs. “That was my whole wish,” Patinkin says with a warm, gruff lilt. He hasn’t looked back since.

Over time, Patinkin, 71, built a formidable resume with originating roles in Broadway’s “Evita” and “Sunday in the Park With George,” as well as career-defining parts in Barbra Streisand’s Oscar-winning classic “Yentl” and Rob Reiner’s witty fairy tale “The Princess Bride.” Along the way, he’s also been lauded for his longtime music career.

Mandy Patinkin refers to himself as a “hired hand,” even after nearly 50 years in Hollywood. The actor, who stars in Hulu’s “Death and Other Details,” has had career-defining roles in films like “Yentl” and “The Princess Bride.”

(Paul Yem / For The Times)

On TV, he’s been a resident scene-stealer in a garden variety of sage but prickly surrogate dads-meet-advisors on TV — grim reaper foreman Rube Sofer in “Dead Like Me,” Carrie’s mentor and veteran CIA officer Saul Berenson on “Homeland” and now, the curmudgeonly Rufus Cotesworth, the so-called world’s best detective who reunites with protégé Imogene (Violett Beane) on a cruise ship among the elite, in the whodunit Hulu series “Death and Other Details,” premiering Tuesday.

“It was a real mystery they constructed and a lot of red herrings and a lot to follow,” he says. “So there would be a number of occasions where I would get so f— lost and even I knew the answers, but I couldn’t remember them, that I felt like I was in the mystery for real.”

Patinkin was approached with the Hulu series during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic — a time when he wasn’t sure he’d work again. “We were sitting around, isolated, masks — you know, all that garbage. And I was just wondering when we’d ever get opportunities to go back to work or when the world would come back to the living,” he says.

When he initially received the script for the pilot in 2021, he says he thought, “This seems like fun to me.” He loved that the show was an ensemble piece and that he’d get to exercise one of his favorite acting skills — putting on an accent (a British one, at that). He also found himself back in his comfort zone, portraying a detective, a role he was familiar with thanks to “Criminal Minds” and “Homeland,” “to some degree.”

A woman and a man stand side by side.

Violett Beane is Imogene Scott, and Mandy Patinkin is Rufus Cotesworth, the world’s greatest detective, in Hulu’s “Death and Other Details.”


The sleuthing is admittedly not something that crosses over into his everyday life. You won’t find him on Reddit solving mysteries (“I’ve heard of it, but honestly, I don’t know what it is.”) and he doesn’t like “Clue.” “I do Wordle and I do many crosswords. That’s as much of a mystery that I can handle,” he says.

Before making any rash decisions — he sought the counsel of his family. “I don’t trust myself, so I gave it to [my wife] Kathryn [Grody], who’s 10 times smarter than me, a lot more than 10 times, a lifetime smarter than me,” Patinkin says. “And she said, ‘This is good. This is good.’ ”

Then, he gave it to his son, Gideon Grody-Patinkin, and Gideon’s writing partner Ewen Wright, who both liked it as well. Finally, Patinkin was sold. “It just became a nice, comfortable way to get back to the living,” he says of the project.

During the throes of the pandemic, Patinkin found a way to connect with audiences that was unique for him. With the help of Grody-Patinkin, Patinkin and Grody became social media stars. They had one rule for their son, however. They needed to review the content first before he posted it. “For the most part, he abides by it,” he says and laughs.

Their son recorded wildly entertaining videos of his parents answering questions about their secrets to a long marriage and pop culture terms, doing a “vote dance” to encourage people to elect Joe Biden in the 2020 election and capturing intimate moments of them eating buttered matzo and demonstrating the dance move “flossing.”

Those videos have evolved into what Patinkin calls the “family show” — a series of live performances with Patinkin, Grody and Grody-Patinkin, who is usually behind the camera, onstage asking his parents questions. “People must have nothing to do because they come through to see us,” he says in a self-deprecating tone. “I feel so sorry for these people.”

Recently, Patinkin spiced up his social media presence with an Instagram Reel featuring him wearing a Ricky Martin tank top, short shorts and a backward Barbie pink baseball cap — an outfit he borrowed from his daughter-in-law’s brother, who is a yoga instructor, to give his family a laugh when he was on a break from shooting “Death and Other Details” two years ago. He doesn’t want to boast, but he’s “quite pleased at how beautiful my legs looked.”

“My father had great legs and few people are aware that I’ve inherited my father’s legs,” he says. “And I do think that, say nothing else, that photograph gave justice to the genetic chain of ‘legdom’ between my father and myself.”

Since sharing the clip — to his own surprise — he’s been dubbed a fashion icon by the internet. His response? “I think without a doubt, as you can see by that photo, that I am probably the greatest fashion influencer that has ever lived,” he says. The rest of his wardrobe, he insists, is teeming with hiking shirts from REI and the same pair of pants. “I love my uniform. My kids make fun of it. It’s like camping, comfy cozy.”

The family business, one could say, has become his main focus. Patinkin and Grody were slated to star in “Seasoned,” a scripted series inspired by their real-life marriage helmed by their son and Wright until it was scrapped by Showtime in June. Patinkin says he was “overwhelmed” by the pilot — a 30-minute “poetic, funny, heartfelt, enjoyable, entertaining record” of his and Grody’s life together. Now, he’s trying to find a new home for it.

“That’s my No. 1 dream in terms of the industry,” he says. Patinkin even has one of the key selling points on hand: They made it “nice and affordable” to produce. “I love a good budget,” he says. “I don’t like wasting a lot of money. It breaks my heart.”

Beyond “Seasoned,” Patinkin’s outlook is that of a self-described “Jew-Bu” or Jewish Buddhist. He’ll take what comes, but he accepts that life is out of our control. So he’s not fretting over whether “Death and Other Details” will get a Season 2. “I’ve been in the business long enough to know, if you need to know something, you’ll know,” Patinkin says.

Though he might not be worrying about work, there’s just one thing he’s mulling over: whether he and Grody should try psilocybin mushrooms. Patinkin’s kids want them to, but he’s not entirely sure he’ll ever take the risk.

“Kathryn’s a little more interested,” he says. “I’m too terrified at the moment.” He’s not so sure he needs to expand his mind. “My mind is opened up to a little too much right now,” he says, laughing. “I need to cut it down.”

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