Stage and screen star Mandy Patinkin has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. My love for musical theater can be traced back to the hours of my early childhood spent lying in the backseat of my mom’s car (no seatbelt, it was the ’80s) staring at clouds and listening to Evita on cassette tape. Then there was the time my mom dragged me, a jaded teen by then, to a back alley stage door in Cleveland to meet the man. When Patinkin came out after his concert, we were the only people there: a mortified 14-year-old and a mother who was so excited that I would not have blamed him for taking out a restraining order. Instead, he was kind and gracious, chatting with us and thanking us for coming to the show.
“It’s always a risky thing to get to know your heroes,” my mother used to say. “You never know if they will live up to your imagination.” What a joy then to discover, decades later, that Mandy Patinkin is every bit the white knight my mother imagined him to be.
Patinkin has been in the public eye across a variety of mediums his entire adult life. He first earned fame on Broadway, with iconic turns in Evita and Sunday in the Park with George. Then there was that role in The Princess Bride: “My name is Inigo Montoya! You killed my father. Prepare to die!” and a long spate of hit TV shows: Chicago Hope, Criminal Minds, and Homeland to name a few.
Now, Patinkin and wife Kathryn Grody, both in their 70s and both self-proclaimed social media neophytes, have achieved celebrity status in a sphere more typically associated with folks much younger than the septuagenarians: social media. The couple credit their son Gideon Grody-Patinkin with coaxing them into sharing their lives on platforms like YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram while the three of them shared a home in the early days of COVID.
And it turned out people loved to watch them. Their content combines efforts to promote political causes with more homespun videos documenting their history as a couple and their daily lives. A quick look at their recent TikTok content shows videos supporting the Hollywood writer’s strike, the International Rescue Committee, and individuals displaced in the recent Moroccan earthquake, with clips of Mandy puttering around the house, Kathryn asking him to change a cartridge in the printer, and the couple snuggled on a sofa discussing how they first met.
It’s the self-described “third act” of a couple who, 45 years into married life, define themselves through family and love.
By all appearances, the Grody-Patinkin home is idyllic and disheveled, cozy and chaotic. They give off the energy of people who have known each other for so long that they finish each other’s sentences without thought. They bicker but in the adorable way of people who love each other’s quirks and who will always have each other’s backs. Maybe it’s that in a world where so much is unstable, Grody and Patinkin feel like a safe harbor, a voyeuristic way for us all to feel like we are wrapped up in a warm blanket of safety. Thirty minutes into our conversation, I felt the urge to call everyone in my family and give them big virtual hugs.
I spoke to Mandy, Kathryn, and Gideon before their upcoming appearance at the Reston Community Center from their woodsy home where they all joined around one Zoom screen and barely let me ask questions. It was like being a fly on the wall at a boisterous family dinner where conversation zinged from one family member to another and I loved every minute of it. Here is just a bit of what we talked about.
This conversation has been abbreviated for clarity.
Gideon, I would like to start with you because I feel like you are the mastermind behind this third act in your parents’ lives. How did they get started on social media?
Gideon: I came back here during the COVID lockdown to look after the folks. I saw that Dad [Mandy] had a small social media presence and was making some posts about the IRC [International Rescue Committee]. My parents are both pretty unusual and authentic people so I thought that if I recorded some videos of them being themselves, it might bring some more eyeballs to causes they are interested in promoting. To our great surprise, it took off. Then it became a project for me to document my parents and make a diary of their existence. There was extra motivation because, in 2020, we felt like we might be getting COVID at any time.
Kathryn: At that time, I had no idea how social media worked. I wasn’t interested and I thought it was just garbage. But it felt like a good social service. We were all so frightened, we were all so isolated, in our homes. So it felt like, OK, whatever this thing is, if we can give some comfort and perspective during this particular time, that is a legitimate use of this weird thing.
Was your content political from the outset?
Mandy: My social media platforms were begun in 2015 by the people I work with at the International Rescue Committee. But they had hit a plateau in terms of followers and then Gideon came along and exploded it.
Kathryn: It’s an interesting thing, Nicole. Mandy said he wasn’t political when I first met him. This guy [gestures to Mandy] is six years younger than me. He missed the ’60s, which were pivotal for me. When I first met him, I asked him if his parents were Democrats or Republicans and all he knew was that they were members of the sisterhood and brotherhood of his Temple. I mean, we are both Jews, but he grew up in Chicago in a very conservative, loving shtetl-like community. I grew up in Southern California where being Jewish meant Passover, Rosh Hashana, and social justice. You couldn’t be a prejudiced person because of your religion.
One day soon after we met, we were getting on a bus in NYC and Mandy saw an elderly lady running to catch the bus and he asked the bus driver to stop. The driver didn’t stop so Mandy pulled the cord so this woman could get on the bus. I just looked at him and said “That’s political.” Being political is the way you behave, it’s kindness towards others, it’s your point of view about sharing resources. You can’t separate politics from your whole being.
That’s wonderful. Who decides what you are going to publish on your social media accounts?
Mandy: Gideon and our good friend Ewen [Wright] are the puppeteers, the arbiters. Gideon knows how to push our buttons and ask the right questions. The TikTok started after we were on a Zoom fundraiser with [former NYC mayoral candidate] Ruth Messinger during the 2020 election. We were talking about getting out the vote and Ruth jumped in and said, “You aren’t reaching young people and that’s a big part of the population.” The next morning Gideon and Ewen said to us, “We’re going to ask you to do some interesting things. You just need to trust us.” So they launched a TikTok site and it went crazy.
Gideon: Well, things have changed since those early days. They have issues and organizations that they believe in so they put stuff out now. It’s interesting to see them, people in their ’70s, learning about these platforms and what is or isn’t popular. It can be very confusing. They got 350K followers in one day for shaking their butts to a song to get people to register to vote.
Kathryn: It was so embarrassing! What you won’t do for Democracy!
Gideon: It’s interesting as people who are already known to the public, our dad in particular, it’s this new wave of attention but in this medium that they are still working to understand and it’s very amorphous. And it’s a way for these two people to see their own relationship in a different light.
What has that been like for you guys? Are you surprised at anything?
Mandy: Well, I have been surprised. There have been times when I’ve been completely overwhelmed by what Gideon and Ewen capture on film. I remember saying to Gideon and Kathryn, “My god, when we are gone, this is everything I would have wanted my children and grandchildren to know about us. We are not here anymore but this is who we were.” Gideon and Ewen did that for us and it’s such a gift.
Kathryn: It’s a strange thing because my parents died in 1972 when few people had movie cameras, but now Gideon has archived us in such an amazing way that, god willing, our great, great, great-grandchildren will know what we were like.
And they’ll know about the time you struggled to put in a lightbulb with a dimmer switch!
Mandy: Well, yeah, since you mention that, I do get excited about those things. I’m not performing in those videos. I’m concentrating on making that fucking dimmer switch work. The other day I spoke to a buddy of mine who is a washer and dryer repairman. He gave me an amazing piece of information on what one has to do to get rid of mold in the washing machine. I said, Gideon, I think this would be really helpful to people. Most people have washing machines and they don’t clean them properly so why don’t we make a video about that? I think that would be a wonderful public service.
Gideon: And then I say, Oh yes, that sounds great. I would love to spend 27 hours editing footage of you cleaning the washing machine.
Mandy: And he will!
And this cozy content, the clips of you puttering around the house, brings in an audience for the causes that are important to you.
Mandy: To have a platform that inspires people to contribute to the world is an extraordinary privilege and to not take advantage of it is a little criminal. Five minutes ago we posted a little clip to support dear friends of ours who live in the Atlas Mountains in Morrocco that was recently hit by an earthquake. They started a GoFundMe Page, so we made a little video saying this is where we shot parts of Homeland and these people are beautiful and they’ve suffered a tragedy so please help them.
And now the three of you are inviting live audiences in to share these experiences with you in person. What is that like?
Gideon: What is interesting about doing these live interviews compared to the social media content is that the live programs are unedited. Most people would be uncomfortable having their parents talk about their childhood to a room full of strangers, but we are able to have fun, vulnerable, and sometimes difficult conversations in front of an audience.
Mandy: And Gideon plans each event. Kathryn and I don’t know where he’s going with it or what he’s going to say. We have no preparation whatsoever.
Gideon: We thought we would only do a few of these live events and then run out of things to say, but once I saw how available they were to have fun, to be surprised, to try new things, to get into a family argument onstage and recover from it, I was like, OK, these are great collaborators because they are down for whatever. After working together for a while, you can take risks because you know if you mess up or calculate something wrong…
Mandy: Then we bring out chocolate chip cookies and pass them out to the audience! [Addressing Kathryn:] If you had said to me when we first met, “Listen, I would like to record everything we do. Are you willing to do that?” I would have said you are out of your mind! That is our private life. If you had told me that one day we would have social media platforms and be able to communicate with people on a variety of levels from fundraising to registering people to vote, to entertaining during the pandemic, I would have said, You’ve got to be kidding me! So you don’t know what life holds for you.
Kathryn: The truth is that this is not a “show.” It isn’t rehearsed. It’s basically a three-person trust exercise. We go out there in front of people and we have no idea what this extremely daring, creative person [Gideon] is going to do. And he has done some things which were not easy.
Mandy: I’ve wanted Kathryn to have a larger audience my whole life, but she just didn’t want to deal with certain aspects of show business and avoided it. She loves off-Broadway and writes and does other people’s plays and her own. But I wanted the world to know her in the way I did, and I couldn’t succeed in making that happen. But Gideon has made my dream come true. Gideon got the world to know the woman that I love. I couldn’t make it happen and he did.
Kathryn: I write solo shows, and I wrote one called “The Unexpected Third,” which was what I expected this period of my life to be like, what it actually is like. I did a production for three nights near our home [in Upstate New York], hoping maybe 50 people would come, but because of Gideon sharing it on social media, there were 250 people there every night. It was the only time the theater had ever sold out. It was quite thrilling and shocking.
Mandy: Kathryn said something a minute ago that I wanted to riff on. She used the word trust. Well, if I had to look at one word that defined this journey of being public and free form with my wife, son, and our dear friend Ewen, it is trust. This is all possible because of the trust that we have in each other.
Kathryn: It’s a full circle from when we got married.
Mandy: [raising his hand to the Zoom camera and taking off his wedding ring] It’s written right here on my finger if I take off my wedding ring…
Kathryn: I didn’t know what to inscribe on our rings and this baby, who was 26 years old at the time…
Mandy: 25 when you met me!
Kathryn: He suggested “in loving trust,” And that is a big thing, trust. It doesn’t come easily. You earn it, and you mess up sometimes, and you splinter it up and it comes back… what is that thing the Japanese do where they take pottery and splinter it up and then put the pieces back together?
Kathryn: Yes, Kintsugi. Where they mend broken things with gold? Well, that’s kind of what I feel we are. We are a mended thing put back together with gold.
Mandy: Or Krazy Glue!
A Conversation with Mandy Patinkin and Kathryn Grody – Moderated by their son Gideon Grody-Patinkin plays on Saturday, September 30, 2023, at 3 pm and 8 pm at Reston Community Center – 2310 Colts Neck Road, in Reston, VA. For tickets ($40-$60) go online.