|He won an Emmy in 1995 for "Chicago Hope"|
By DONALD PORTER
PASADENA, Calif. -- Mandy Patinkin says he was ready to lose everything: his job, his house, his bank account. Everything but his family, that is, which was the point to begin with.
He's leaving "Chicago Hope," his hit series, to spend more time with his family. The star must live in Los Angeles to film the show, while his wife and two sons, age 9 and 13, live in New York City.
Patinkin, seated at a table on the expansive, carefully manicured lawn in the early evening shade of the Ritz-Carlton Huntington Hotel, leaned forward to emphasize a point to his interviewer. He said after nine months away from his family last season, the recent three-month hiatus was a blissfully happy time.
"Boy," Patinkin said, "that made my tough decision for me."
Patinkin, a film and Broadway star, had never worked on a TV series before, and wasn't prepared for the massive time commitment involved. So within the past couple of weeks, upon his return to Los Angeles to begin working on "Chicago Hope's" second season, he told the producers he was through -- this despite the significant matter of a five-year contract to star on one of CBS' biggest hits.
"I went into it knowing if there was a legal problem. I was totally prepared to be sued and lose everything I had," the actor said, shrugging his shoulders. "Because I don't care about that stuff, and they can't take away my kids and my wife, and that's all I wanted. I would've just gone to a repertory theater somewhere and worked, which would have been fine -- probably a much better life for our family."
Patinkin's decision was not a complete surprise for the "Chicago Hope" production team. He says there were ongoing discussions all last year about his desire to find more time to be with his family, and that when he finally decided to pack it in -- he's committed to eight shows this year, with the possibility for more if his schedule permits -- the producers and the network were "completely helpful and understanding."
"Whenever they have a story line they want me in, if my schedule will allow it, I'll be there," the actor explained. "The idea is that I'm not leaving at all -- they have no intention of killing me off -- and that I hope to be there for the duration of the show, on and off, over the years."
Actress Christine Lahti has been cast to replace Patinkin's outgoing character, and will play a cardiothoracic surgeon on the series.
Co-star Adam Arkin, whose character in the series plays the best friend of Patinkin's character, was ambivalent about Patinkin's leaving the show.
"I think there are things about it that are regrettable, obviously," said Arkin, who was standing about 20 feet away from where Patinkin was seated. "His contribution to the show is immeasurable. I also think it's a healthy opportunity to explore some of the other strengths in the company. And it'll be a challenge to find out what else we've got going on, viably, as far as characters, their relationships and the stories."
The reactions of his fellow actors aside, Patinkin said he's greatly relieved.
"I'm ecstatic about my family, and the decision I've made for them," he said, gesturing with his hands and smiling broadly. "I'm sad that I ... couldn't do both. But I had two families, and one of 'em had to suffer. And I thought the grown-ups in the TV world would understand far better than the boys. And they did. They were great, and I'll do anything for these people as long as I live."
As long as it doesn't involve long-term separation from his family, that is.
Patinkin explained that his own father, who died when his son was 18, was always home -- except for one three-day trip when Mandy was 8.
"It always haunted me, that memory, because of how much I'm away, and how I remember those three days when I was a little boy. It haunted me because those three days seemed like a lifetime."
And then there are the heart-wrenching comments made by his children.
"My little son, Gideon, said, 'I don't understand why you can't get a job as a doorman in our building.' I said, 'I could probably get a job as a doorman. I just don't want to be a doorman.' He said, 'But you could be home then.' It killed me. The blessing of my life is that I can do other things."
Patinkin is a popular singer, and has a recording studio in his home. And he frequently acts in feature films, which commonly take much less time for an actor than do TV series.
Patinkin reports that his wife and children were "thrilled and grateful" about his decision to quit -- or cutback, whatever -- "Chicago Hope."
"You can use every excuse in the world that you have to go with your career first, but your kids aren't gonna give a damn about that in the end," Patinkin said, plopping his hand, palm-down, on the table to drive home his point. "And what's going to happen in the end is they'll grow up and you'll have whatever career you have and they won't want to spend any time with you."
Armed with this newfound information, Patinkin says he won't agree to do another series, full-time, until his sons are in college.