PLAYING HIS HUNCH
MANDY PATINKIN HAS NO DOUBT AS TO THE TRUE AUTHORSHIP of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the classic French novel last brought to the screen by Disney in 1996 but published in 1831 as Notre Dame de Paris. “Charles Laughton, as far as I’m concerned, is the person who wrote this, not Victor Hugo,” says Patinkin, 44, sounding as impassioned as Dr. Jeffrey Geiger on CBS’s Chicago Hope, his former series.
It was Laughton’s acclaimed portrayal of the deformed bell ringer Quasimodo in the 1939 version that inspired Patinkin’s performance as the 10th screen Quasimodo in The Hunchback, TNT’s TV-movie adaptation debuting March 16. What impresses Patinkin about Laughton is “the vulnerability and innocence of his heart that he put on the table.” And so, before shooting began last summer in Budapest, Prague and Rouen, he says, he told makeup artists David White and Sacha Carter: “I want to look like Laughton. I want that innocence and that baby quality and that sort of chemotherapy, leftover hair thing.”
Carter and White (who have worked on such films as Hamlet and Alien 3) were happy to comply. Applying a foam latex rubber prosthetic, “we twisted up one side of his face,” says White, “but we gave his hair this very sensitive, choirboy look. And we tried desperately to keep [the other] side of his face as Mandy so people would recognize him.” Despite having to spend up to three hours a day in their chair, Patinkin, adds White, “was terribly, terribly patient. He’d sometimes sing and prepare for his next stage show”—a concert tour that opened on Broadway March 1.
Patinkin had other diversions: He was accompanied on location by his actress wife, Kathryn Grody (the couple were recently in Mexico, where they appeared in a yet-untitled John Sayles film), and sons Isaac, 14, and Gideon, 10. Spending more time with his New York-based family was the reason behind Patinkin’s departure from Hope in 1995. “My only regret about leaving,” he says, “is that when I go back and see everybody”—as he will for a May sweeps guest stint as Geiger—”I miss them.”