It isn’t often that multiple actors win awards for playing the same character, but it could happen at this year’s Emmy Awards. Welsh actor and delightfully unverified Twitter user Matthew Rhys stars in HBO’s rebooted crime drama “Perry Mason,” which reimagines the story of the iconic and imposing defense attorney who first appeared in the literary works of author Erle Stanley Gardner before being featured in a long-running radio series and then a CBS television show starring Raymond Burr. Should Rhys walk away a winner in the race for Best Drama Actor later this year, he would become the second actor to win for portraying the character after Burr won twice (out of three nominations) for his performance on the original series, which ran from 1957 until 1966.
Set in 1930s Los Angeles during the Great Depression, HBO’s version of “Perry Mason” picks up when the character is about one inch away from hitting rock bottom. A down-on-his-luck private investigator dealing with the emotional fallout of a failing marriage, Mason is soon hired onto a sensational case involving the death of a young child. This finally gives him purpose and puts him on a path toward professional success, so that by the end of the show’s eight-episode first season, he’s already well on his way to being the suited-up defense attorney audiences know the character to be.
Although the show itself received middling reviews because of a central narrative that stalls about halfway through the season, Rhys’ performance was ultimately praised, with many critics citing his ability to convey bone-deep tiredness and sadness with seemingly little effort. It’s the same talent that helped him stand out and win an Emmy for his performance as KGB spy Philip Jennings in the critically acclaimed FX Cold War drama “The Americans,” so it could work in his favor here too.
Currently, Rhys is sitting in second place in Gold Derby’s combined Best Drama Actor odds, behind only Josh O’Connor of “The Crown.” O’Connor has some momentum on his side after winning the Golden Globe for his performance as Prince Charles in the fourth season of the royal Netflix drama, but he lost the individual Screen Actors Guild Award to “Ozark” star Jason Bateman, who is ineligible for this year’s Emmys (Rhys wasn’t nominated). As a former Emmy winner with a handful of powerful character moments that could help him stand out in a relatively uncrowded drama field, Rhys could easily appeal to voters, who tend to recognize the familiar rather than the new (they’re a little slow on the take, which is why it took them so long to recognize Rhys’ work on “The Americans” in the first place). So even though “Perry Mason” has underperformed elsewhere, Rhys definitely has a decent shot of not just being nominated for his performance but also winning and becoming the second person to claim an Emmy for portraying Perry Mason.
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