Fans of legal dramas have long enjoyed the Erle Stanley Gardner books about the fictional attorney Perry Mason. Audiences then watched the CBS drama “Perry Mason” starring Emmy winner Raymond Burr, who always took on one case per week and helped his client go free.
As producers Robert Downey, Jr. and Susan Downey and their team of producers, writers and especially director Tim Van Patten began plotting a comeback for the smart lawyer, they decided on another Emmy winner, Matthew Rhys, to be their lead character. But one major change among several happened as they plotted the first season on HBO last year.
In our recent webchat, Rhys explains, “They were brave enough to take eight episodes for one case. A number of times, people would ask if it is a case for every episode, and I would say ‘No, it’s one case over eight episodes. When you take up that much real estate and that much time on something, the audience is so invested. You have the time in those courtroom scenes to really dive into detail.”
As the show begins with the first episode, it is 1932 in Los Angeles. Perry Mason is a down-and-out private investigator hired by attorney E.B. Jonathan (Emmy nominee John Lithgow) to assist on a gripping child kidnapping case. By mid-way in the season, Jonathan has committed suicide, forcing Mason into handling the case and trial himself along with secretary Della Street (Juliet Ryance) and Paul Drake (Chris Chalk) — familar characters to previous Perry Mason mythology.
For his Emmy category of Best Drama Actor, Rhys is submitted the season finale “Chapter Eight,” in which all plots of the season are coming together. He adds, “Everything Mason was doing, I was being allowed to do as an actor in real-time, which is an incredible luxury. His evolution as a courtroom lawyer, I did in real-time in chronological order, which was just incredible. There was so much juice to it all where you had to unpack everything.”
In our webchat, we also discuss the amazing cast assembled, including Tatiana Maslany, Shea Whigham, Eric Lange, Justin Kirk, Gayle Rankin, Nate Corddry, Jefferson Mays, Lili Taylor, Robert Patrick and Stephen Root. We also open our conversation discussing his Emmy win in 2018 for “The Americans” and his tricky trip making it just in time from Pittsburgh (where he was shooting “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” with Tom Hanks) to Los Angeles and then boarding a helicopter to make it just in time to the downtown ceremony where he accepted the Emmy.
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