Perry Mason Team Discuss Bringing Character Back to His PI Roots

HBO and executive producer Robert Downey, Jr.'s Perry Mason is on the case starting Sunday, June 21, and now viewers are getting a chance to learn more about the making of the series. Written by showrunners Rolin Jones and Ron Fitzgerald and based on Erle Stanley Gardner's word, the limited series follows the origins of one of fiction's most legendary criminal defense lawyers, Perry Mason (Matthew Rhys, The Americans). In the following behind-the-scenes featurette, Rhys, Jones, Fitzgerlad, and more discuss how the character was taken back to his gritty backstory as a private investigator and why recreating 1930s Los Angeles was so important to creating a new kind of Perry Mason story:

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Matthew Rhys as private investigator Perry Mason, image courtesy of HBO.

When the case of the decade breaks down his door, Mason's relentless pursuit of the truth will take him through a fractured city and quite possibly down a pathway towards redemption for a private investigator haunted by his wartime experiences in France and suffering the effects of a broken marriage. Set in 1932 Los Angeles, the city finds itself booming like never before even as the rest of the country recovers from the Great Depression. Oil, the Olympic Games, the advent of talking pictures, evangelical fervor, and a child kidnapping that goes horrifically wrong all make for a deadly mix.

Episode 1: "Chapter One": Los Angeles, 1931. On the heels of an unsavory investigation involving a famous comedian, Perry Mason (Matthew Rhys) – a PI struggling to make ends meet – and his right-hand man Pete Strickland (Shea Whigham) are hired by attorney E.B. Jonathan (John Lithgow), Perry's mentor, to solve a perplexing case: the brutal kidnapping of one-year-old Charlie Dodson, whose parents Matthew (Nate Corddry) and Emily (Gayle Rankin) were targeted for a $100,000 ransom. After meeting with Herman Baggerly (Robert Patrick), a millionaire elder at the Dodsons' church, Perry, E.B., and E.B.'s legal secretary Della Street (Juliet Rylance) ponder why a family of unmistakably modest means would be extorted for such a steep price. Written by Rolin Jones and Ron Fitzgerald; directed by Tim Van Patten.

Episode 2: "Chapter Two": Following one of her trademark barn-burning sermons, Evangelical preacher Sister Alice (Tatiana Maslany) offers the Dodsons the church's full moral and financial support – much to her mother Birdy's (Lili Taylor) dismay. During a routine domestic intervention, beat cop Paul Drake (Chris Chalk) is rerouted to a gruesome crime scene, where he follows a confounding trail of evidence. Mason (Matthew Rhys) is left incensed by a jaw-dropping admission from Baggerly (Robert Patrick) and, after pressing Emily (Gayle Rankin) on her husband's alibi, finds himself confronted by an outraged Della (Juliet Rylance). Detectives Holcomb (Eric Lange) and Ennis (Andrew Howard) use Drake's (Chris Chalk) findings to their own advantage. Written by Rolin Jones and Ron Fitzgerald; directed by Tim Van Patten.

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Matthew Rhys as private investigator Perry Mason, image courtesy of HBO.

HBO's Perry Mason also John Lithgow as Elias Birchard "E.B." Jonathan, a struggling attorney and a semi-regular employer of Mason; Juliet Rylance as Della Street, E.B. Jonathan's creative and driven legal secretary; Tatiana Maslany as Sister Alice McKeegan, the leader of the Radiant Assembly of God, preaching to a hungry congregation and a radio audience across the country; Chris Chalk as Paul Drake, a beat cop with a knack for detective work; and Shea Whigham as Pete Strickland, who is hired by Mason as an extra set of eyes on his various investigations.

Stephen Root, Gayle Rankin, Nate Corddry, Veronica Falcón, Jefferson Mays, Lili Taylor, Andrew Howard, Eric Lange, and Robert Patrick also star. Executive producers include Amanda Burrell, Robert Downey Jr., Susan Downey, Ron Fitzgerald, Joe Horacek, Rolin Jones, and director Timothy Van Patten. Aida Rodgers co-executive produces, with Matthew Rhys producing. Created by Rolin Jones and Ron Fitzgerald, the series is based on characters created by Erle Stanley Gardner.

About Ray Flook

Serving as Television Editor since 2018, Ray began five years earlier as a contributing writer/photographer before being brought onto the core BC team in 2017.