Period crime drama Perry Mason, HBO’s biggest debut in nearly two years, is now available to binge on Showmax. Emmy winner and Golden Globe nominee Matthew Rhys (The Americans) is Perry Mason, a down-and-out detective working the biggest kidnapping case of the 1930s.
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A reboot of the award-winning 1950s-60s legal series based on Erle Stanley Gardner’s stories, Perry Mason also stars Emmy winner Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black), Oscar nominee John Lithgow (The Crown, 3rd Rock from the Sun), Emmy nominees Stephen Root (Barry) and Lili Taylor (American Crime, The Conjuring), Juliet Ryland (The Knick), and Chris Chalk (When They See Us), among others.
“There is so much going on with this Mason,” says Matthew. “He’s a very damaged individual who’s come through World War One. He’s a veteran who’s going through an inordinate number of life problems when we meet him but there is this one element to him which I think is garnered from the injustice of the war: he can’t abide injustice.”
“I wasn’t interested in someone who was just going to serve justice wearing his underpants on the outside,” says Matthew. “I wanted a fully fledged, well rounded human who was very fallible.”
The exec producers include Team Downey – Susan Downey and Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man), who was tipped to play Mason in the project’s original incarnation as a potential movie. His feature commitments necessitated a recast, however, which, it turns out, wasn’t so sad after all – Matthew so completely owns the role that it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the part.
As Susan says, “The two other qualities we needed someone to be able to bring to the table were a sense of pathos and a sense of humour. As horrific as the crime was and as corrupt as the world is, we didn’t want this to be completely bleak. Matthew has such a twinkle in his eye. He’s one of those great actors who doesn’t have to do much; one little cock-eyed look and you’re in love all over again.”
“He’s the exact right actor in the exact right role in the same way James Gandolfini was Tony Soprano,” says Emmy-winning director Timothy Van Patten, who helmed more of The Sopranos (and Boardwalk Empire) than anyone else. “Matthew is the perfect collision of this particular human being and this particular part.”
The original Perry Mason, a legal drama series starring evergreen favourite Raymond Burr, was one of the most successful and long-running shows of its time, winning a Golden Globe and three Emmys before reinventing itself in the ‘80s as a series of 30 TV movies. It’s arguably the template for every hugely successful crime and courtroom procedural that followed, from L.A. Law to Law & Order to Suits.
Matthew’s hard-boiled gumshoe is a radical shift from the original’s savvy defense attorney – this is not the Perry Mason your granny had a crush on. Matthew calls the new version “a reimagining, rather than a remake… The origin story of how Perry Mason became a defence attorney.”
“When my agent left me a message, I thought, ‘Why do you want to remake Perry Mason?’ You can’t remake Perry Mason and you’d be foolish to do so,” says Matthew. “Then when I spoke to my agent, he said HBO are remaking it and I was like, ‘Oh, it’s not going to be a remake, they’re going to HBO-ify it!’”
Described by Vulture as “simultaneously gorgeous, gritty, and sometimes downright gory,” Perry Mason is set in Los Angeles in the ‘30s (and shot on The Godfather stages at Paramount Studios). “It’s a great era,” says John. “Los Angeles is a wonderfully corrupt town and it always has been. [This show] has all the elements of Chinatown, one of my favourite films.”
Unlike its episodic predecessor, the new version devotes the full season to a single, gripping case. “We’re doing a serialized show, so it’s slowed down in a sense,” showrunner Rolin Jones (Westworld) told Town & Country, “but what’s timeless about it is that there’s a guy who’s trying to hold up a mirror to the world and say there are people who need someone to fight for them. There’s always a need for Perry Mason, and at this particular time, someone standing up for people who don’t have a voice feels like it might be the perfect thing.”
The show premiered at the end of June, delivering HBO’s biggest debut in nearly two years – matching the season 3 premiere of Westworld and outperforming both Watchmen and The Outsider. Its August finale delivered a season-high audience of 1.1m for its live network screening alone – a 24% increase on the premiere, which has already been seen by nearly 9m across all HBO platforms. Unsurprising then, that HBO has already renewed the show for a second season.
As Indiewire put it, Perry Mason is “one of the most beautiful series ever made… an exquisitely rendered crime noir made for people who appreciate the genre — or simply people who appreciate thoughtful, detailed, and purposeful storytelling in general… One of the best I’ve ever seen. Really.”
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