Perry Mason’s Matthew Rhys on How Season 2 of the Period Mystery Is a Reflection of Today

The post Perry Mason’s Matthew Rhys on How Season 2 of the Period Mystery Is a Reflection of Today appeared first on Consequence.

One of the most striking things about HBO’s new interpretation of Perry Mason is how different its approach is from the original Raymond Burr series. Other adaptations existed before the premiere of the 1957 TV show, but the long-running procedural drama cemented the image of Perry as a white knight of a defense attorney, making sure his innocent clients were eventually found not guilty.

But this 21st-century version of the character, Matthew Rhys says, is more complex. “I think Perry’s standpoint [in the original series] was a little more linear, in that he was like, ‘I’m the good guy here. I’ll take care of the bad guys and they’ll confess on the stand,” Rhys tells Consequence. “I suppose our Perry Mason is about the color gray. Mason has the same moral principles about right and wrong. I think he views his world and his life relatively simply — there’s right and there’s wrong. But it’s the gray in between that trips him up so violently at times.”

Season 2 follows up on Perry and his colleagues Della Street (Juliet Rylance) and Paul Drake (Chris Chalk) as they plunge into a new case that has all of 1932 Los Angeles in an uproar: The murder of the heir to an oil dynasty, with the chief suspects being two young Latino men from a local Hooverville.

“I feel like the show this season is definitely about these very isolated characters, learning how to create and garner trust with each other in the small community that they’re in,” says Rylance, “and either succeeding or failing and then taking what they’re learning and trying to expand that into the wider community around them. And that feels very current to today, obviously with the setting of a huge case and the corruption of LA and these huge political and legal situations that they’re faced with.”

Rylance says that returning for Season 2 was “really exciting, and felt really needed after this long break of COVID and so much upheaval in the world, and everybody feeling very uncertain about where we are, where we’re going, what we’re supposed to be doing, or even how to interact with each other. I think turning up on set and beginning the season with that framework was rich. It felt like there was a lot there to be mined that felt like a parallel universe to the show, and I think all the themes of this season have very much been born out of the period of time that we’ve just been in. So it felt kind of raw and pretty special.”

Chalk agrees, adding that he also felt “a sense of going home to hang out with your friends again, knowing that we would be dealing with big topics and themes, but knowing that the people that we’re dealing with them with are all on the same team is a cool advantage of a second season.”

A new creative team, led by showrunners Jack Amiel and Michael Begler (The Knick), was brought on board for Season 2, and Rhys says “They immediately just came in with new ideas. I think the great worry of any season pick-up is like, what do we do now? How different do we make it? Do we make it different, do we do it the same? And they just had some very fresh ideas about where we should pick up these people’s lives after the end of Season 1.”

This includes, as Rhys explains it, showcasing “Mason at a bit of a crossroads and having a bit of a crisis of faith about whether he should be doing this at all. So those questions were answered very quickly as to, you know, what will we do now? And as soon as that course was set, the rest made sense.”

Key to the show is its placement in space and time, according to Rhys. “Setting the origin story back where the original novels were first set, in 1930s LA, at the time of the Depression was incredible for a number of reasons. It was one of the only cities in the United States at the height of the Depression that was a boom town. This kind of enormous wealth and this abject poverty lived side by side which creates, as we see in this modern age, so much division and conflict. So just dramaturgically, as a setting for a drama series, it was a shrewd move on their behalf. Because when the two worlds collide, there are big consequences.”

Getting back into character didn’t happen immediately, at least for Rylance and Chalk, who both said it took them about two weeks into filming to feel placed within the world. “Because it’s not that we’re just dealing with getting back into the characters,” says Chalk. “We’re dealing with getting back when making movies is more different than it’s ever been, in the face of COVID protocols and people disappearing for 10 days and you don’t know why, and hoping you don’t get people sick. It’s a whole other pressure added into the many, many pressures of movie making.”

“We got very serious about this,” Rylance says. “We walked in from like, ‘Okay, if we’re going to do this, if we’re all going to be in this environment, it has to mean something.”

Matthew Rhys Perry Mason
Matthew Rhys Perry Mason

Perry Mason (HBO)

Chalk points out that at the time of Perry Mason’s initial creation as a character, “They just weren’t telling stories with any people of color then. I think everyone in this process is trying to tell that story, but include all the people that we know were imperative to the development of Los Angeles. Which means you end up with all these communities that were neglected in the first iteration [of Perry Mason].”

Rylance adds that “I also feel like Perry has to, in our version, lift himself out of the alcoholic egotistical mess of his life, and look at these two people who are in this triangle with him and go, okay, well, this Della is not just a secretary who’s very happy in her role. She’s punching to move up and be seen, and the same for Paul.”

Pushing Perry out of his comfort zone thus becomes a key part of the storytelling. “It’s lovely watching Matthew as Perry in those moments,” Rylance says, “suddenly like registering oh, there’s that perspective and this perspective, which is very sort of perfect.”

It’s an element of the show which stands out to Rhys as well. “We’ve been asked a couple of times about the lens we’re putting on the injustice within the judicial system, with regards to wealth or people of different colors, and how [the period] treated LGBTQ issues. And I suppose personally, just from my own standpoint, it’s a little depressing to see that we’ve set this show a hundred years ago and yet we are putting a lens on issues that we’re still dealing with,” he says.

How that unfolds over the course of the season is yet to be seen. In the meantime, Rhys is hopeful for a third season, “because just over two seasons you’ve had just a tiny opening into [Mason’s] fledgling career. Season 1, from where you meet him in Episode 1 to Episode 8, the transition is enormous. And now this is only his second big case in six months. There’s a whole universe for him to explore.”

Perry Mason Season 2 airs Mondays on HBO and HBO Max.

Perry Mason’s Matthew Rhys on How Season 2 of the Period Mystery Is a Reflection of Today
Liz Shannon Miller

Popular Posts

Subscribe to Consequence’s email digest and get the latest breaking news in music, film, and television, tour updates, access to exclusive giveaways, and more straight to your inbox.