Matthew Rhys Promises HBO's 'Perry Mason' Won’t Be The Character 'People Know and Love'

The cast and crew of HBO's upcoming take on Perry Mason gathered together Friday as part of the ATX Television Festival. The annual event is typically held in Austin, TX, though it was transitioned into a remote festival following the coronavirus pandemic. In a panel discussion ahead of the June 21 premiere, Matthew Rhys, who plays TV's most well-known lawyer, addressed what drew him to the Depression-era revival.

When he was first approached about the project, Rhys said he felt "very familiar" with the character. "The name Perry Mason, I had this immediate relationship with it," though the more he thought about it, he admitted he "had no real memory" of any specifics, besides Raymond Burr's decades of portraying the character on TV. Regardless, the actor said that the project intrigued him simply because of HBO's involvement. "You immediately know it's not gonna be the Perry Mason that people know and love."

"They pitched this very dark Mason, that came with a lot of baggage," Rhys continued. "[He's] very much an outsider, which I found very interesting. So much of the backstory is presented and is given, from his time as a WWI veteran, his family problems, his inherited land problems, the new Los Angeles emerging, he's got a lot on his shoulders."

The latest iteration of the long-running legal drama is set in 1931 Los Angeles, California. While the rest of the country struggles through the Great Depression, the City of Angels is home to oil, the Olympic Games and the luster of showbiz. Although not everything is perfect, as evidenced by a child kidnapping gone wrong. Viewed as the case of the decade, Mason goes after his relentless pursuit of the truth ends up showing the dark underbelly of his city, and even a way to redeem himself.

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Perry Mason is based on characters created by author Erle Stanley Gardner. The character first debuted back in novels back in 1933, inspiring a series of films at Warner Bros. throughout the decade. The work was also adapted into popular radio series as well as an acclaimed drama on CBS from 1957-1966, which starred Burr in the title role. He continued playing the character in various TV movies until his death in 1993.

The show, which has long been in development stars Matthew Rhys, John Lithgow, Tatiana Maslany and Shea Whigham. It premieres Sunday, June 21, and will be available to stream on HBO Go, HBO Now, and HBO Max.