Matthew Rhys on Perry Mason struggling with his demons in season 2

by W. Andrew Powell
Matthew Rhys as Perry Mason

HBO’s Perry Mason is back for a second season, and this time the would-be criminal defense lawyer is investigating a murder among a powerful oil family.

Perry Mason, played by Matthew Rhys, is digging where no one else seems to be looking, and alongside Della Street and Paul Drake, played by Juliet Rylance and Chris Chalk, they start to uncover a conspiracy that is deep, dark, and troubling.

While the case draws the trio in, and they find themselves at the heart of the investigation, Perry is struggling with demons, both new and old.

Sitting down to talk about the new season, Rhys shared how Perry Mason has changed, how he’s struggling, and why. Read what he had to say below.

New episodes of Perry Mason premiere on Crave Mondays at 9 PM (ET), and notable guests include Hope Davis, Sean Astin, and Katherine Waterson.

He really seems to be struggling with his demons this season. How is he dealing with them and are they the same or would you say they’re different than last season?

Matthew Rhys: “They’re kind of the same and different, just to be completely vague. It’s a very new set of demons because it’s a very new set of rules with which he is now living. He’s kind of been thrust into this position that he didn’t really think through in season one. It all happened so quickly and now the repercussions are collapsing around him.”

“And he’s realizing the ramifications of what he does now are enormous. People’s lives are in his hand, not just their livelihoods, but literally lives. And I think it’s only in the moment of retrospect from what’s happened in the case of season one, that he’s taken stock, the dust is settled.”

“He’s gone, ‘Hang on a minute. This is a lot heavier than I thought and far more complex than I thought. I thought it was a very set of linear rules, but actually there’s a whole game and facade to play within those that I don’t necessarily agree with.'”

“So his demons have changed, which is great for drama, but they’ve presented him a new set of demons which he now has to deal with in real time.”

Matthew Rhys as Perry Mason
Matthew Rhys as Perry Mason

And where would you say we find Perry as this new season starts?

Rhys: “We find Perry in not a great place. He’s dealing with a lot of things in every sense; the ghosts of season one, literally and figuratively at times, and how that enormous case has taken its toll on him, not necessarily for the better. And what he’s dealing with, he’s [having] kind of inward looking moment.”

“Is he the person he thought he was? Is he equipped and qualified to do what he thought he could? And his own set of morals and principles are kind of questioned very heavily at the beginning of season two. He worries as to whether he’s the right person for this job.”

What does it mean for you, playing the character, to put it in this era and make it a period story?

Rhys: “I think what the writers wanted to do in both season one and season two, there’s a number of great things that happen when you set it in 1930s Los Angeles. First of all, [it] was one of the only cities experiencing this huge influx of wealth at a time of depression, so you had these great extremes within this one city.”

“But what they wanted to play with was what has changed since the 1930s? You know, we’re still dealing with the same big issues of race, the justice system, and in season two how some people are treated differently.”

“So, yes, there’s still a modern lens [and] unfortunately, it’s still a very relevant story at this time. And just from an investigative standpoint, I think taking out the technological time we’re in, it allows for many things, and to a degree, a slower pace in some respects that you don’t advance as quickly as you can with technology, with DNA and computers and Google, where we’re allowed to unfold the story in a slightly more organic way and allow the viewer to be as present as active investigators.”

What would you say are the main difference between your version of this character and the series and the previous TV show from the sixties and seventies?

Rhys: “When the project first came across my path, my concern was they were going to try and remake Perry Mason. I thought, ‘that’s a terrible idea,’ but as it was quickly explained to me by Team Downey [executive producers Susan Downey and Robert Downey Jr.], that the whole point is to re-imagine Perry Mason and make a new Mason.”

“And when they explained who this Mason was going to be, I was very intrigued by the big, rich backstory they gave him about the war and his family farm and and a number of things that have shaped him up until that moment. That’s what made it very easy for me to make that decision of going, ‘Oh, this is this is a very different Perry Mason from the 60s and 70s…”

“Coming back on any show with the second season is very difficult as to where you were when you started, and what’s great is that they’ve changed him again in that they set him up as someone very clearly in the first season, who has all these problems but has a very clear idea of right and wrong, and then sees this injustice and goes, ‘I’m going to do something about it.'”

“[Now] in season two when we find him, he’s having this big crisis of faith about who he is, where he is, why he should be doing what he’s doing. So we don’t find Mason where we left him in season one going, ‘Oh, everything’s great. I can do this.’ We find him struggling with this imposter syndrome. ‘Oh my God, I shouldn’t be here. I shouldn’t be doing this. This isn’t me.'”

“So once again, they’ve reimagined what we had set up, and to me, that’s very exciting.”

Images courtesy of HBO.

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