In the late '50s, Perry Mason debuted on CBS and become the show to watch. The fictional story based on the characters created by Erle Stanley Gardner set the basis for the courtroom dramas we know and love today. Viewers tuned in every week to watch Perry Mason, a criminal defense lawyer known for his powers to get anyone to tell the truth on the stand. Yes, even the insanely guilty.
The show ran from 1957 to 1966 before a second show aired in 1973 and 1974; there were also 30 made-for-TV films, with the original Perry Mason played by Raymond Burr. So, with such a strong fan base, why remake it? Because HBO is giving it a full-on makeover, that's why.
Perry Mason, premiering Sundays on HBO at 9 E.T., is a prequel set in the Great Depression era. It's told before Mason became a courthouse powerhouse and for the first time allows for his origin story. Ahead, we dive into the new Perry Mason-verse and see what characters are back again and who's new. (Also, there are no spoilers ahead, so read with ease!)
Matthew Rhys as Perry Mason
In the miniseries, Rhys’ portrayal of Perry isn’t as the hotshot criminal defense lawyer of the original series (played by Raymond Burr, above left). Instead, a younger Perry is an alcoholic WWI vet suffering from major PTSD who finds himself deep in a high-profile case involving the kidnapping and death of a one-year-old boy, Charlie Dodson.
Rhys likes this modern version of Perry, he told Rotten Tomatoes, "I wasn't interested in the great servant of justice. I liked how fallible he was, how kind of gray his life is. It's not that it's depressing, but it's certainly not black and white. He lives in the cracks."
You probably recognize Rhys as Phillip Jennings in The Americans as well as from films like The Post and A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.
Juliet Rylance as Della Street
Della Street is Perry Mason’s legal secretary. In the original show, she's played by Barbara Hale (above left), but this time around she’s taking her talents away from the desk. You’ll see her try to establish herself as key player in man’s world, which isn’t easy.
"I felt it in those scenes of a terrible ceiling she couldn't push through," says Rylance (above right) to News.com. "Della is a highly capable, very intelligent, gutsy, and strong woman, and yet she's having to twist herself into a tight box to fit and make things happen." Rylance has previously starred on The Knick, American Gothic, and McMafia in addition to the films Sinister and A Dog's Purpose.
Chris Chalk as Paul Drake
Paul Drake, played by Chris Chalk (above right), is a police officer with next-level detective skills whose information will help Mason. That part isn’t different from the original Drake played by William Hopper (above left), but this time Chalk’s Drake finds himself trying to make his mark in his police department during a critical civil rights moment in Los Angeles. Chalk has starred in shows such as Gotham and When They See Us.
"It's about all these ways in which you are not served, but you have to serve," Chalk told The News. "Do I choose my people, or do I choose the police?"
John Lithgow as Elias Birchard "E.B." Jonathan
You probably binge-watched the legendary John Lithgow in The Crown or saw him in theaters as Roger Ailes in Bombshell. His character, Elias Birchard “E.B.” Jonathan, is a new face in the Mason Perry universe. Positioned as a father figure to Mason, the attorney asks for Mason's help to solve a case he's never seen before.
Tatiana Maslany as Sister Alice
"Sister Alice is kind of this celebrity preacher who preaches for thousands of people… she's kind of like a rock star in the sense that people follow her and she does these big performances that are just larger than life," says Tatiana Maslany on IMDB's Movies That Changed My Life podcast on her new role. "At a time when people really needed hope in a deep, deep way to give them the possibility of a future."
Maslany is used to playing roles larger than life. She won an Emmy for her role in Orphan Black, where she played several clone versions of her character.
Shea Whigham as Pete Strickland
This isn't Shea Whighman's first period piece; he's starred in shows including Boardwalk Empire and American Hustle . This time around he's portraying Mason’s fast-talking partner in crime who helps the private investigator with all his dirty digging.
Gayle Rankin as Emily Dodson
Emily Dodson (GLOW, The Greatest Showman) is the mother of the 1-year-old kidnapping victim that Mason and his team focus on during the show. In order not to spoil anything: Gayle Rankin basically believes God is punishing her, hence the kidnapping.
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