Matthew Rhys is jumping from Soviet spycraft in The Americans to an iconic All-American role: Perry Mason. The actor has signed on to play the famed fictional defense attorney in HBO’s long-in-the-works limited series from executive producers Robert Downey Jr. and Susan Downey.
The new take on will be an origin story, set in 1932 Los Angeles and focused on Mason’s attempt to solve the case of “a child kidnapping gone very, very wrong,” according to a plotline supplied by the network. The series will find Mason “at a time in his life when he is living check-to-check as a low-rent private investigator […] haunted by his wartime experiences in France and […] suffering the effects of a broken marriage.” HBO’s Perry Mason will be based on the characters first introduced in novelist Erle Stanley Gardner’s Depression-era books (and later turned into hit radio series, which was then followed by the Raymond Burr-led hit TV show). The cable giant hasn’t yet officially greenlit the project, but is expected to do so once it signs a director.
The Downeys have been developing their Perry Mason project for several years now, starting with a feature film idea at Warner Bros. and then, in 2016, as a limited series for HBO. Downey Jr. had originally intended to play the new Mason himself, and at one point, True Detective creator Nic Pizzolatto was attached to write. But the scribe instead decided to focus on season three of True Detective, making way for Rolin Jones and Ron Fitzgerald (Weeds, Friday Night Lights) to take over as exec producers/showrunners in mid-2017. Amanda Jones and Joe Horacek are also attached as exec producers, and Rhys will also serve as a producer. No word yet on when the new Perry Mason will debut, but given HBO’s long lead times and packed roster, it’s unlikely it would surface before 2020. Rhys’s last HBO role, a guest turn on Girls, landed him an Emmy nomination.