Matthew Rhys: Perry Mason has impostor syndrome in Season 2

Matthew Rhys stars as the titular defense attorney in "Perry Mason." Photo courtesy of HBO
1 of 5 | Matthew Rhys stars as the titular defense attorney in "Perry Mason." Photo courtesy of HBO

NEW YORK, March 6 (UPI) -- Emmy-winning actor Matthew Rhys says the titular criminal defense attorney he plays in Perry Mason isn't as happy and successful as viewers might expect him to be after his big win in Season 1.

Season 2 of the drama premieres Monday on HBO Max.


The show follows Mason, his legal secretary Della Street (Juliet Rylance) and private investigator Paul Drake (Chris Chalk) as they seek justice for their clients in 1930s Los Angeles.

The next eight episodes involve the murder a powerful oil family scion.

Rhys told UPI in a recent Zoom interview that it was a little easier coming back for a second season because his character and the world he inhabits were established.

"The arc for Mason over eight episodes was dramatic and large and fast because Episode 5 [of Season 1] was when he becomes the lawyer and then, all of a sudden, there's the trial, then he's done. You come into the daylight blinking," Rhys said.


"In the end of Season 1, there is this very happy moment where they're in the office and their names are on the glass [door,] new suit is on and the garden is rosy."

Rhys and the writers had to find ways to continue making Perry as interesting to watch as the cases he is working on.

"I was a little hesitant that he might be very pleased with himself and jump into another trial, which I don't think would serve us," the 48-year-old Welsh actor said. "But they had this great idea that, when we find him six months later, he's not in a great place."

Rhys said the character is having a crisis of faith.

"He is having this moment of impostor syndrome, where he is doubting his own capabilities and qualifications in doing what he does and [wondering,] does he want to be doing it? And the group we saw so united at the end of Season 1 is a lot more fractured than we imagined they possibly could be," he said.

Perry's relationships with his associates have greatly evolved since Season 1, when Perry and Della worked for lawyer EB Jonathon and crossed paths with Paul, who was then a beat cop awaiting the birth of his first child.


"It was an interesting dynamic in the first season where they were both vying or competing for EB's affection and, at times, it was equal and at times it was unequal," Rhys said of Perry and Della.

"Now, in Season 2, they are partners in this legal practice and Della senses in him there is a hesitance to go forward and this is her big chance and she is, by hook or by crook, pulling him back into the fold," Rhys said.

Rhys said Chalk's character, Paul, feels betrayed because the work he was promised in Season 1 hasn't come to fruition.

"The dynamic between the three is very bad and when this giant case is thrown at them, the concern is, how are they going to reunify in order to work coherently together?"

Rhys said there is a degree of responsibility artists have to address social issues in their work when possible and Perry Mason is an example of how entertaining storytelling can also reflect real-life struggles.

"I don't think we necessarily set out to put a lens on it, but through character, and more personal stories, we're showing how little we've evolved over 100 years, sadly," he said.


The Death Comes to Pemberley and A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood star said he likes telling stories in the time and space where this incarnation of Perry Mason lives.

"The Chandler-esque investigators were something that I fell in love with at an early age," he said, giving a nod to famed detective novelist Raymond Chandler.

"The glamour of 1930s Hollywood is untouchable as an era. And, so, just as a kid who grew up watching old movies, this checked so many boxes for me. Wearing a fedora, flicking cigarette butts and having a wry one-liner while I'm slugging Scotch is everything I grew up watching."

The show premiered in 2020 and was quickly renewed for a second season, but production was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic and its related travel restrictions and lockdowns.

"It just made me want to work more. It just made me want to get out of the house," joked Rhys, who is married to Keri Russell, his co-star from The Americans and Cocaine Bear, and mother of his 7-year-old son.


"No, given the circus life we lead where you are gone so much -- as tragic and awful as the pandemic was -- it did allow more home time than usual, which is a luxury and it balances the time away, which is everything you want."

Perry Mason originated as a character in dozens of novels by Erle Stanley Gardner. The potboilers were adapted as radio plays and Raymond Burr played the hero on TV from 1957 to 1966.

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