HBO's 'Perry Mason' Reboot Adds John Lithgow

The multiple Emmy winner will star opposite Matthew Rhys and Tatiana Maslany in the limited series.
Courtesy of Walter McBride/WireImage
John Lithgow

HBO's Perry Mason limited series has added another big name to its cast.

Multiple Emmy winner John Lithgow will star opposite Matthew Rhys, who's playing the title character, and Tatiana Maslany. Perry Mason will be Lithgow's first series role since he played Winston Churchill in Netflix's The Crown.

Lithgow will play attorney Elias Birchard "E.B." Jonathan, a semiregular employer of private investigator Mason (Rhys) who's at the nadir of his legal career. He's a mentor and father figure to Perry and gets handed the kind of case he hasn't seen in years: a parallel investigation to the LAPD involving a child kidnapping.

The Perry Mason character was created by Erle Stanley Gardner and featured in a series of novels and a 1957-66 TV series starring Raymond Burr; in both cases he was a crusading defense attorney who always seemed to discover a key piece of evidence exonerating his clients. The HBO series will be more of an origin story, set in 1932 Los Angeles when Mason is a down-on-his-luck private investigator. 

HBO's logline for Perry Mason reads: "1932, Los Angeles. While the rest of the country recovers from the Great Depression, this city is booming! Oil! Olympic Games! Talking pictures! Evangelical fervor! And a child kidnapping gone very, very wrong! Based on characters created by Erle Stanley Gardner, this limited series follows the origins of American fiction’s most legendary criminal defense lawyer, Perry Mason. When the case of the decade breaks down his door, Mason’s relentless pursuit of the truth reveals a fractured city and just maybe, a pathway to redemption for himself."

Maslany plays into the "evangelical fervor" part of the story as Sister Alice, a church leader with an avid congregation and nationwide radio audience.

Perry Mason had been in development for several years at HBO. It was initially conceived as a starring vehicle for Robert Downey Jr., with True Detective creator Nic Pizzolatto attached to write. (Downey is an executive producer on the current project.)

When Pizzolatto departed to write season three of True Detective, Rolin Jones and Ron Fitzgerald came aboard as writers and showrunners. They executive produce with Downey, Team Downey's Susan Downey and Amanda Burrell, Joe Horacek and director Tim Van Patten. Rhys is a producer.

Perry Mason arrives as HBO is under a mandate from new corporate leadership to increase its roster of scripted originals. New series coming to the premium cable network in 2019 include Watchmen, His Dark Materials, Euphoria, Catherine the Great and The Righteous Gemstones.

Lithgow won the most recent of his six career Emmys for The Crown. He plays Roger Ailes in director Jay Roach's upcoming feature film about the Fox News founder and stars opposite Mindy Kaling and Emma Thompson in Netflix feature Late Night. He is repped by UTA, Anonymous Content and Hansen Jacobson.