Matthew Rhys to Play Perry Mason in HBO Drama

Matthew Rhys attends the 19th Annual AFI Awards - Getty-H 2019
Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic

HBO's long-in-the-works Perry Mason drama is officially moving forward.

The Americans grad Matthew Rhys has been tapped to star in the limited series, taking over the title role from Robert Downey Jr. The latter will remain on board as an executive producer on the series, which is searching for a director. 

Downey had been attached to star in the long-gestating Perry Mason reboot that was originally envisioned as a feature film. The HBO entry was first put into development in August 2016 with Nic Pizzolatto attached to pen the script. Rolin Jones and Ron Fitzgerald replaced Pizzolatto as writers on the project in August 2017 after the latter shifted gears to focus on season three of True Detective.

Based on the characters created by Erle Stanley Gardner, HBO's Perry Mason will follow the character at a time in his life when he is living check-to-check as a low-rent private investigator. Mason is haunted by his wartime experiences in France and is suffering the effects of a broken marriage.

Rhys will also produce the series. Downey exec produces alongside his Team Downey partners Susan Downey and Amanda Burrell as well as Jones, Fitzgerald and Joe Horacek. Jones and Fitzgerald (Boardwalk Empire, Friday Night Lights) will serve as showrunners.

Here's the official logline, from HBO: "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."

The character of Perry Mason, a Los Angeles defense attorney, served as the inspiration for the CBS series of the same name. The drama ran from 1957 to 1966 and starred Raymond Burr in the title role.

Perry Mason is the latest TV foray for Team Downey, which has a first-look pact with Sonar Entertainment. The company's credits include the TNT pilot Constance, starring Elisabeth Shue; Hulu's Sweet Tooth; and the YouTube docuseries Age of AI.

For his part, Rhys is fresh off his award-winning role on FX's The Americans. On the feature side, he recently wrapped production on A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood and counts The Post among his credits. Rhys is with WME, Management 360, United Agents and Sloane Offer.

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 this year include Watchmen, Euphoria, Catherine the Great and The Righteous Gemstones, as well as the returning hits Game of Thrones, Veep, Succession, Ballers, Barry, Big Little Lies, Divorce and more.