Matthew Rhys is determined to be his own ‘Perry Mason’

‘The Americans’ Emmy winner reinvents classic character on HBO

Matthew Rhys

As famous as the character is, Matthew Rhys is pleased to be putting his own spins on “Perry Mason.”

The Emmy winner (for “The Americans”) has the title role in HBO’s current Sunday drama that delves into the pre-lawyer Mason’s roots as a somewhat shabby Depression-era Los Angeles detective working for a veteran defense attorney (fellow Emmy owner John Lithgow). The reboot also has its Della Street and Paul Drake (played by Juliet Rylance and Chris Chalk), but they have their differences, too … which sits fine with Rhys.

“I was compelled,” he says, to watch the original Raymond Burr series, “and then I stopped myself, because I know exactly how my brain works. I’ve done quite a few adaptations of books — and it may sound lazy, but I know that when I read the book, I tend to take things from it that aren’t necessarily in the script.”

Thus came Rhys’ decision not to look at Erle Stanley Gardner’s “Perry Mason” novels, and he adds he stayed away from the Burr show so he wouldn’t see “anything I liked and steal it and mimic it, and then, I’d probably be hounded for it. I’m my own worst enemy with mimicry anyway, since it’s something I can’t undo.”

Still, Rhys allows that he modeled his Mason largely on a real-life person who reportedly inspired author Gardner: “I found (out about) Earl Rogers, who was a famous defense attorney in L.A. He was the kind of celebrity go-to lawyer who would handle the O.J. (Simpson) cases of the time, and I mainly tried to build a world in my head based on that background.”

Birthdate: Nov. 8, 1974

Birthplace: Cardiff, Wales

Current residence: Los Angeles

Marital status: Single, but his partner since 2014 has been his fellow “The Americans” star Keri Russell; they have a four-year-old son, Sam, together

Other television work includes: “The Americans,” “Infinity Train” (voice only), “Death and Nightingales,” “The Bastard Executioner,” “Archer” (voice only), “Under Milk Wood,” “A Child’s Christmas” (voice only), “Death Comes to Pemberley,” “The Mystery of Edwin Drood,” “Brothers & Sisters,” “Beau Brummell: The Charming Man,” “Columbo,” “The Lost World,” “Metropolis,” “Greenstone,” “Backup”

Movie work includes: “The Report,” “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” “The Post,” “Burnt,” “The Scapegoat,” “Patagoinia,” “The Edge of Love,” “Love and Other Disasters,” “Fakers,” “Deathwatch,” “The Abduction Club,” “Shooters,” “Tabloid,” “Very Annie Mary,” “Peaches,” “The Testimony of Taliesin Jones,” “Sorted,” “Whatever Happened to Harold Smith,” “Titus,” “Heart,” “House of America”

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin has decades of experience covering the television and movie businesses, winning Tribune Media Services’ Crown Jewel Award in 2008 for his performance in the company. Over those many years of interviewing and writing, he has spoken with everyone from Robert De Niro and John Travolta to Paul McCartney and Tony Bennett … from Meryl Streep and Julie Andrews to Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood.

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