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Matthew Rhys on Why His Dark Perry Mason Would Probably Defund the Police

Matthew Rhys on Why His Dark Perry Mason Would Probably Defund the Police

Matthew Rhys is on a roll. It’s very charming. The Welsh accent is lilting along, as if ricocheting off the hills and dales of Wye Valley, as he stammers, jokes, and tells vivid stories about his time shooting HBO’s new reboot/prequel/reimagination, however you want to describe it, of Perry Mason. 

But he abruptly stops himself mid-thought, a fast-talker slamming the brakes so hard it almost sends the listener careening. “I’m trying to reel my pretentiousness in…” he says.

A version of the apology, a sort of self-conscious, self-aware moral speed bump, arrives a few times in our conversation. Read any number of interviews with the actor, whose recent credits include the Mr. Rogers film A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood and an Emmy-winning run on The Americans, and you’ll see it pop up often, like a chorus of cognizance. 

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He’s an actor who likes acting and gets excited to talk about acting, but doesn’t want to telegraph any delusions of his own importance or any significance he might put on himself or his presence in the public sphere. In other words, Matthew Rhys hopes you know he is not, in any way, insufferable. 

The thing is, when you star on a series as heralded as The Americans, which wrapped its six-season run last year, or gather a résumé of characters that could double as a tribunal for troubled souls, conversation about your job quickly hurtles into heady space. Rhys, buckled in with his Celtic gift of the gab, is happy to go along for the ride. Just, you know, he can hear himself. He knows when it sounds like a bit much.

Since March, Rhys has been hunkered down in the Catskills, about two hours outside the Brooklyn home he shares with his partner, actress Keri Russell, and the three children they have between them. Days have consisted of Toy Story marathons, and the ensuing crying over Toy Story marathons, as well as press for Sunday’s premiere of Perry Mason, and the ensuing crying over fritzy WiFi connections and spotty cell phone signals. 

A reboot of Perry Mason is a surprising choice for Rhys’ first television series after The Americans, at least gauging by critics’ opinions and even Rhys’ own. 

It’s been a little jarring to learn that people put so much stock in what he was going to do next after playing family man and Russian spy Philip Jennings for six years. The “why this” has been a frequent question, he says. “I possibly haven’t given it as much thought as I should have.” 

The easy answer is that he liked the script. It passed his litmus test for these things: He wanted to know how the story ends. 

When he was first approached about the series two years ago, he immediately recalled original Perry Mason actor Raymond Burr’s booming voice delivering courtroom arguments in the background of visits to his grandparents while growing up. It was an immediate “no.”

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