‘Perry Mason’ EPs Susan Downey & Michael Begler on Possibility of Season 3

Apr 10, 2023

In Season 2 of the HBO series Perry Mason, the height of the Great Depression sees the man himself (Matthew Rhys), along with assistant Della Street (Juliet Rylance) and ex-cop Paul Drake (Chris Chalk), on a new legal case, this time pitting the haves directly against the have nots. A high-profile murder case tests Perry Mason and pushes him to the edge, as he fights for a pair of brothers that have no one else on their side and everything stacked against them.

During this interview with Collider, executive producers Susan Downey and Michael Begler (who is also co-showrunner, along with Jack Amiel) talked about how the season-long case took shape, the elements of the first season that they wanted to build on for Season 2, approaching the second season with fresh eyes and a fresh take, deepening the characters and their personal lives, showing the stark difference between wealth and poverty in 1930s Los Angeles, the challenging of finding the right tone, and whether they’re looking to do a Season 3.
Collider: Because this is a show that feels like it has the ability to move forward in time a bit, and that you could take on and explore any type of case that you choose, how did this season take shape?

MICHAEL BEGLER: In our early conversations, we really focused on character. We needed to start from, where did we leave off with Perry, Della and Paul? At the end of the first season, we said they’re like the super friends coming together, but when that dust settles and the party’s over, who are they when they go home? What’s going on with them, both professionally and emotionally? That was the jumping off point for us because character needs to drive us through the entire season. And then, on top of that, it was just looking at the time period and looking at what was going on specifically in L.A. and figuring out how to expand that world. Los Angeles is, in itself, a character, and we had to differentiate it from what was explored about the city in Season 1.

Image via HBO

Susan, looking at Season 1, as a what did you feel season one did best, and how did you want to see that carried over into Season 2?

SUSAN DOWNEY: I can’t say the single best thing. I think the two strongest elements were the characters that were created through these incredible performances that our actors gave, and then the world creation. The craftsmanship that brought 1930s Los Angeles to life was incredible. We definitely wanted to carry both those elements forward. And then, the challenge was to interweave it with a case that would allow us to expand the world and expand those characters.

The previous showrunners had told me that they had a definite plan for Season 2. Michael, when you stepped in as a showrunner this season, did any of that carry over, or did you want to just come to this new?

BEGLER: We came to it new, to be quite honest. We had our fresh eyes on it and fresh take on it. We were doing our own research on the time period. There were just things that jumped out to us, as very interesting ways to take a case. The development takes its own shape and form. It wasn’t something that we knew right away. We had to mold it over time.

Were there any specific character tweaks that you wanted to make, or things that you maybe wanted to bring forward, that had been more in the background with the characters in the first season?

BEGLER: We wanted to just deepen all of them. We wanted to deepen all their lives and see more of their lives. Even though we did, in a sense, go home with them in the first season, I think we wanted to really go home with them and really see what the interactions would be, whether it’s Della getting into a deeper, more adult relationship with Anita, or with Paul and Clara and their situation, having to move in with her brother. And then, we wanted to see what happens when Perry is no longer on his farm and now living in the city, and as a lawyer. All of those character things were very, very important to us.

Image via HBO

How did you want to approach the contrast between showing this wealthy and glamorous side of Los Angeles, but also the poverty that very much was right alongside of that, and the role that plays in the lives of the characters and in the case?

DOWNEY: The concept of really showcasing the haves and the have nots was a strong intentional theme that we wanted to explore. And then, it became about more organically looking at what was really happening at the time and what parts and facets of Los Angeles we hadn’t seen and explored in Season 1. That took us everywhere, from the Hoovervilles to the gambling ships off the coast. You had the beautiful decadent homes of Lydell and Camilla, and then you had the more modest places, like Central Avenue, where Paul is living with his brother-in-law’s family. That was something that really felt true to the time. It was the worst year of the Depression, and yet there were people who were thriving and living in opulence while other people were barely making ends meet. That’s somewhat relevant today, but that is humanity and that hasn’t changed through time, even though a lot of other things have changed. So, it was a strong force in the storytelling.

It’s so interesting to see the workers outside the ship, and then go into the ship and see what the inside looks like, so that you see both sides of just that one contained space.

BEGLER: Yeah, that was designed on purpose. We wanted to see, literally in one shot, the opulence and what’s on the other side of that door.

DOWNEY: That shot was even more elaborate. There were all these details of this incredible casino ship, and there were all these little vignettes that we ultimately did not have the time to shoot. That single shot that was created really captures it, regardless of us having to let some of our ideas go.

When you unfold a case over the course of the season, and it has all these twists and turns that happen, do you know going in what all those twists and turns will be, and who they’ll affect, how they’ll affect those people, and who’s responsible, or does some of that change along the way?

BEGLER: The short answer is no, we don’t know. We have a sense of where we want it to land and who we believe is the big bad. But in the course of writing, it’s going to change because you’re going to see things, things are gonna occur to you, and threads you pull aren’t going to yield what you want them to. It’s an ongoing process. That’s just part of the production and the collaborative spirit that this took on.

Image via HBO

One of the things I love about this, because there is a lot of heavy material there, are the fun little things for the time period, like Perry Mason on the motorbike with the goggles and gloves, or him at the racetrack. How do you decide when you could add those things in, what you can add in, and where to add it?

DOWNEY: The tone, which is what you’re referring to, is really key to this show. We are tackling sometimes very heavy material, heavy themes, high stakes, and all that kind of stuff, but we want to make it entertaining, so finding that balance was really important. It’s something that Michael [Begler] and Jack [Amiel] brought to the table, that we had done in Season 1 and wanted to make sure we kept forward into Season 2. Fortunately, all of our actors, especially Matthew [Rhys] are able to find that balance. The relationship between his character and Shea Whigham’s character, Strickland, really allows us to have that fun. It’s about continuing to find it in dialogue and situations, never going too broad, but never letting it be too heavy for too long. It organically happens. From a production standpoint, whatever is on the page, that’s great, and you just figure out how to make it happen.

What’s the status of a third season? Is this something that you want to continue? This all started as a limited series and nobody knew if it would be more than one season, so what’s the thinking now? Are you thinking about more seasons?

DOWNEY: Yeah, definitely. We are focused right now on everybody seeing and hopefully enjoying Season 2. The great news is there’s a lot more story to be told, from both our character and the L.A. standpoint, so if we were fortunate enough to have that opportunity, I know Michael has definitely been noodling with some really exciting ideas. But we’re not getting ahead of ourselves.

Is that partly why you also left the season where you do? This is very much a season where Perry Mason does have to face some consequences for his actions and it feels like it would be really interesting to see how that affects him.

DOWNEY: We didn’t end Season 2 thinking about the next season. We wanted to really complete the story arc, from the guy at the beginning who’s facing imposter syndrome and not really wanting to even stay where he is, and by the end, without giving anything away, getting to a place where, despite where he might literally be, he is probably the most content with who he is inside and the choices that he has made.

Perry Mason airs on Monday nights and is available to stream at HBO Max.

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