Perry Mason Limited Series HBO Matthew RhysPerry Mason Limited Series HBO Matthew Rhys

John Lithgow Joins Detective Drama ‘Perry Mason’

Robert Downey Jr. will executive-produce the limited series which will also star Matthew Rhys and Tatiana Maslany.

What’s it about? Set in 1932 Los Angeles, the limited series will focus on the origin story of famed defense lawyer Perry Mason, based on characters from Erle Stanley Gardner’s novels. Living check-to-check as a low-rent private investigator, Mason is haunted by his wartime experiences in France and suffering the effects of a broken marriage.

L.A. is booming while the rest of the country recovers from the Great Depression — but a kidnapping gone very wrong leads to Mason exposing a fractured city as he uncovers the truth of the crime.

Who you’ll recognize: The Americans’ Matthew Rhys will star as Perry Mason and also serve as a producer. The Emmy Award winner previously guest-starred on Girls’ “American B***h” episode.

Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black) will play Sister Alice, the leader of the Radiant Assembly of God, preaching three sermons a day to a hungry congregation and a radio audience that spans the country. Entertainer, politician, God’s conduit to the City of Angels, Sister Alice wields great power when she speaks, and plans to use it in ways only she can know.

John Lithgow will play Elias Birchard “E.B.” Jonathan, a personal attorney at the nadir of his career and a semi-regular employer of private investigator, Perry Mason. A mentor and a father figure to Mason, E.B. is handed the kind of case he hasn’t seen in years: a high-profile parallel investigation to the LAPD involving a case of child kidnapping.

Chris Chalk will play Paul Drake, a beat cop with a knack for detective work, Paul is an outlier, with the added challenge of having to navigate an extremely race-conscious city and a downright oppressive police department. He must weigh the responsibilities of being a husband and father against his desire to seek justice in a controversial and politically loaded case.

Shea Whigham will play Pete Strickland. Pete is hired by Mason as an extra set of eyes on his various investigations (some less than savory). Strickland has a brotherly rapport with Mason and a cheerfully rakish demeanor that wins friends and influences damsels.

Juliet Rylance will play Della Street, E.B. Jonathan’s legal secretary. Street has the brains, know-how, creativity and drive to be a CEO at any modern-day corporation. But this is 1931…

Guest stars for the series will include Nate Corddry as Matthew Dodson. A grocery store owner with a modest income, no one can explain why his 1-year-old son is targeted for ransom. His picture-perfect marriage begins to crumble as secrets are uncovered on all sides.

Veronica Falcon will play Lupe, a pilot and hard-drinking owner of a speakeasy. Lupe is a she-demon of the California skies and the 3rd place air speed champion of the world.

Jefferson Mays will play Virgil, who is an attendant at the City Morgue. Virgil is envious of the life of a private detective. A friend of Mason’s, he regularly gives him access to bodies (and their personal effects).

Gayle Rankin will play Emily Dodson, the mother of a 1-year-old kidnapping victim. Dodson is convinced that she is being punished by God for an unstated transgression.

Lili Taylor will play Birdy McKeegan, a pious and deeply devout woman. As Sister Alice's mother and closest advisor, Birdy keeps things running smoothly at the Pentecostal church.

Andrew Howard will play Detective Ennis and Eric Lange will play Detective Holcomb. A commanding force as homicide detectives within the LAPD, Ennis and Holcomb are masters of intimidation with a knack for getting their way without regard for proper procedure.

Robert Patrick will play Herman Baggerly, a major player in a variety of Southern California industries. Baggerly is a member of the same Pentecostal church as the Dodson family and hires E.B. Jonathan and Perry Mason to run a parallel investigation to the LAPD.

Stephen Root will play Maynard Barnes, a formidable prick of a man who knows how to glad-hand and intimidate whenever an occasion calls for either. District Attorney Maynard Barnes is confident in everything he does.

Who’s behind the camera? HBO veteran Tim Van Patten — whose directing credits include the Game of Thrones pilot along with episodes of The Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire, Sex and the City, The Wire, The Pacific, Rome and Deadwood — will direct and executive-produce the series. Ron Fitzgerald and Rolin Jones will act as showrunners. Both previously served as producers on Weeds and Friday Night Lights. Fitzgerald has also executive-produced Westworld, while Jones served as an executive producer Boardwalk Empire. They’ll executive-produce Perry Mason along with Amanda Burrell, Robert Downey Jr., Susan Downey, and Joe Horacek.

What should I watch while I wait? To get a taste of Van Patten’s past work, check out the Jersey-based crime dramas Boardwalk Empire and The Sopranos, or Deadwood, a Western series set in 1870s South Dakota amid a gold strike. For something about the other side of the law, try anthology series True Detective.