'Perry Mason' TV Series Casts 'The Americans' Star Matthew Rhys, Who Replaces Robert Downey Jr.

Step aside, Robert Downey Jr. – there's a new Perry Mason in town, and it's The Americans star Matthew Rhys.

Downey was all set to play the fictional defense attorney in a movie several years ago, but that project morphed into a limited series at HBO. Now the show is finally going to happen, but since Downey's film commitments have gotten in the way, Rhys is taking over in the lead role.

Deadline reports that Rhys is stepping into the shoes of Perry Mason, the lawyer who was described like this in the original novel by Erle Stanley Gardner:

You'll find that I'm a lawyer who has specialized in trial work, and in a lot of criminal work...I'm a specialist on getting people out of trouble. They come to me when they're in all sorts of trouble, and I work them out...If you look me up through some family lawyer or some corporation lawyer, he'll probably tell you that I'm a shyster. If you look me up through some chap in the District Attorney's office, he'll tell you that I'm a dangerous antagonist but he doesn't know very much about me.

Raymond Burr played Mason in a popular television series that ran from 1957 to 1966, and the character has appeared in more than 80 novels and short stories over the years. It looks like several Perry Mason TV movies from the '80s and '90s are still floating around on YouTube, so that may be a good place to start if you want an introduction to the character.

Robert Downey Jr. and his producing partner/wife Susan Downey's production company Team Downey is shepherding this one for HBO. Rolin Jones and Ron Fitzgerald (WeedsFriday Night Lights) took over writing and executive producing duties from Nic Pizzolatto when Pizzolatto began working on True Detective season 3; they'll be the showrunners of this limited series. Deadline has the synopsis:

The reimagined Perry Mason is set in 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, the limited series follows the origins of American Fiction's most legendary criminal defense lawyer, Perry Mason (Rhys). 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.

Rhys, who also will produce, is Perry Mason 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.

No word yet on who will direct, but once Team Downey finds a director, it shouldn't be long before filming gets underway.