Robert Downey Jr. was supposed to be the star of HBO’s Perry Mason prequel miniseries. Here’s why Matthew Rhys ended up in the lead role instead.
Robert Downey Jr. was initially set to star as the titular character for HBO’s Perry Mason miniseries but the actor was replaced with Matthew Rhys. The reboot is based on the legendary character created by Erle Stanley Gardner and made even more famous by numerous TV shows and movies. Unlike his classic counterpart, HBO’s Perry is a private investigator as the title is set prior to him becoming a lawyer. Here’s why Downey Jr. couldn’t commit to the project and how he remained in another role.
Set in the early 1930s, HBO’s Perry Mason gives the famed character an origin story by serving as a prequel to Gardner’s novels. The miniseries follows Perry as a down-on-his-luck private investigator living paycheck to paycheck. Not only is he suffering from alcoholism, but his wife left him and he has no contact with his son. Through his connections in Los Angeles, Perry gets the opportunity to work on a high-profile case centering on the kidnapping and death of a one-year-old boy, Charlie Dodson. The Dodson family’s links to local religious figures then add more questions into the investigation.
HBO first announced plans to reboot Perry Mason in 2016. In doing so, the network also shared that Downey Jr. would star in the lead role. The actor’s film commitments then emerged as a priority so scheduling issues arose. Downey Jr. had a busy schedule with Avengers: Infinity War, Avengers: Endgame, and Dolittle during key years of Perry Mason’s development. Due to his schedule, Downey Jr. was forced to back out of the HBO role and Rhys was recast in his place. That didn’t stop Downey Jr. from having a hand in the show’s development.
Robert Downey Jr. Is Still Heavily Involved With Perry Mason
After originally being cast as the titular character, Downey Jr. signed on to produce Perry Mason. In addition, his wife, Susan Downey, joined under the couple’s production company, Team Downey. It turned out that Downey Jr. had hopes of developing a Perry Mason project for nearly a decade. Back in 2011, the actor was toying with the idea of rebooting the character for a feature film. Over time, the passion project transformed into a series, possibly even an anthology. HBO then got on board and pushed a miniseries into development.
Even though Downey Jr. is no longer in the lead role of Perry, he remained as a producer alongside his wife. He still had a hand in the show’s development and will continue to have a voice if the show continues. It will be interesting to see if ratings result in multiple seasons despite being categorized as a limited series. If that’s the case, it’s very possible that Downey Jr. could join Perry Mason in another role if his scheduling opens up.