‘Perry Mason’ Casting Directors Reveal the Casting Process Behind the HBO Series

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“Part of our journey is the process of learning about the actor. The actors don’t care that they come in 10 times and didn’t get the part, because they know that one time — with us — they will.” – Sharon Bialy

The Robert Downey Jr.-produced HBO series Perry Mason–which places the famed criminal defense lawyer played by Matthew Rhys in the era he debuted in literature, the 1930s–features a stellar cast. Unsurprisingly, the series’ casting directors are Sharon Bialy and Sherry Thomas, who have each been nominated for seven Emmy Awards for casting. Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter about the casting process for the series, Bialy and Thomas reveal the reasons behind some of the major casting decisions.

Director and executive director Timothy Van Patten had specific ideas for casting that he shared with Sherry Thomas. She explains, “[Tim] talks about the spirit and the soul of the actor marrying with the spirit and the soul of the character. The external is not what’s important to him.” Though the primary cast is small, Thomas points out that because the supporting cast is huge that the primary cast needed to have a presence even if the characters was missing from significant parts of episodes. She says, “The storylines and arcs are massive, and you’re also in a period piece, so it was important to make sure that each actor [remained]defined within their own self, even if the character wasn’t around all the time.”

Sharon Bialy adds that an important part is that because they are drawing from a stable of actors that they have worked with and believe in, the actors are willing to come in for additional readings because even if they don’t get this part, they will get another. She says, “Part of our journey is the process of learning about the actor. The actors don’t care that they come in 10 times and didn’t get the part, because they know that one time — with us — they will.”

Regarding some of the actors who made up the primary cast, Thomas and Bialy spoke at length on what it was about those actors who made them the right fit for the role. In the case of Gayle Rankin, who plays Emily Dodson, the mother of a baby who is mysteriously kidnapped, Thomas says, “[Gayle was] the only one who read. I wrote a brief commentary of why there was only one Emily Dodson [mother of kidnapped boy]. I don’t think it took an hour for every creative to say, ‘She’s perfect.’”

Another example of creative casting is Nate Corddry (younger brother of Rob Corddry), who plays Matthew Dodson, the father of the kidnapped baby. Because Corddry is known mainly for his comedic roles on sitcoms, Bialy says, “The most exciting thing is taking that actor everybody sees one way and flipping expectations. Even Nate said, ‘I can’t believe I’m in this part.’ He tapped into the soul of [kidnapped son’s father]Matthew Dodson.”

Among the show’s main cast is Chris Chalk, who plays a police officer. Curiously, he’s been cast by Bialy and Thomas before, and they didn’t forget him for this role. Thomas explains, “We cast Chris in Gotham but have known him for years. He’s a very soulful actor and person, and his craft is unbelievable. He put himself on tape, and Tim really responded to his audition [for the beat-cop role].”

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