Peter Mendoza had a gut feeling when he auditioned for “Perry Mason.”
The role he read for not only gave him butterflies, but he knew it would be a challenge to bring justice to the role.
“I didn’t want to watch the original TV series (which starred Raymond Burr),” he says. “I thought it would change my acting. I was encouraged by a co-star to watch it and I’m glad I did because it is so well written.”
The series premiered on HBO in 2020 and is focused on Mason, played by Matthew Rhys. The season focuses on one case for the whole season and it allows viewers to get to know each character in detail, as a complex character study.
The cast includes Rhys, Juliet Rylance, Chris Chalk, Diarra Kilpatrick, Eric Lange, Justin Kirk, Katherine Waterston, Hope Davis, Fabrizio Guido, Mendoza, Stephanie Hoston, Mark O’Brien, Paul Raci, Jen Tullock, Jon Chaffin, Onahoua Rodriguez, Jee Young Han, Sean Astin, Tommy Dewey, Shea Whigham and Wallace Langham.
After the audition process, Mendoza snagged the role of Mateo Gallardo. The eight-episode second season kicked off on March 6, on HBO.
Season two picks up six months after the conclusion of season one.
Perry and Della are running a law firm handling run-of-the-mill civil cases when a high-profile murder case is thrust upon them as the scion of a powerful oil family is brutally murdered.
When the district attorney goes to the city’s Hoovervilles to pinpoint the most obvious of subjects, Mason, Della Street and Paul Drake are the only team capable of uncovering the truth in a case that takes them from the dirtiest, poorest parts of Los Angeles to the glitziest and richest.
In the second season, Mendoza’s Gallardo coming to terms with the possibility of his execution after he’s accused of murder.
“Mateo starts off with a bang,” Mendoza says. “The season tackles the situations the Latin community had when they were displaced when Dodgers Stadium was built. Now they have to live in Hooverville because of the government.”
Mendoza says there was a promise by the oil family to make Los Angeles better. After the murder takes place, two Mexican boys are on trial.
“It’s up to Perry Mason to find out who did this,” he says. “The subject matter is so timely, it’s scary.”
According to HBO, the injustices suffered by characters of color like Rafael and Mateo Gallardo and Paul Drake in “Perry Mason” could be considered timely despite the fact that the show is set nearly a century ago.
“Racism, inequality, and hatred were real then, they are real now, they have been real throughout history. The strides finally being made toward meaningful change are long, long overdue and desperately needed,” HBO said in a statement. “There’s still much work to be done. The reimagining of Paul Drake presented an opportunity to tell a more complete story of Los Angeles in the early ’30s – and to depict his character with a fully rendered backstory, home life and interior journey.”
Mendoza did a lot of research to prepare for his role. He looked at how minorities, especially those of Latin, Mexican or Indigenous descent, were treated by the government over time.
“I’m Chicano,” he says. “I know where Mateo is coming from because he is reserved. He’s just trying to live his life and then his life is changed. It’s something I can relate to and that’s what makes bringing Mateo to life on screen so amazing.”