‘Perry Mason’ Season 2 Production and Costume Designers Crafted 1930s LA Noir for the HBO Series | How I Did It

“The one mandate that we had from everybody was, let’s make this as real as we possibly can”

If watching the HBO series “Perry Mason” felt like stepping right into 1930s Los Angeles, that was no accident. The design team behind the prestige drama had one mandate: make it as real as possible. And the immersive nature of the production design and complimentary (and period accurate) costumes did just that.

“The period of 1933 Los Angeles was just such a great opportunity for production design and to show off this world,” producer designer Keith P. Cunnigham said in TheWrap’s latest installment of How I Did It, presented by HBO. “I love research, so that was easy,” costume designer Catherine Adair said of her experience on the second season of the show.

That research steered Cunnigham and Adair’s approach to the series. “Whether it was a car that Keith had seen or whether it was somebody who had come back from the first World War who as missing a limb, there were very specific pieces that Keith and I had found and we pitched to the showrunners that we wanted to make sure we saw,” Adair said.

Their research took them into gambling casinos on ships all along the coast, and the ship seen the show was used to help establish the second season.

“The challenge was to find a location that was big enough to feel like a casino that would have existed on one of these ships, which will be at least 400 feet long. We knew that was a great way to establish the show and introduce this color palette,” Cunnigham said.

The design team also had to work with the post-production team to ensure that whatever color desaturation would be done wouldn’t affect their choices.

“We took paint swatches and color palettes and I did whole boards of fabric and we put them in front of the camera, and then we went to post to find out how much they were going to desaturate in Season 2 so that we knew where to pull the color up and where to leave it alone,” Adair explained.

For the courtroom where many of the season’s most tense scenes take place, the design team created their own murals to line the walls “looking at the two different sides of society, the upper class and the lower class that were struggling,” Cunnigham said.

“From the costume point of view, I knew what colors we didn’t want to use so that when we place extras in the courtroom, hopefully the tapestry of color that you get there really does echo what you did in the murals,” Adair said.

And when it came to dressing Matthew Rhys’ Perry Mason, Adair wanted his wardrobe to reflect the more professional nature of the character in Season 2.

“Everything that Perry wore in Season 1, other than his casual clothes and his leather jacket, he got all that clothing from the morgue,” Adair said. “Finding a balance of making him some new clothes that didn’t look brand new, but that Della had insisted that he looked a little bit more professional. And the gift Matthew gave me is his physical way of being once he inhabits a role is so specific and so good.”

But Cunnigham and Adai both concluded that the crux of their work came from the scripts. “The writers were gave us such a palette and world to be invested in. I mean, what an opportunity. Every script was just a gift,” Cunningham said.


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