You mentioned you found out through the process that your character was a not great guy. But “Perry Mason” is also of a very specific time and place, as well. Did you do anything to prepare to play a person from that time period?
Listen, this is crazy. I grew up in the ’50s in Chicago with black-and-white television. Not that I modeled anything off of James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart or Edward G. Robinson, but I did kind of. I loved them as a boy. I loved the hats. So I couldn’t believe I was getting an opportunity to bring that genre into a realistic format. Because when I look at James Cagney — I just watched “White Heat” two nights ago — 1947 James Cagney. One of the worst movies ever made. One of the worst performances he ever did. But I look at them and think about how I was impressed with him as a boy. So I just wanted to bring more of a realistic feel to it for “Perry Mason.”
For me, I had to look to my grandfather, who was a racist S.O.B. I grew up in the ’50s and he was trying very hard to teach me how to be a racist. And that’s who I really modeled Lydell off of, my grandfather. He wore the same clothes, the same hat in the ’50s, and was a racist because he was full of fear. Just like Lydell is. He’s afraid he’s going to be stripped of everything that he’s worked so hard for. And that’s my grandfather.
That’s interesting what you said about how fear drives Lydell, because episode 7 is the first time you really see what’s going on beneath the surface with him. We’ve obviously seen him before and it’s very clear he’s a tough guy. But in episode 7, there are a few scenes where the audience starts to see another side to him. The first is the business lunch with Camilla [the business magnate played by Hope Davis]. What was it like filming that scene and just making it clear how much Lydell didn’t like Camilla?
Well first of all, Hope Davis is a great actor and a beautiful person. So I got to hang with her a little bit, had never met her before. There’s a lot of prep that goes into getting these scenes together because it’s such a gorgeous set. But we got to talk, I got to see that she was a very serious actor. So I just knew that we were going to get along. She’s focused, she’s on it. I’m very focused and I like to be on it myself. So just the respect that I have for Hope Davis and working with the Japanese actors that we had in that room, that was a great day of shooting.
It was just delicious to work with her and also finally get a chance to show some softer edges to Lydell, because all this time he’s such a rigidly mean character. When you get to relax into some softness, it’s like, “Finally.” Because what’s under the underbelly of Lydell is that he loves his family, but it’s the fear. I was relieved that I was able to just soften up a little bit. Plus being with the grandkids, you got to be a little bit softer, too.