Actor Peter Mendoza talks about his role as Mateo Gallardo in HBO’s Emmy-nominated series ‘Perry Mason’ ahead of season finale
Societally, we’re making strides to better represent stories told from varied perspectives, a notion that’ll continue to grace our tv screens and stages, and one that’ll continue to enliven our media landscape in this new era. Currently on season 2 and available to stream on HBO, crime drama Perry Mason has enthralled viewers – set in 1930s LA, the show follows the eponymous defence lawyer as he navigates his way through the fractured city as he uncovers unpleasant truths. Currently starring as Mateo Gallardo, actor Peter Mendoza tells us more about preparing for the role, the importance of Latino representation and what we can expect from this season!
Hi Peter, you currently star in HBO’s Emmy nominated drama Perry Mason currently available to stream on HBO Max. How are you feeling and what responses have you received towards the show?
Indescribable. It has been such a whirlwind. People have messaged me, saying how proud they are. How they love the show. How happy they are to see Latinos on the screen speaking on lost history. It has been amazing but also humbling to be afforded a voice to speak on what it is to be Latino in America. I feel so honored to be speaking with you, to share a little piece of what so many like me, either as actors, community, or culture know all too well. I am enjoying the ride and not taking for granted this moment.
Set in 1930s LA, Perry Mason follows the eponymous defence lawyer as he navigates his way through the fractured city as he uncovers unpleasant truths. What drew you to be a part of the show?
Well, as I’m sure you know, unless we’re name stars, for the most part you go on audition after audition, hoping to land a part. This was an audition I landed that became something else. You never know what role will speak to you. Being a Latino in Los Angeles comes with many dimensions, depending on your upbringing. For me, it was identity. Where do I belong? Who am I in the milieu of East LA? I’ve been chasing what it means to be a Latino since I graduated high school. This role expanded my research of Latinidad. I discovered the CHICANO series, which came out due to the BLOWOUTS of the 1960s. It was in response to the lack of equitable education standards suffered in low-income Latino communities. Also I found books about the Latino history in the West and California. Like today, we live in a border of culture and chaos. We’re only seen through the lens of violence and immigration, but there is not enough humanity. Simplicity. We are fighters who have shed our lives for the virtue of freedom. That is what this story became for me. How can I with my history, like Mateo Gallardos’, highlight, embody, and understand the struggle of just living Latino. To sacrifice your dreams for security, to fight for family against a system that doesn’t know how to categorize you, to have to beg and slum because of pride and lack of resources, to be angry and have no outlet to complain of the injustice of being unlucky because we carry the burden of our skin. It became a fight.
You play the role of Mateo Gallardo, a young Mexican boy accused of murder. What has your approach been towards tackling the role?
I had a lot of conversations with the actors that made up my family, Fabrizio Guido, Stephanie Hoston, and Onahoua Rodriguez. We talked about the family dynamics of the time, machismo, the relationships to each other, why we made those decisions, and the consequences that it created within the family. Fears, dreams. But most importantly, building that family dynamic. We all knew how important this opportunity was. To land roles like these, and share a piece of history with a public that may not know of the struggles our people have faced, was not lost on us. So we met up and shared time, upbringings, and life. It was beautiful to know of each other and understand the many intricacies of each one’s life and how that has informed our reasons and choices. We relied on each other every day when we filmed. I knew my role was to support this family. What did it mean to let them down? How do I deal with that in a world where you’re not welcome to share emotions so freely as a man? The heartbreak of making choices to better your family’s standing and in return drop them into turmoil. The guilt. The shame. But also the unbreakable bond they all shared in spite of it. Because of their love. That was remarkable.
What have you learned/taken away from filming on the show?
That I am more than capable and deserving of this opportunity. There is a fear that comes over you when you land a principal role. Do you have the chops? I had that question all through filming. It felt as if I didn’t know how to act. This felt different. There was a higher responsibility. So many moving parts. But the generosity of Matthew Rhys, Juliet Rylance, and Chris Chalk always let me know I was in equal company. They were more than happy with their time, their advice, and their support. They made sure we were taken care of, had connection to resources to help us better understand the story, and had a great sense of humor that quelled the worry of a hard day. Most importantly, I was an artist among artists. I had something valuable to say, my voice mattered, and I shouldn’t take it for granted. That is what I took away and will carry with me.
What can audiences expect from the show?
Beautiful set pieces. Great costumes by Cate Adair. Wonderful performances. Questions. Uneasy truths. Twists. Turns. Opportunity. Betrayal. Love. Loss. Quality. A rollercoaster of intrigue, surprise, and connection.
What would you like for audiences to take away from the show?
To yearn for more stories like this. It feels like a sleeping giant is starting to awaken when it comes to the Latino question in the industry. Audiences want more stories of Latinos with more substance. We are human like everyone else. With faults and fire. Racism and prejudice. Love and hate. There are so many stories with nuances that have yet to be told. I hope this emboldens both audiences and creators that we must fight to secure our heritage, our culture, our voice, and our history. To uplift and shine a light on our American Dream.
Questions by Lucy Basaba.
Perry Mason’s Season finale will stream on Wednesday 26th April 2023 on HBO Max. To find out more, visit here…