A year after making her Broadway debut in Network, Emmy winner Tatiana Maslany is back on television in the new HBO Max series Perry Mason. But don't think of this as the black-and-white comfort food that starred Raymond Burr. This new adaptation, set in a sepia-tinged Los Angeles in 1932 (the tail end of Prohibition), finds the title character not as a crusading defense attorney but as a worn out private investigator suffering from PTSD. The series is grisly and often bleak, but never flies into self-indulgence thanks to its grounded characterizations: Matthew Rhys as Mason, certainly, but also Juliet Rylance as Della Street, Gayle Rankin as a grieving mother, and Maslany as Sister Alice.
If Sister Alice, who presides over a flock of worshippers with the fervor and charisma of a rock star, seems familiar, it might be because the character owes more than a little to Sister Aimee Semple McPherson, the evangelist immortalized several times on film (most recently by Anna Margaret Hollyman in Sister Aimee) and on Broadway in the Kathie Lee Gifford musical Scandalous, starring Carolee Carmello in a Tony-nominated turn. But Maslany's Sister Alice is more opaque than the treatments of Sister Aimee. Her bran-storming speech aimed at the (all white, all male) Los Angeles politicians in the second episode is a terrifying, convincing display of power. But there's also the question of what otherworldly gifts she might also possess.
Maslany, who was also seen Off-Broadway in 2018's Mary Page Marlowe, joined Playbill's Stream Stealers July 7 to discuss the role, what research she did, and her stage career—plus that platinum blonde wig! Watch in the video above, and catch Perry Mason on HBO Max; new episodes air Sundays at 9 PM ET.