'Masters of Sex': Michael Sheen, Lizzy Caplan explore the science of sexuality


Showtime is no stranger to dealing with the subject of sex, but the network has never done so in such a scientific way as it is with "Masters of Sex." The new drama tells the story of William Masters (Michael Sheen) and Virginia Johnson (Lizzy Caplan) as they spearhead forward-thinking research about sex and the way it affects the body. "Masters of Sex" explores both their personal lives and their professional research, and does so in a dramatic and sometimes comedic way.

"Masters of Sex" had its first TCA panel on July 30, and Sheen, Caplan, Nicholas D'Agosto, Caitlin FitzGerald and Teddy Sears were on-hand along with creator Michelle Ashford and executive producer Sarah Timberman. They discussed the way "Masters of Sex" will set itself apart.

"Their story is fascinating," Ashford says of Masters and Johnson. "We've stuck to the facts very carefully. Certainly the research, we've fudged none of that."

The production relied primarily on a biography of Masters and Johnson written by Thomas Maier, which was informed by his interviews with Johnson. She passed away in July 2013, and none of the cast or producers had a chance to speak with her about their project. Still, Caplan in particular is trying to do her character justice, saying she feels every other role in her career led her up to this role.

"Virginia Johnson looks like every other woman around her. It's what's inside of her that's different," Caplan says, adding that she finds the character of Johnson a "contradiction in every scene." "To me the challenge was to not ever judge her decisions but to see why she was so capable of compartmentalizing so many things in her life."

It's no secret that Masters and Johnson eventually married and then divorced, but that happens decades after the events being shown in "Masters of Sex's" first season. Ashford says, "If we have a long life here, hopefully we will play it out very slowly," but admits that that's a subject that won't be dealt with early on.

As the title implies, "Masters of Sex" deals with sex -- a lot. Whether it's the research Masters and Johnson are conducting or the problems the show's central characters are dealing with, it's one of the central topics on the show. Timberman says there will never be a gratuitous sex scene in the show, and Sheen explains there are rules on set about the sex scenes to make sure all of the actors felt comfortable.

"We want people to keep coming into this show and keep taking those risk," Sheen says of making the "Masters of Sex" set a safe environment. He adds of his personal sex scenes on the show, "I've never done a conventional sex scene in my life."

Though "Masters of Sex" is a drama, there are also moments of levity in it. Ashford and Timberman say that's because "sex can be funny," but the cast says there was never an intention of having humor without it serving a specific situation.

"We're not really going for a joke. I mean, if you're putting a dildo in front of Beau Bridges' face, people are going to laugh," Caplan says. "[The scenes depicted are] factually accurate, and they're what they really did."

So what were some messages learned from the set? According to Sheen, "The more you try to separate sex from everything else, it's impossible. You can't. ... The more you think that you're watching a show about sex, the more you're ultimately watching a show about just the challenges of ... being intimate."

Caplan seems excited to be telling this story because of the affect Masters and Johnson had on society.

"Before masters and Johnson, people are always telling women that was their fault, and that's some bulls***," she says.

"Masters of Sex" premieres on Showtime Sept. 29 at 10 p.m.

Photo/Video credit: Showtime