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“Do you know how old I am?” she recalled of her response at an Academy of Television Arts & Sciences panel Tuesday night.
The 54-year-old actress revealed that adjusting to the role was a challenge at first. “But then …” she laughed, gesturing to her attractive 37-year-old on-screen sex partner Teddy Sears, seated next to her on stage.
Over the course of the hourlong discussion, the show’s cast and creators dished on difficult season-one sex scenes, took digs at Game of Thrones, and delved into cultural issues including acceptance and equality.
Below are seven highlights from the evening:
1. Masters of Sex is no Game of Thrones
The idea that Masters altered expectations about sex on television by the way the series portrays its steamy nude scenes in context was a theme that ran through the night. Star Lizzy Caplan, who had her fair share of sex scenes in the first season, assured the audience that the scenes never feel gratuitous because they are always in service of a larger story. “Our show is about sex and intimacy whereas other shows are about other things, maybe dragons,” she joked, continuing after the audience’s laughter had subsided, “No disrespect at all, but it does feel at times that it’s like, ‘Time out dragons, let’s watch these people get it on with each other!’ “
2. Girl power
“Our show is led by women, so they understand,” said Caplan, praising the vision of executive producers Michelle Ashford and Sarah Timberman, adding with a laugh, “Yeah, women!” Annaleigh Ashford told the packed room that it was a gift to play a strong women onscreen, a description she believes fits her character, Betty, perfectly. Michael Sheen even chimed in to represent the male portion of the cast: “I don’t think it’s a pro-woman show,” he said. “It’s a pro-human being show. … All the characters are equal, and it’s striking how many shows that’s not the case.”
3. Relevancy today
Some castmembers noted that the while the show deals with 1950s issues, the problems are not unlike those we currently face. Caplan told The Hollywood Reporter, “I hope the show makes people ask themselves: Are we so much more advanced than we were in the ’50s — especially women?” She noted that she feels most of the questions her character Virginia asks are issues women are still struggling with today. Beau Bridges agreed, touching on a subject dear to his character: “Our human society today has, unfortunately, come up a little short in terms of the gay lifestyle. We’re not that accepting.”
4. Honoring the facts
Ashford and Timberman revealed that they felt compelled to honor the real-life story of William Masters and Virginia Johnson: “We all feel a real obligation and also we want to tell the real story of these people.” Honoring the facts, however, doesn’t mean the writers won’t take creative liberties where there’s gaps in the actual story. In fact, they teased that the coming season will feature material absent from the book on which the series is based.
5. Reading the book
The creators expressed their gratitude for the biography of the two sex research pioneers by Thomas Maier, as it provided much of the necessary research for them ahead of time. When asked if she read the book beforehand, Caplan deadpanned, “I don’t read. Michael?” to which star Michael Sheen confirmed he did: “If you’re going to play a real person, you have a duty to read a little about them.” In a more sincere moment, Caplan later admitted to reading Maier’s work, not once but twice.
6. Impressive script
Several castmembers suggested they were sold on the series after reading the pilot. Caitlin FitzGerald praised the writing, joking, “Good scripts are like beacons of light through the garbage.” Caplan revealed that she knew little about the real-life Masters and Johnson but that after reading the script it was a “no-brainer” to audition. Annaleigh Ashford, too, knew from the moment she familiarized herself with Betty in the pilot that she couldn’t turn down to the role.
7. Growing up in the ’50s
Beau Bridges was a teenager in the ’50s and remembered hearing about the real-life sex researchers. “Us guys, we kind of thought we were driving the bus, but then Masters and Johnson came along and revealed it’s actually a woman.” He called the research findings a “rude awakening” that helped to liberate women. Also worth noting: Bridges initially thought his character would be a womanizer. “As the provost of the college, I thought I would be getting it on with all these college girls.” He later found out from Showtime executives that he would be playing a gay man, which was “a new area for him to jump in” as an actor.
The second season of Masters of Sex premieres July 13 on Showtime.
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