July 31, 2013
Showtime's 'Masters of Sex' - Setting the Right Tone
By Kaylee Hultgren
Showtime’s “Masters of Sex” (premieres Sept 29) presents the story of 1950s sex researchers William Masters and Virginia Johnson and their groundbreaking studies on human sexual behavior. It’s based on the book “Masters of Sex” by Tom Maier, who considered Johnson his muse, David Nevins, president of entertainment for Showtime told critics in Los Angeles on Tuesday. Creator Michelle Ashford said they were faithful to the book but did establish some characters themselves. “We had a biography to work from… and so we’ve stuck to the facts very carefully. Certainly, the research, we’ve fudged none of that.” Maier had spent 10,000 hours of interview time with Virginia Johnson, said executive producer Sarah Timberman, “so he’s been an incredible resource to us,” she said.
On the differences between the way we view sexuality today compared to in the 1950s, lead actor Michael Sheen, who plays Masters, said that in fact similar issues remain: “The same problems of intimacy, of dealing with other people, of connecting and being vulnerable with other people, which is what the show is ultimately about, still applies now.” Actress Lizzy Caplan noted that playing Johnson has been her most challenging role to date. “I do feel like a lot of the women I’ve played leading up to this point have prepared me to play this woman.” It required additional intensity, particularly given the time period, she added, because “she was not offered any sort of support for her more alternative decisions,” Caplan said.
Sheen said setting the right tone for the series was a real challenge. It’s important to “find a way of presenting all of these things that creates a kind of cohesive whole and doesn’t alienate the audience… It has to come out a very believable, centered, bedded, real situations and characters bouncing off each other,” he said. But there is certainly some comic relief given the ridiculous situations the characters portray. “There are definitely moments of levity in this show and I think in dramatic pieces, those moments of levity are especially appreciated,” Caplan said.
Timberman noted that what’s interesting to her is “the degree to which people are surprised by the frank discussion of sexuality in the show”—more so than the actual portrayal of sex itself. “You realize how unusual that is today,” she said, which “shines a light on our culture and our ways of communicating as human beings. It’s made for a lot of interesting writers’ room conversations.”