PaleyFest 2014: Masters of Sex—and Intimacy

The cast of Showtime’s “Masters of Sex” talk relationships, girdles, and “Hot Tub Time Machine”

Last night’s PaleyFest discussion with the cast of Showtime’s Masters of Sex was an educational experience—and not in the Dr. Ruth way. When leads Michael Sheen (Dr. William Masters) and Lizzy Caplan (Virginia Johnson) were approached to star in the smart drama about the lives of revolutionary sex researchers, they were working on very different projects. Sheen was starring in Hamlet, and Caplan? “Hamlet! Oh, big deal. I was doing a little movie called Hot Tub Time Machine.” After the massive applause died down, Sheen stood up and threatened to recite, “Act Five, Scene Two of Hamlet…”

The Masters of Sex cast—Sheen, Caplan, Caitlin Fitzgerald, Teddy Sears, and Annaleigh Ashford (Allison Janney and Beau Bridges were filming)—joked with one another and stayed long after the discussion to sign oodles of things from fans who rushed the stage. (Seriously, they rushed so fast toward the stage there was a whooshing sound). What else did I discover about the endlessly interesting period drama set in the 1950s?

-Michael Sheen digs television. The actor, who had mostly done film up until the show, said, “I was aware the best story-telling was being done on TV. The writing is so strong in television at the moment and the audience is sophisticated.”

-Caplan was worried she didn’t have the chops. “I was leaning toward more comedic stuff and thought that was all I could get. Going after this job was proving a lot of things to myself. It was the best audition I ever had, but I thought, I am never getting the part.” She nailed it. According to producer Sarah Timberman, the only reason Caplan had to audition was that “We just wanted to see her in period clothes.”

-Actor Teddy Sears (Dr. Austin Langham) took some ribbing for bringing a stethoscope to his audition. His second audition was a sex scene (makes sense for a show about sex research). “We have that audition tape,” Sheen joked as he turned around to face the big screen in the Dolby Theatre (sorry, no tape). “I thought I might be too WASPy for the part,” Sears said with a shrug.

-Sheen applauded the show’s cleverness. “On the show they always make the more complicated choice,” he said. “We’re lucky, we don’t have a show where people are shooting each other or taking drugs. It’s about people.”

-Timberman added, “We once got a note saying ‘There’s too much sex in this episode.’” 

-The cast also traded tips about going to the bathroom while wearing undergarments from the era. “You need help to pee!” Annaleigh Ashford (Betty Dimello) pointed out. “I haven’t had to have help since I was four!”

“How do you go in them?” Caitlin FitzGerald (Libby Masters) asked castmate Caplan, who clarified, “Girdle down, not up.” Ah. 

-Sheen summed up the show thusly after watching the entire first season: “I was moved by every character.” Then he used the word “human,” saying it like his character Aro in Twilight. Sorry, Sheen but ya did. “Hu-man.” But he’s right that while the subject matter on Masters of Sex is titillating, it’s ultimately a show about human relationships, and that’s what draws you in.