Dr. William and Mrs. Elizabeth Masters were in the house at Wednesday’s cocktail party for Showtime’s “Masters of Sex,” where cast, crew and TCA journalists gathered on the set of the Masters home on the Sony lot. Guests at the 1950s-themed fete, which included Annaleigh Ashford and director Michael Apted, clinked martini glasses brimming with vodka and topped with plump olives, and partook of tray-passed hors d’oeuvres in the way of ants on a log, deviled eggs and bite-sized mini-cheeseburgers.
Among the props in the Masters home – glass baby bottles, retro-style toasters – the standout artifact was an antique typewriter out of which spilled a page of script from a season two episode, in which things continue to heat up between Masters (Michael Sheen) and his research assistant-cum-paramour Virginia Johnson, played by first-time Emmy nominee Lizzy Caplan.
“I get to play a character that challenges the audience,” noted Sheen of his nuanced performance as the famous fertility expert who helped change the way society looks as sex, but had tremendous difficulty accessing his own emotions. “There’s nothing easy for the audience to feel comfortable with him about. He’s difficult, but he’s human. He’s not a monster, but I think partly why people have a hard time liking him is that he’s all the things we don’t like about ourselves. As an actor this is what I love to do, playing complicated characters, and this allows me to do that. I’m not interested in playing a nice character or a likeable character because I don’t see people that way. I find people very complicated.”
Thomas Maier, author of the best-selling “Masters of the Sex,” cited Sheen’s “bravery” in playing the eponymous lead character.
“This is a story about a lot of men who have an inability to express their feelings toward the ones that they profess to love,” said Maier, who also shared his insights on why the real-life (spoiler alert!) Masters and Johnson marry and eventually divorce. “Michael Sheen has been willing to be brave enough to be disliked. From the outset he set that as a standard, and it is so essential to the success of the drama. It allows for a discussion about men and women that is essential to the show and the book itself.”
Caitlin Fitzgerald, who plays Masters’ stay-at-home wife, Libby, called the relationship between her, William and Virginia “triangular.”
“It’s really complicated and strange,” said Fitzgerald, who dazzled in a strapless black-and-white frock at the event. “It‘s not an easy thing.”
Marital relations and social mores aside, one of the more difficult aspects of being a woman in the 1950s was no doubt the armor-like undergarments foisted upon the second sex in an effort to turn them all into walking dolls, a look and design that “Masters” costume designer Ane Crabtree was charged with recreating for the series.
“I’m focusing this season on making clothing that absolutely resonate with people today,” she says. “(The clothes) are not always comfortable but it does something to beef up your posture for sure and changes the way you carry yourself in your day.”
Caplan, a self-described “tomboy” growing up, now relishes the opportunity explore this side of her femininity through fashion.
“I was never anybody who liked playing dress-up, but now that I get to do it it’s amazing,” she said. “I love what it does to the silhouette of my body. It has given me better posture for the first time in my life.” She quickly added with a laugh, “I don’t love what it does to my intestines, but hey, what are you going to do?”
Caplan felt proud to play a “strong, independent” woman and is especially pleased when it’s women that approach her to compliment her performance.
“I always appreciate it ten times more when a woman, especially a smart woman, says that,” said Caplan. “Of course, I only play a woman who has to juggle things in her life. I, quite honestly, have this show and that’s it. I find it difficult even just juggling going home and getting a proper night’s sleep, so if I were to add kids to the mix I’d probably have a nervous breakdown.”