First there were the controversial and sensational Kinsey Reports — we saw the movie with Liam Neeson — on sexual behavior, with research conducted by interviewing thousands of individuals about their practices. But Kinsey was blown out of the water when William H. Masters and Virginia E. Johnson came along and actually conducted experiments using couples having sex.
The shock and outrage they experienced at the time will be examined in Showtime’s new series, “Masters of Sex,” which is a fictional behind-the-scenes presentation of how these two pioneers in human sexuality were actually able to chart human sexual response.
“Masters of Sex” Lizzy Caplan as Virginia Johnson, Caitlin Fitzgerald as Libby Masters, Nicholas D’Agosto as Ethan Haas, and Teddy Sears as Dr. Austin Langham, who was only too happy to volunteer to be a test subject in the early days of the research.
xfinityTV caught up with the cast and the producers of the new Showtime series to get the 411 on five things you will want to know about “Masters of Sex” before tuning into the series premiere this Sunday night, Sept. 29, at 10/9c on Showtime.
1. How accurate is what is portrayed in the series? “Masters of Sex” is based on the eponymous biography written by Thomas Maier, and the producers say that they are sticking to the facts as closely as possible. Plus Maier, who spent 10,000 hours interviewing Virginia Johnson prior to her death on July 24, 2013, has made himself available as a resource
“Their story is fascinating,” says executive producer Michelle Ashford. “Certainly, the research, we’ve fudged none of that. We’ve established some characters. But their lives were so complicated and interesting, we’ve had to establish very little, actually.”
2. Setting the tone. In terms of subject matter, “Masters of Sex” is breaking new ground as a series about real people and real events, while at the same time, featuring an abundance of nudity and sex, but not for prurient reasons, rather in the name of research. So, the right balance had to be found to keep the show interesting to the audience, but also convey that these experiments were not done for lascivious reasons, but for medical and gynecological studies.
“How you find a way of presenting all of these things that creates a kind of cohesive whole and doesn’t alienate the audience is tough,” Sheen says. “That’s a challenge. I think a lot of shows discover the tone through experimentation, through actually making it. Eventually, it starts to cohere. So I don’t think it’s necessarily something that any show gets absolutely bang on from the beginning. You find your way with the chemistry that there’s already. But, I think, tone is very, very important with this. My own take on it is that it has to come out of very believable, centered, bedded, real situations and characters bouncing off each other.”
Watch the Pilot Episode of “Masters of Sex” Early Online Here:
3. William H. Masters and Virginia E. Johnson, according to Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan. Michael Sheen: “William Masters was an OB/GYN surgeon, who was a fertility expert and a man who liked a lot of control in his life, and in our show, we see him struggle with trying to hold onto that sense of control when confronted by a woman who awakens something authentic within it.”
Lizzy Caplan: “I do feel like a lot of the women I’ve played leading up to this point have prepared me to play this woman, who, I think, is by far the most layered and by far the toughest. When I think about some of the stuff that I’ve done with other characters, I just have to multiply the intensity of it when placing it in this time period, in this part of the country, when she was not offered any sort of support for her more alternative decisions. Every decision she made resonated especially loudly for me.”
4. Getting naked. Initially, Masters was all about observing others having sex, but there comes a point in time, where he feels it is important for him to participate in his experiment. Of course, the ’60s was a different time in which men didn’t worry about six-packs, so Sheen took that into consideration when preparing for the role.
“Absolutely,” Sheen tells xfinityTV. “I personally have a problem when I watch shows or films, where I feel like the bodies you see are just not the bodies that people had at that point, or that that character would have. I think it’s important to not let personal vanity get in the way of authenticity, and it is very easy to fall into that, but the character needs to come first. The story needs to come first. It’s important for me personally. Anyway, that’s my excuse for why I don’t look very physically attractive in the film.”
5. Has filming “Masters of Sex” made the cast more open about sex in their own lives? Michael Sheen: “I never thought I would get used to having a naked woman in front of me masturbating with a glass dildo to the point where I would almost not notice that they were there doing it anymore — and that the conversation about dinner that night would be more interesting, but I actually broke that barrier in this show.”
Lizzy Caplan: “I think, as soon as you become sexually active, or as soon as you go through puberty and you start noticing the opposite sex or the same sex, whatever you are into, I think that it becomes a daily part of your life, whether you are having it, or not having it. As a woman … I realize that the way I view my own sexuality, how fortunate I am to have been raised in a household where questions were encouraged instead of judged. And the reason why I’m so enamored with the character of Virginia Johnson is because, in a way, she reminds me of my mother, what my mother did for me in being open and not judgmental: You’re not going to hell. You’re not dirty for asking these questions. Virginia Johnson did this for millions of women, for generations of women. And, really, sometimes all you need is somebody to tell you that there’s nothing wrong with you, that you are normal. Before Masters and Johnson, nobody was telling women that.”
Nicholas D’Agosto: “I didn’t know who they were. I had known of Kinsey because of the movie, but I didn’t know about their work. And I think that what’s most exciting to me is that these topics that felt very taboo to me growing up — everyone else has their own point of view — but I grew up in the middle of the middle of the country in a Catholic family, and a lot of this stuff ‑‑ although my parents were very funny and outlandish about this type of stuff more than maybe most — there were a lot of things that weren’t spoken about. I think that the exciting thing is that now there is a platform for conversation in a way that I’m not sure I’ve ever had before.”
6. Was Masters & Johnson’s work responsible for the sexual revolution? Before William Masters and Virginia Johnson came on the scene, sex was mostly a mystery. Their research — plus a few other factors such as the availability of the birth control pill — was arguably the spark that ignited the sexual revolution and formed the basis for most of what we know about human sexual behavior.
“I don’t think it’s a controversial thing to say that Masters and Johnson were almost singlehandedly responsible for moving towards the sexual revolution,” Sheen tells xfinityTV. “I think that’s what the show is about really. I think it’s a combination of elements; the fact that no one was talking about sex, no one had a forum to do that. You could also say that the revolution that happened in the country during the assassinations of many people [John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King], also allowed people to need an outlet in some way as well, to need to express themselves by having such an experience of death, to want to kind of hold on to life so much. I think it’s a truism to say that the closer you get to death the more you want to celebrate life.”
“Masters of Sex” premieres on Sunday, Sept. 29 at 10/9c on Showtime.