When Showtime’s award-winning MASTERS OF SEX returns for its third season on Sunday, July 12 at 10 PM, there are some changes. We’re out of the uptight 1950s and into swinging 1966. No longer toiling in obscurity and persecution, real-life sex researchers Dr. William Masters (Michael Sheen) and Virginia Johnson (Lizzy Caplan) are now becoming increasingly famous for their groundbreaking work. At home, things are opening up as well. Masters’ wife Libby, played by Caitlin FitzGerald, has come to accept Johnson as part of the family – in every way. Allison Janney and Beau Bridges have just been announced as Emmy nominees for their performances as, respectively Margaret Scully and Barton Scully. Bridges was similarly nominated last year for his work as Masters’ closeted gay mentor, while Janney won for her turn as the doctor’s loving but devastated wife
MASTERS OF SEX creator (working from Thomas Maier’s nonfiction book)/show runner/executive producer Michelle Ashford and actress FitzGerald sit down for some questions about last year’s season and where they’re going this year.
ASSIGNMENT X: Is there an episode you’re particularly proud of?
MICHELLE ASHFORD: I can’t ever answer those questions, because it’s like a Sophie’s Choice for me and I feel like I’m picking out one over the other. I feel like we had to make some weird time jumps and I feel like we were ambitious and I’m glad we did that. I’m glad our stories remained really human. I feel like they did. Sometimes they got very, very internal about people’s psyches and what was coming up, but I feel like we’re telling very human stories, and I’m proud of that.
AX: There was a time jump in the middle of Season 2. Reportedly, originally the season was going to open several years after Season 1, but instead it began seconds after the Season 1 finale. Did you change your mind about where to put the second season time jump?
ASHFORD: I did. I was going to do it at the beginning of the season, and I changed my mind because – it was just talking to people really, and they said, “If you don’t show us what happened after that door step [where Masters confessed his feelings to Johnson], we’re going to be really pissed off.”
AX: But with the start of Season 3, you do make a big time jump …
ASHFORD: Yes. We jump ahead to 1966. The sexual revolution is well underway. That was the year that N.O.W. [the National Organization for Women] was founded.
CAITLIN FITZGERALD: Can I finally get out of that girdle [laughs]?
ASHFORD: You may get out of that girdle, my friend. Yeah, we may take our girls out of their girdles, finally. So we’re in it, we’re in the thick of it.’66 is us. And it’s funny, they were talking about, that means that the kids have aged and we actually have a very provocative story coming with Virginia’s daughter, who is now sixteen.
AX: So different actors are playing the kids?
ASHFORD: Yes. We have new actors.
FITZGERALD: For everybody’s kids.
AX: Are you looking forward to those cool polyester fashions?
FITZGERALD: I had a pre-pre-fitting with [costume designer] Ann [Crabtree] at the end of last season, and we, just like girls, got really giggly with all the silver and bright pink stuff.
ASHFORD: It’s beautiful stuff, actually.
AX: Didn’t Masters and Johnson’s first book come out in 1966?
ASHFORD: That’s why we set it there. Their lives are changing a lot, because they now have just published this book.
AX: Given the time jump, will we see the fallout of things that happened last season – the ramifications of Bill’s lie, the affair and other story elements?
ASHFORD: We do see that. But one of the fun things to play with is, what would happen five years later? What would be the effects of these things that we left hanging? And all of our characters are affected by how we left them. I can’t really say more than that, because it would be a spoiler.
AX: Given that you’re jumping ahead a few years, is anybody being made to look a little bit older, or is that dramatic license?
ASHFORD: If we have a long life here, I don’t think five years is so much – I don’t think anybody on MAD MEN has aged a whit in ten years – but if we keep going, we’re really going to have to address this. I don’t think you’ll see a marked difference.
AX: It seems like Michael Sheen had a little more silver in his hair …
ASHFORD: That’s natural [laughs]. That was not in the makeup trailer.
AX: Why so many time jumps forward?
ASHFORD: Well, you have to look at our show as a really curious piece, because if you look at the span of [Masters and Johnson’s] work, it was a good thirty years. That’s a long time. I don’t really know of other shows – I guess someone was just telling me that DOWNTON ABBEY moves pretty far, but we’re going to have to move far. What it means is, we’re just going to move faster than other shows move. Now, once we’ve hit 1966, that’s a pretty delicious spell, so we may stay in the Sixties for a bit.
AX: Is Teddy Sears coming back as Dr. Austin Langham, and if he is, was it a challenge to figure out, “How do we get him back into the main story?”
ASHFORD: We are working on that right now. We made a terrible error with Teddy in not making him an OB-GYN. We made him a bone doctor and now we’re like, “Wow, hard to keep a bone doctor in the picture.” But we love Teddy and he’ll be back.
AX: Will your Emmy nominees Allison Janney and Beau Bridges be back this season?
ASHFORD: You will see them for sure.
AX: Will we maybe see more of Beau Bridges than Allison Janney, since he’s not on another show right now, but she’s still doing her Emmy-winning role on MOM over on CBS?
ASHFORD: Well, we do have those practical considerations to factor in, that’s true. He doesn’t have a show and she does, but they’re both really committed to coming back and we love them. Plus, it’s so much fun to see characters change over time. And then they come back through these worlds, and you go, “Oh, that’s what happened to them, that’s interesting.”
AX: It’s great that they’ve been nominated for Emmys again, but it seems like MASTERS OF SEX should have been nominated in a lot of other categories as well. Do you feel that awards make that much difference? It doesn’t seem like your audience cares, in terms of whether they still watch and love the show …
ASHFORD: I don’t know if they care either. I think the only thing it matters is for all the people who are working really hard. I think it makes you feel great when they’re recognized, so I think it’s more for morale more than anything. Because I agree, I don’t think – the audience who loves us, they love us and that’s not going to change. Here’s the thing. We have to evaluate this and see what we’re comfortable with. We’re not gross publicity hogs, so we have to do what we feel comfortable with. On the other hand, how do you rise out of the pack when there’s so much competition now for attention? So that’s a very uncomfortable question. What I can take solace in is that I’m in charge of all these incredibly talented people who deserve to be recognized. So I think to do nothing is actually not right. I feel like I’m actually not serving all the people who worked so hard.
AX: In a lot of shows that deal with sex, women are not shown as particularly wanting sex, even on shows where they’re shown walking around naked in the background to sort of visually liven up a dialogue scene. Do you feel MASTERS OF SEX is unusual in that regard?
ASHFORD: Well, here’s the thing – this is why you can’t beat up men too much about this. They have their own filter. And how much time are they really thinking about the interior life of women, the way women are living it? So it’s just not a default setting for them to think, “I’m going to immediately [try to imagine what a woman might think of this] …” It’s just not where their interest is, because their interest is of course toward their pain, their life as a man. And it is true, if you listen to men, a lot of times, it’s “I’m not getting laid enough.” Who knows what the complicated nature of that is, but men are just having a different filter.
AX: It used to be said that Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did backwards and in high heels. Do you feel that as show runners you’re being asked to do that – in terms of envisioning both female and male points of view – or that you’re just doing it the way it ought to be done? Because you’re not writing very dimensional female characters and flat male characters.
ASHFORD: Exactly. Well, we’re doing it the only way we know how. First of all, as a writer, it’s a point of pride not to flatten anybody out. Which doesn’t mean I always succeed, but I wouldn’t do it to women and I wouldn’t do it to men. But then, I wouldn’t conceive of taking a scene and just putting nude women in it for distraction. I wouldn’t ever even think about it. It would never occur to me.
AX: You do have scenes where you have naked men walking around …
ASHFORD: People are a little bit on us – not a lot of people, but a few people said, “Why aren’t we seeing more naked men?”
AX: Is there a particular demographic saying that?
ASHFORD: Okay, now I’m really telling tales out of school – it was Michael who said, “Hey, if you’re going to show this much female nudity, where’s the guys?” And I said, “Drop your pants.” And he was like, “Well, not me. I have a daughter.”
FITZGERALD: And I have a grandfather, who I forgot to warn about the last two episodes of the show [with Fitzgerald as Libby having sex].
AX: Was he upset?
FITZGERALD: He’s a Presbyterian minister. And he was so gracious. And I think was really able to make the space between my character and myself.
AX: Can you say what you actually are wearing to avoid showing anything you don’t intend to show?
ASHFORD: It’s very fascinating, because I didn’t know this myself – [to FitzGerald] You’ve explained that thing that you have to wear, it’s like a diaper.
FITZGERALD: [laughs] Not quite. Sort of, though. There are many layers to it. And actually, by the time you’re done applying all the layers – and then they paint your whole body with makeup – and by the time you’re done, it actually feels like more than you wear to the beach sometimes. Kind of. But under that, there are two other things. One of them has a really catchy title of “no-toe.” [laughs] They sell them for the general public as well. And then over the no-toe goes something else, like a sticky thing, and then the sort of bizarre armored chastity belt. And once you put it on, it’s like, even when someone else is pressed up against you, you can’t really feel anything, actually.
AX: Do you have gender-specific dressers? That is, women dressers for women and male dressers for men?
FITZGERALD: My makeup artist, who did the application, is female, and she also did Jocko [Sims, who plays Libby’s lover Robert Franklin].
ASHFORD: Well, men have to wear literally socks.
FITZGERALD: They’re socks. With drawstrings at the top [laughs].
AX: Someone involved with another period show was talking about how important it was to find women with natural breasts, and also how difficult it was to find women with natural breasts in the film/TV industry.
ASHFORD: [laughs] Yes. When we cast, and we cast smaller roles for people who are coming in through the clinic, we always have to have someone in who does not have implants.
FITZGERALD: I have to say, some of the feedback I love the most that I get about our show is how refreshing it is to see all kinds of bodies get naked. So is there too much female nudity on television? Maybe, maybe not, but importantly, we need to see all kinds of bodies.
AX: What would you most like people to know about MASTERS OF SEX going into Season 3?
ASHFORD: We have a very exciting Season 3, 1966, and it is jam-packed. So come look.
This interview was conducted during Showtime’s presentation for the Television Critics Association.
LEAVE A COMMENT BELOW AND LET US KNOW WHAT YOU THINK!
Article Source: Assignment X
Article Interview: MASTERS OF SEX creator Michelle Ashford and actress Caitlin FitzGerald on Season 3