“I will never lose sympathy for him because I’m depicting someone who is fighting for his life,” says actor Michael Sheen regarding his character, real-life sex researcher William Masters, in Showtime’s “Masters of Sex.” He likens Masters’s story to the myth of the Minotaur, banished by his father to a labyrinth: “People are sent as punishment into the labyrinth and they come across this monster who just destroys them, and yet that monster is actually this child who has been abused by his father.” (Watch our complete video chat below.)
Masters too was abused. “The child in the man was taught cruelty by his father,” Sheen explains. “Someone who was supposed to protect him, support him, nurture him and care for him just meted cruelty out to him constantly.” As a result, the adult Masters lashes out cruelly against those around him, including his research partner and lover, Virginia Johnson (Lizzy Caplan), and his brother Frank (guest star Christian Borle), also a victim of their father’s abuse.
But “Masters of Sex” isn’t just the story of a monstrous man who preys on anyone who wanders into his lair: “One of the things I was most excited about and what I was drawn to in the character was the fact that we were looking at a man who was going to change so much through the course of the story.”
Masters and Johnson’s career and romance spanned decades in real life, so the series requires occasional leaps forward in the time line, one of which took place in the second-season episode “Asterion,” which advanced the story three years in a single hour.
“It was scary in some ways,” Sheen admits of the time jump. “When you put that much investment and ask for that much investment from the audience in terms of how the minutiae of things change, to then go, ‘Oh, and now it’s three years later’ … that was always going to be difficult … With season three, that will be happening as well. There’s a big jump that’s happened again between seasons rather than in the season this time.”
Season three, which premieres on July 12, moves the story forward to 1966, the year Masters and Johnson published their sex study. But will that lead the monster in Masters closer to finding his way out of the maze?
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