Michelle Ashford Q&A: ‘Masters of Sex’ creator
"In terms of understanding the biology of sex, Masters and Johnson did the world an enormous service, and also just talking about it so frankly was eye-opening and revolutionary," says Michelle Ashford, who created the Showtime drama "Masters of Sex," inspired by Thomas Maier's 2009 biography about the pioneering sex research of William Masters and Virginia Johnson.
There's so much story to tell about the lives and careers of Masters and Johnson (played by Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan) that one of the biggest challenges of the series is figuring out how to distill 30 years of material into an effective narrative, because "if we're going to really tell the whole story, we're not going to go 30 seasons. You have to start cutting this material up." That included an ambitious three-year time jump in the middle of season two. "It was an impossible episode to structure. It just about killed all of us," Ashford says of that challenging episode, titled "Asterion." "We're not going to do that again this season. Season three we are going a straight shot."
The third season, which premieres July 12, will cover another major turning point for Masters and Johnson. It "starts at the end of '65 and just goes straight into '66, the release of [their book 'Human Sexual Response'] and what happens as a result."
Ashford is also excited about the future for Dr. Masters himself as he continues to work through insecurities arising from his troubled childhood. He can be cold and aloof, but "he's a really fun character to watch because he's actually undergoing a remarkable transformation, and where he ends is kind of extraordinary."
As for Johnson, Ashford says she "was a woman really ahead of her time. It just was who she was naturally … She was really quite remarkable despite the fact that she would not want to be considered a feminist … but of course she was a complete feminist."
In the new season, we can also expect to see more of closeted provost Barton Scully (Beau Bridges) and his wife Margaret (Allison Janney). Both earned Emmy nominations for guest acting in 2013 – and Janney won. "What we're going to do is we're going to follow both of these people – Barton Scully in a more immediate way … and Margaret Scully because she's going on this incredible adventure of what does a woman do at that age, in that time when her life essentially blows up and she has to reinvent herself. We have some great stuff planned for both of them."