As to why he got into bed with “Masters of Sex,” his first TV series, Michael Sheen tells Gold Derby in the video chat below there are “more interesting things going on in television in America than there possibly is in any other medium. So it was exciting to feel like maybe I could be a part of that.”
And his co-star Lizzy Caplan agree during her own video chat (also below): “Cable television is as compelling, if not more compelling, as the best movies that they are making right now … It feels like one long film and you get to tell a story that happens to be twelve hours long.”
Caplan calls this her “dream job” because she’s “working with the same character, but given more opportunities to show different sides of her. ” Sheen finds this ideal for playing sex researcher Bill Masters who is “so opaque for an audience to begin with,” as it allows for gradual developments and tells “the story over a much longer period of time … This character suited this medium and I think suited me in an exciting way … It’s closer to literature than it is to film in some ways because you do have that larger canvas.”
Part of this character development was understanding the drive behind Bill’s passion for sexual research. As Sheen explains, “he’s fine with the conscious needs that it answers – the ambition, achievement – but he’s not really fine with the unconscious needs that it answers which is, challenges with vulnerably, intimacy and his emotional self.” Bill’s assistant “Virginia [played by Caplan] obviously comes into that as well, in that he has the same kind of conflict with her.” Caplan explains the characters relationship: “at first glance it seems like he holds all the cards … he calls the shots; but as soon as she does start undertaking the research with him, she makes herself nearly impossible to replace.”
This research involves Bill and Virginia engaging in sex, which has broader ramifications for their character developments and dynamics. For Caplan, “I never saw Virginia using the sex part as a power play over Bill but… as something that solidified her standing in the partnership… He knows pretty early on that he could not do this without her, and she’s aware of that too.” This is hard for Bill who, Sheen says, has the “overwhelming drive to succeed, to kind of conquer and control… There’s something about this character of Virginia that… kind of calls to something deep and buried inside… How much he answers that call… and resists it is what makes him, I think, interesting.” Caplan concurs: “Michael [Sheen] and I talked a lot about wanting to keep those lines very very blurry about who has the power. Because I think the power shifts rapidly even in each episode… they refuse to be on the same page with the intimacy that comes along with it.”
Caplan understands that this blurring of the lines shows that although “at first blush it appears that our show is purely about sex” there is a deeper meaning that “even when you set out to keep it very very separate from emotional attachment and love it’s impossible, and it becomes very very messy for humans.” And Sheen thinks this has exciting ramification for Bill who “feels safe by compartmentalising his life” because of his “desire to keep control of your environment and yourself and your relationships… The difficulty with that is that life doesn’t stay like that… something comes into that world that upsets the balance.”
After watching the two videos below, be sure to vote for Best TV Drama at the Golden Globes.