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'Masters of Sex': 13 things you didn't know

Michael Sheen as Dr. William Masters and Lizzy

Michael Sheen as Dr. William Masters and Lizzy Caplan as Virginia Johnson in Showtime's "Masters of Sex." (Credit: AP)

Friday we chatted with Thomas Maier, whose "Masters of Sex" book has been translated into a hit (and Golden Globe-nominated) Showtime series. Maier, an investigative reporter and 30-years-and-counting Newsday employee, released "Masters of Sex: The Life and Times of William Masters and Virginia Johnson, the Couple Who Taught America How to Love," in 2009 and is a show producer.

The "MOS" season one finale airs Sunday, and Maier says it ends in a way "that I have always argued would be the right way to end it." He expects "viewers will be very surprised with what happens between Masters and Johnson in the finale. It will raise a whole new set of questions about the future of their sex study, about Bill's professional reputation and about the emotional relationship between Bill and Ginny."

In anticipation of these big reveals about the show's pioneering sex researchers, Maier offers up insights about the cast, the show's Long Island connections and who the real Virginia imagined might portray her on screen.

1. The book evolved out of a Newsday article Maier did in 1994 on the day of Masters' retirement.

It was a short little article, but the story of Masters and Johnson stayed with me for over a decade," Maier says. "In 2006, I had the idea of coming back to Masters and Johnson. By then Masters was dead, but Virginia Johnson agreed to talk to me. She was 80 years old and talked about writing her own memoir but never did." 

2. John Madden, who directed the pilot, convinced Michael Sheen to take on the role of William Masters.

"Madden, who directed the Oscar-winner 'Shakespeare in Love,' was instrumental in convincing Sheen to play the role of Masters."

3. Michael Sheen "offered to shave his head for this show."

4. Actor Paul Bettany was originally slated to play Masters.

"The dynamic between the two stars, Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan, is essential to the show."

5. The real-life Virginia would have liked Joanne Woodward to play her in the story of her life.

"I once asked Virginia, if there was a movie made about her who would she like to see as the actress playing her. She said Joanne Newman and I realized she was talking about Joanne Woodward, who was the actress-wife of Paul Newman. I think if Virginia was still alive she would be deeply pleased by the show and particularly by the portrayal of Lizzy Caplan."

6. Of her relationship with William, Virginia said, "We were sexual athletes."

7. The character of  Dr. Lillian DePaul (played by Julianne Nicholson) is not based on a real person.

"Her character is primarily fictional. It's an invention of [executive producer] Michelle Ashford's. I think her role serves the purpose of helping to move the story along in several respects. It helps define the role of Johnson in the context of the medical world and it underlines that Johnson had no credentials and was often looked down upon by all the doctors."

8. The role of Barton Scully (Beau Bridges) is a composite of two characters in the book.

9. Bridges was the first "Masters" cast member to sign Maier's book.

"I think one of the daring aspects of the show is how Beau Bridges has been portrayed as a fully rounded man who is a closeted gay, who is living a lie in one sense and yet seems to be an all-American success story. This has never been portrayed on TV like that. I think Beau has been amazing. At age 72, with all of his accomplishments, to take on such a complicated role that is breaking so many taboos is extraordinary. He has my everlasting gratitude."

10. Parts of the pilot episode were filmed on LI.

"The opening scene in the pilot begins at the old home of Newsday's former owner [and co-founder], Harry Guggenheim in Sands Point. It was a blast to see the old home of the Newsday publisher portrayed in the show as Washington University in St. Louis.

11. The real-life Masters and Johnson relationship endured more than 30 years.

"It reflected so many of the changes of America from the time in the mid-'50s until essentially they broke up in 1991. We go from sexual innocence to the AIDS crisis."

12. Maier initially preferred that "Masters of Sex" be turned into a film.

"I was hellbent that the book would become a movie and my eyes were opened by the producers at Sony and by my own wise agent in L.A ., who said, 'You could bring a whole new depth and drama to the storytelling by telling it in a series over episodes in a number of years.' That point was solidified to me when they signed up Sheen to play Masters. … Ashford has great artistic ambitions. She deeply understands some of the deepest themes of what I addressed in my book."

13. Maier loves the show.

"What's astounding to me is how much the show has squeezed every scene and character and laugh and tear that's in the book and done it in the form of a television drama. I went into this open-eyed and have been part of the creative process. It has been one of the great joys of my career."

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