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TCAs: Showtime talks 'Masters of Sex'

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

Beverly Hill -- This fall Showtime will launch a new series based on the distinguished biography of sex researchers William Masters and Virginia Johnson by veteran Newsday investigative reporter, Thomas Maier, but yesterday, critics here got a first look at the cast that will front this intriguing newcomer, notably Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan.

Both had much to say about their roles (see below), but let's step back to see what Maier had to say about his sudden entry into the world of Hollywood. While Tom was not on the panel yesterday, his presence was very much felt, as showrunners Sarah Timberman and Michelle Ashford cited the book as both primary source and inspiration, from which they do not deviate or embellish.

Per Ashford, "Their story is fascinating and we had a biography to work from, Thomas Maier’s book, and so we’ve stuck to the facts very carefully. Certainly, the research, we’ve fudged none of that. We’ve established some characters. But their lives were so complicated and interesting, we’ve had to establish very little, actually."  They added that his assistance has been essential because Maier is the only journalist to have talked with Johnson, who died last week at the age of 88. He is, they say, very much the conduit to this central character on the show.

In a new edition of his book, distributed here yesterday, Maier writes that "television is our most personal medium [and] it seemed the perfect canvas to capture both the audacity and nobility of Bill and Gini's work. In this series, there are indeed scenes of naked volunteers testing the boundaries of orgasm in the name of science. But there are also many moments of yearning and even desperation among sexually dysfunctional couples, most of them married, seeking Masters and Johnson's help in order to express themselves, intimately in communion with each other."

Meanwhile, here's Sheen, talking about his role in the series:

"What I think we found in doing the show and that I found in life generally is that the more you try to separate sex from everything else, it’s impossible. You can’t. The more, you know Bill tries to make it very compartmentalized.

Virginia says, “Look, you can’t separate attraction from sex,” you know, the idea of the objective observer, that somehow the scientist has no effect on what is being observed, you know, quantum physics toward us. That’s not true.

The act of observation affects the actual experiment, and we see that in this. Here is a man who desperately wants to keep it simple and black and white, and sex is sex, and it’s not anything to do with anything else.

The more he tries to hold onto that, the more messy his life becomes, the more everything starts to get involved, and everything gets out of control. It’s true that my experience of working on this show - even though there’s so much about sex and sexuality and we find out a lot of facts and statistics that are very interesting in their own right -- is that  I started talking about relationships more and the emotions and the difficulties and the challenges.

So I became far more open about that, which I think is probably an indication about the show itself, which is that the more you think that you are watching a show about sex, the more you ultimately are watching a show about the challenges of just connecting with human beings being intimate."

And Caplan:

"As soon as you become sexually active or as soon as you, like, go through puberty and you start noticing the opposite sex or the same sex, whatever you are into, I think that it becomes something that’s it’s a daily part of your life, whether you are having it, whether you are not having it.

And as a woman, I mean, not knowing much about Masters and Johnson, really anything about Masters and Johnson before getting involved with this project, I realize that the way I view my own sexuality, how fortunate I am to have been about raised in a household where questions were encouraged instead of judged.

The reason why I’m so enamored with the character of Virginia Johnson is because, in a way, she reminds me of my mother, which, what my mother did for me in being open and not judgmental you are not going to hell. You are not dirty for asking these questions Virginia Johnson did this for millions of women, for generations of women.

Really, sometimes all you need is somebody to tell you that there’s nothing wrong with you, that you are normal. And before Masters and Johnson, nobody was telling women that. It was always their fault [Beat...then another beat...] And that’s some bull----."

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