So much for Lizzy Caplan's fears of being typecast as a comedic actress. Because in advance of the Season 2 premiere of "Masters of Sex" this Sunday, the former "Mean Girls" star was rewarded with her first-ever Emmy nomination (for Lead Actress in a Drama Series) for her role as one half of the real-life sex research pioneers William Masters and Virginia Johnson. Talk about perfect timing.
This season sees Caplan's Johnson and Michael Sheen's Masters dealing with the fallout from the first presentation of their findings, with Masters having been fired from the hospital and Johnson taking a job with Dr. Lillian DePaul (Julianne Nicholson).
On the heels of her big nomination and with the "Masters of Sex" Season 2 premiere coming up, HuffPost Canada TV spoke to a pleasantly surprised Caplan to see how she was processing the news, as well as what fans have to look forward to in the critically-acclaimed show's second season.
HuffPost Canada TV: First of all, congratulations on the Emmy nomination. How are you feeling right now?
Lizzy Caplan: Thank you so much! I'm feeling pretty shocked and extremely excited. And happy. It's a lot going on in the old brain right now.
So how do you like your chances?
[Laughs] Oh man, I'm not even there yet. I'm just trying to enjoy this part for a little bit before getting into the business of wondering who's going to actually win. I always thought when actors and actresses got nominated for stuff, and they said it's just an honour to be nominated, that they were full of shit, but I can safely say it really is just an honour to be nominated. I don't even care about who wins.
What'd you see in this role that initially drew you to it? It's quite different from others you've done before.
Well, I generally was more drawn towards comedic roles, but there was something about this script that I found so deeply fascinating, specifically the character of Virginia. To have the opportunity to play somebody so layered and so nuanced, it's an opportunity that doesn't come around all that often for an actress, and certainly not for a comedic actress. So I knew that it was a role that I wanted to fight very, very hard to get. Although I didn't really think my chances of getting it were all that great.
Did you have any initial reservations because of that?
I absolutely had reservations; it was something that I had never done before. And I've been told for the majority of my career that my sensibilities are much more "modern" than period. So I had a lot of doubts as to whether or not the producers would be able to see me in the role, and then after they saw me in the role, I had a lot of doubts as to whether or not the public would be able to see me in that time period.
So how closely did the first season follow the real life story of Masters and Johnson, and will the second season do the same, or are you starting to take more liberties with it?
Pretty closely in the first season. Their real life story is so fascinating that there's not a lot of need for tinkering. We definitely added some new characters that were not in the book, and there are small things that helped the narrative of the show that weren't historically accurate. For example, by the time Masters and Johnson met each other, he already had two children with his wife. But they did struggle with fertility issues, so we wanted to incorporate that into the narrative of the show. And so, in the first season, you see them struggling with those fertility issues when he meets Virginia instead of already being a father of two. But as far as the two of them, how they met, that's all very accurate.
And then as we get into Season 2 and in the future seasons, there's still so much left unsaid. It's not a very well-documented love story at all. The source material is really one book, "Masters of Sex" by Thomas Maier, and it's all Virginia's points of view, as well as other doctors and other people who knew them. We don't get Masters' points of view because he had already passed away by the time the book was written, so there are a lot of ambiguities that we can take advantage of. Even though it's from the perspective of a person who was there, at the time of the book, she was 80 years old, and hindsight is not the same thing as how you're feeling about situations and relationships in the moment.
Your showrunner Michelle Ashford has said that Season 2 is a different animal than Season 1. Would you agree with that? And in what ways is it different?
Season 2 absolutely is a different animal from Season 1; I believe that it had to be. All of the foundations that we established in Season 1 have led to some pretty serious consequences, consequences that we begin to delve into in Season 2. These are no longer two strangers who are working together; these are two people in a relationship, not a straightforward romantic relationship, not a straightforward love relationship, but certainly a relationship. These are two people who are intrinsically tied together, and how they figure that out will hopefully be fascinating for many, many seasons to come. It's very important for us on our show to not ever be telling just a straight love story, because that was not the true story of these two people. Masters and Johnson had very conflicting feelings about one another over the next X amount of decades until they both passed away. And we want to keep that ambiguity and that confusion forever present in the show. And I think in Season 2, that's certainly what we're striving to do. Hopefully people agree that we've done a good job in doing it.
What kind of feedback have you gotten on the show so far, from your friends and family, for instance?
My family has been unbelievably, wonderfully, beautifully supportive my whole career, but they really are rallying behind this show, they love it. They have their own methods for getting through the parts that are difficult to watch. In fact, in Season 1, because there was such a time gap between when we finished shooting and when the show aired, they provided my family with special edits that cut out all of my nude scenes and sex scenes, but kept everything else in there. They will not be getting those edits this year because our show starts airing right away. [Laughs] I know that they have their own ways of getting through it. We don't really talk too much about that stuff, but it has not gotten in the way of their ability to be very, very proud and very supportive.
What about just from people on the street?
Women on the street, especially -- well, I'd say women across the board -- but I've gotten into the most interesting conversations with middle-aged women and older women. If I'm out in the world, people don't want to just come up to me and ask me about what it's like to be on a TV show, they want to get into real and interesting conversations about sexuality, and the '50s and feminism, and what it means to be a feminist hero like Virginia was. And these conversations have been endlessly interesting. I think that I'm extraordinarily lucky to be able to have meaningful talks with strangers on the street, rather than the normal "Oh, you just see an actor you recognize from TV."
Would you say you're more comfortable now having that first season under your belt, especially with things like the sex scenes?
It's gotten progressively easier, and it wasn't all that difficult to begin with on this show. I feel that every one of these sex scenes is 100 percent justified in moving the story forward. All of them are used as tools in the narrative, not sex scenes for the sake of sex scenes. I have the most capable, caring and charismatic scene partner I could possibly ask for in Michael Sheen, and the story we're trying to tell happens beyond the nudity. The nudity is not the story and both of us completely understand that, and we also know the job that we were hired to do and the people we were hired to play. What the real Masters and Johnson did was so incredible. Our job is to just portray it. They had the real hard jobs; we have the much easier job of being beautifully lit on a television set as we tell their story. And so I think we owe it to them to do this job to the best of our abilities and not be squeamish about it. And luckily, neither one of us is particularly squeamish about it.
For all the attention your scenes with Michael Sheen get, it seems like the ones you share with Julianne Nicholson are every bit as crucial to the show's success too. Does the relationship between Virginia and Lillian deepen even more this season?
That is one of my very, very favourite parts of the first season, but especially the second season. It truly is a testament to the strength of our writers and honestly, the fact that our writers are primarily women. And our show creator is a woman. The care given to developing this female friendship, which we refer to as a love story, it's a friendship, but it truly is crafted as a love story.
It's so complex and nuanced and they go through as many ups and downs in their relationship as Virginia goes through with Bill. I think it's a very, very important story to tell and you see these two women really fall in love with each other and really hold each other up in a way that I don't think is represented as much as it should be on other television shows. Besides that, Julianne Nicholson is absolutely somebody who has upped my game and made me a far, far better actress, or certainly made me work harder to be a better actress because she raises the bar so high. I cannot say enough great things about her. I think she's a truly spectacular actress.
"Masters Of Sex" Season 2 starts on Sunday, July 13 at 10 p.m. ET on Showtime in the U.S. and The Movie Network in Canada.