Extended Interview with Master of the Sexes, Lizzy Caplan

By Natalie Kurz
In Culture, Interviews

Actress Lizzy Caplan spills the naked truth about feminism, on-screen chemistry and what its really like to play a sex researcher on Showtimes hit series.

 

Much of Lizzy Caplan’s day revolves around watching people have “sex.” But underneath the sensationalistic premise of Showtime’s acclaimed series “Masters of Sex”—the true tale of sex researchers Dr. Bill Masters and Virginia Johnson set in the late 1950s at St. Louis’ Washington University—lies the show’s real heart. It’s a story of feminism. Something the 31-year-old Emmy nominee knows about firsthand. Growing up a tomboy, she always wanted to do what the boys were doing and was shocked when she was met with resistance. “As I grew older and matured, I was lucky enough to learn that the true power comes from being a woman,” Caplan told ALIVE during an interview following a day of shooting with co-star Michael Sheen for Season 2 of the hit show, which premiered July 13. Already garnering Emmy buzz for her captivating work as Johnson, the outspoken, feminist yin to Masters’ buttoned-up yang, Caplan has made a career out of portraying strong women (Amy in “True Blood,” Janis Ian in “Mean Girls” and Casey Klein in the Starz comedy “Party Down”). ALIVE caught up with the star to discuss everything from sexism and onscreen chemistry to her biggest guilty pleasure outside of her titillating Showtime role.

 

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ALIVE: Lots of people have asked you about filming the sex scenes. So we want to ask: What’s been the least sexy moment of filming thus far?
Lizzy Caplan: [Laughs] A lot of times those go hand in hand! There are so many non-sexy scenes in this show to shoot‰ÛÓso many heart-breaking, terrible moments.

ALIVE: Have you ever been to St. Louis?
LC: I have never had the pleasure. I was hoping we would shoot some exteriors in St. Louis, but we have yet to do that. We shoot all of them here [in LA], dressed up as St. Louis. We do a fairly good job of fooling people‰Û_unless you actually live in St. Louis.

ALIVE: Do you know if there are any plans to film in St. Louis for Season 2?
LC: Not in Season 2. I suppose in future seasons. I think that would be very fun if all of us got to go‰ÛÓmaybe if it incorporates some kind of Cardinals story line‰ÛÓI would love to go there.

ALIVE: Do you watch the show when it airs?
LC: It depends. I have a hard time watching myself, so I wouldn’t say it’s the most pleasant experience sitting down on Sunday night to watch it, but I do feel it’s important. And I’m so floored by the talent of the people surrounding me that whenever anyone else is on screen, I totally enjoy it. Then when I’m on screen, I just clench my teeth and get through it.

ALIVE: Why is that?
LC: In the same way people freak out when they hear their own voice…I’ve been doing this long enough that I don’t totally fixate on the weird things my face does‰ÛÓI think I’m beyond that.

ALIVE: You’ve had your share of steamy scenes. Who do you have the best natural chemistry with?
LC: I find what’s been called for chemistry-wise has been very different. I remember Adam Scott and me bonding very deeply during “Party Down.” So that felt very authentic to me. Working with Michael [Sheen] feels authentic, but in a completely different way. The relationship between Virginia and Masters is so complicated, so multi-layered, and mixed with so much aggression, animosity, passive-aggressiveness and 900 other emotions at all times. So it’s hard to even compare them, let alone pick a favorite. I’m fortunate to be paired with many men who are game. And you have to be game.

ALIVE: You have a penchant for playing strong, smart women on film. Is that how you see yourself in real life?
LC: I like to see myself that way. I think that I am. I have moments of total low self-esteem and not feeling particularly strong. I was raised in such a way where [self-esteem] was always a priority, especially as a woman. There was no reason to be anything other than strong or to ever downplay it. That really shaped who I was.

ALIVE: Much of Virginia’s struggle in “Masters of Sex” is centered around balancing work and family. Now, women are kind of expected to do it all. Do you think that makes it harder for women today?
LC: Virginia struggles to reject the expectation that a woman should just be at home. She definitely suffers from the feeling that I’ve heard many women today discuss, which is that you feel you’re blowing it in all areas rather than excelling in any area. The discussion of whether women can have it all feels like it’s reaching a fever pitch now. But we’re living in an exciting time when what’s expected from the genders is shifting on a massive level. And I feel fortunate to be on the frontlines of that rather than on the frontlines in the 1950s. My mother was by far the strongest woman I’ve ever known and stayed home and raised three kids and then went back to work. She was highly educated and highly ambitious. And the fact that she chose to stay home and raise kids for any period of her life when other opportunities were readily available to her speaks to her strength as well. Women who choose to stay home with their kids have such an exhausting job and that job is not less or more hard than going out into the workforce.

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ALIVE: Are there any roles that you are dying to play?
LC: There are so many. I’m still very interested in doing a huge action thing. I think that would be wonderful.

ALIVE: What about an all-female action movie that fuses action with feminism?
LC:
That would be amazing. By the way, it’s been a while. Kill Bill had some many great female action scenes. We should make that movie that Uma Thurman talks about in Pulp Fiction, Fox Force Five.

ALIVE: Do you have any guilty pleasures?
LC: I watch a lot of reality television. Like a lot.

ALIVE: Really? What are your favorite shows?
LC: “The Real Housewives.” I don’t watch Miami‰ÛÓthe rest of them I devour. I find it like McDonald’s for your brain. But it’s getting depressing. I get up at 3am and work all day and go home and learn my lines and have about 25 minutes left of consciousness, and I sit and watch “Real Housewives,” then go to sleep. But it’s so mindless. It really helps me shut off my brain. I owe it a lot.

ALIVE: It’s escapism. It’s turning your brain off, as you said.
LC: It totally is. And it’s hilarious. I see it more as a social experiment really. You take people who are somewhat normal and living lives out of the spotlight and you make them famous and watch everything fall apart. It’s gladiator sports seeing these people lose everything just for fame.

ALIVE: If they were going to make a TV version of your life, who would you want to play you?
LC: That’s impossible! Can I play myself? Is that super egomaniacal? I wouldn’t trust anyone else with the range.

 

Photo credit: Maarten De Boer/SAGF/CONTOUR by Getty Images

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