Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

It's complicated

No happily-ever-afters for Masters and Johnson in sex-focused series' second season

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When last we saw sex researchers William Masters and Virginia Johnson, they were sharing a moment straight out of a romantic comedy: It was raining. Bill had just arrived at Virginia's place. She opened the door. And he declared he couldn't live without her.

It was a sweet ending for Season 1 of the Showtime drama.

So Season 2 (Sunday, Movie Central, check listings for times) kicks off with Masters and Johnson happily in love with each other?

"Hardly," says executive producer Michelle Ashford. While much is known about the real-life careers and events in the lives of Masters and Johnson, Ashford says the series is creating much of the emotion and chemistry that sizzled -- and fizzled -- between the two.

"One thing we know for sure: They didn't spend a ton of time in any kind of romantic, blissful state," says Ashford. "They were a very curious couple. It becomes clear that they were never in the same spot emotionally at the same time. If one had just said, 'I love you and you love me; let's go forward happily,' the story would have been very different. They were very complicated."

One fallout of the complicated couple is that this season, which features new stars including Sarah Silverman, Courtney B. Vance, Keke Palmer and Danny Huston, might offer less sex.

Less sex?

"Someone on our crew said, 'I think there is less sex this year,'" says Ashford, who concedes the crew would know since they have to stand all day and watch it.

Michael Sheen, who plays Bill Masters, says, "From my point of view, we see more. We certainly start to have more focus on what's happening between him and Virginia."

Lizzy Caplan, who plays Virginia Johnson, says it was easier to get into the "mind-set" of her character with a season under her belt, so to speak.

In "Season 1 we were figuring out who these people were, who we wanted them to be onscreen. Second season, even though there was almost a year between, it was easier to switch back into that mode."

But getting naked is never a breeze. "I feel as comfortable as a person can feel doing something so strange," says the actress. "There was only one moment this season where I was in my trailer thinking, "I just don't want to do this. I want to run away." It wasn't like I was hanging upside down from the ceiling. It was just fear. And I know I have to do it, and it's the safest possible environment. I let it pass and got it done."

Because Masters was kicked out of his hospital in the first season, his career is in flux, and that also affects their relationship, as she relies on being part of his work.

"Things get rough for Virginia," says Caplan. "The relationship between Bill and Virginia gets a whole lot darker. These are two people who really get to know the depths of each other in ways that nobody knows. He shares with Virginia stuff nobody has ever heard come out of his mouth before. They come tangled up with each other, and sometimes it's lovely and sometimes it's not."

While Masters is finding his way in the professional world, single mom Johnson has to bide her time. "She's a survivor, a bit of a cockroach, if you will," says Caplan. "Virginia is always setting up backup plans for herself." Some of those plans revolve around the story line between cancer-stricken Dr. Lillian DePaul (Julianne Nicholson). "It gets brutal," says Caplan, adding that those scenes are some of her favourites this season in a job she loves.

"I'm beyond happy," she says. "Happy doesn't even begin to describe it. I recognize daily how lucky I am that I'm a comedy actress that got a shot at a real dramatic role on a show that's rich and complex. The pinch-me moment has yet to wear off."

And maybe it won't for many years.

Season 2 covers 1958 into 1961, the beginnings of the sexual revolution. Masters and Johnson didn't marry until 1971. "Our show is going to change a lot every year," says Ashford. "It's because their lives changed very radically."

-- USA Today

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 12, 2014 G1

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