On the sexual frontier
Martin Sheen and Lizzy Caplan. Picture: Showtime

From her breakout role as a self- hating teen in the comedy flick Mean Girls to starring as a vampire-blood addict in the cult vampire series True Blood then a wannabe actress in the comedy series Party Down, it's safe to say Lizzy Caplan is quite the chameleon actress.

But the role that has most recently garnered her global attention is that of real-life sex pioneer, Virginia Johnson, in Showtime's compelling drama, Masters of Sex.

Hollywood also took notice, with Caplan nominated for her first Emmy this year.

Despite all the buzz, Caplan admits she was filled with trepidation ahead of filming the show's first season, which received rave reviews last year from even the toughest of critics.

"I had a lot of doubts as to whether or not the producers would be able to see me in the role," Caplan said during a recent press call in Los Angeles. "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."

Nonetheless, Caplan has embraced the many challenges that have come with playing Johnson, a divorcee and mother of two who was professionally and intimately involved with respected gynaecologist Dr William Masters (played by Welsh actor Michael Sheen, who has also been nominated for an Emmy). The pair helped ignite a sexual revolution in the 1950s with their joint study, Human Sexual Response.

Season two picks up from the cliff-hanger scenes that closed the first - Bill professes his love for Virginia and tells her he can't do without her and that she is an equal partner in his study.

His admission comes in the wake of his sacking from the hospital following his disastrous presentation on his sex study, from which Virginia had earlier resigned.

Bill has not taken his dismissal lightly and is also struggling to cope with fatherhood, seemingly disinterested in his newborn son.

Meanwhile, rumours abound that Virginia was among the women featured in the sex footage in Bill's presentation, and as a result she is facing scrutiny from her colleagues.

"One of Virginia's number one characteristics that everybody talks about . . . was she possessed this charisma, this sex appeal, this magnetism that everybody responded to. And to me that's the most impressive part about her," Caplan says of her character.

"So she was known as this extraordinarily sexy woman and in many situations that's not seen as an asset at all.

"Other women have been distrustful of her. Men tend to take advantage of her. But she found the one man and the one job that celebrated those strengths in her, her ease with . . . which she moved through the world of sexuality and . . . the level of comfort she had with sex and her own body."

Sex scenes and nudity are integral to Masters of Sex but the series has been lauded by critics for its tactful approach.

"I feel very safe walking into those scenes," Caplan said.

"And most importantly I have yet to feel that one nude scene or sex scene in our show is gratuitous or unnecessary and if I did think it was I would absolutely say something and it would be a conversation."

Asked what fans can expect in season two, Caplan said it would further re-explore Bill and Virginia's bond and how their work-sex dynamic has evolved now that Bill has revealed his true feelings.

"These are two people in a relationship," Caplan says. "Not a straightforward romantic relationship but certainly a relationship. 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."

The West Australian

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