This may sound premature but Showtime's Masters of Sex is the most exciting new show of fall 2013. Telling the true story of pioneering sex researchers William Masters (played by Welsh actor Michael Sheen) and his partner Virginia Johnson (played by Party Down's Lizzy Caplan), this hour-long drama opens in 1956, satisfying your craving for Mad Men-esque art direction. But the series, created by Michelle Ashford, doesn't fit into any of the neat TV boxes.
It isn't an antihero show. There are no cops, there are no drugs. But there is sex—only it's not there to put butts in seats. It's not there to just titillate. Sex is the subject of the show, and it's serious about its subject.
Nicholas D'Agosto, who plays Ethan Haas, Masters's assistant, connected with Complex to shed light on how the show came about, what aspect of the series he's most excited for, and what it's like to finally make it after your eighth pilot.
As someone who has read T.C. Boyle's novel about Alfred Kinsey, The Inner Circle, and then became interested in Masters and Johnson, I'm excited about the show.
Masters starts getting into sex research a few years after Kinsey. When the show picks up in 1956, Virginia Johnson has just moved into the area, post-second divorce, and Masters is beginning to run into his final walls with studying conception. He's the leading OBGYN at the time, and Johnson becomes his secretary at Washington University in St. Louis.
I play Masters's protégé. He and I have very disparate personalities. My character, Ethan, is an amalgamation of two true-life characters. There is a lot of biographical leeway with me, which makes it fun. It serves my interests as an actor because the character can move from one area to another. He kind of represents a love interest that Johnson had at the time, and also this young doctor who was working under Masters. When the show opens, I’m just becoming aware of what Masters is doing behind-the-scenes: investigating how women achieve orgasm to gain insight into conception.
Masters and Ethan vie for Johnson’s affections, and then there's a kind of pissing contest between me and Masters professionally.
How did you get involved with the project?
I was one of the first people, outside of the leads, to be cast. In fact, I was the first person outside of the leads to be cast. That was November of 2011, I think. We shot the pilot from February to March in 2012. We were picked up this summer, but then they didn’t start shooting the subsequent eleven episodes until just this year.
That's a long gestation period.
Gestation is exactly the word I’m looking for. It’s been worth it. This was my eighth pilot. None of the previous seven had gone to series for me. The minute I heard that this one had been picked up, I thought, "Take as much time as you need guys. I’ve waited nine years, so waiting another year is not going to be a problem."
When I found this out, I was about to board a plane to Hong Kong from Malaysia. I had just taken a three-week trip with some buddies of mine throughout Laos and Maylasia. I went in to get wi-fi at the little hostel we were staying at, and as I’m just about to leave for the airport, I get the flood of texts and emails saying it’s officially going to series. It was the strangest, most surreal thing to have just raveled in that part of the world, and be in that mindset, and learn that your show's been picked up.
How does it feel now that the show will premiere soon?
This show is a dream come true. The writers are exceptional, the directors, headed by people like John Madden and Michael Apted, are so accomplished and so talented. It's instantly obvious why they’re really fantastic directors, from an actor’s point of view, when you get to work with them. Although they have different points of view, they have different personalities, they both are equally as engaging, equally as inspiring. It’s such a joy to be exposed to that stuff. I’ve been working for a while to get to a place like this.
As told to Ross Scarano (@RossScarano)