No matter the size of her roles, Lizzy Caplan has always made the most of them. Her varied resumé includes memorable turns in movies like Cloverfield, Mean Girls and 127 Hours, regular characters in The Class and Party Down and guest arcs on New Girl and The League—plus a provocative stint as an uninhibited V addict in the first season of True Blood. That gig may have prepared her for the nudity element, but no role has challenged Caplan like her current gig, playing sex researcher Virginia Johnson in the Showtime drama Masters of Sex—which just kicked off its second season—and she’s got an Emmy nomination to show for it. Not surprisingly, she has a lot to say about that honor, the show and, well, sex.
Congrats on your Emmy nomination. What was your reaction when you found out?
Total and utter surprise. I was not anticipating it at all. I was completely shocked. It’s amazing and very exciting although bittersweet as well. The show, the writing, the directing, Michael [Sheen] and Caitlin [FitzGerald] deserved to be nominated.
Nevertheless it’s something to be proud of.
Absolutely. I’m used to being proud of shows and fighting for them because the show is the underdog, and I was very comfortable in the position of underdog. So it’s strange to be part of a show that people are paying attention to while it’s still on the air instead of after it’s canceled and finding it online. I can do cult favorite like nobody’s business, but it’s nice to take a breather from that for a minute.
“The sex scenes have never been particularly uncomfortable. I’m asked to do some more challenging sex scenes in season two. I dare them to present me with a sex scene that I can’t tackle.”
How has the Masters and Johnson relationship evolved in season two?
It’s a lot darker. They’re starting to deal with the consequences of the groundwork that was laid in season one. At the beginning of the relationship Bill is the one that holds the reins, but it becomes obvious to both of them that this study would not exist if she was not a part of it and they were not a team. But he’s the one with the degrees and the money and the power and their power struggle is played out over the course of the next, hopefully many, seasons.
What do you think of Virginia? Do you like her?
It’s my job to be the custodian of her story in this show. My job is not to judge things that she does, rather it’s to justify them so I can play each moment authentically. Nobody’s the villain in her own story and even though Virginia does some questionable things, in her mind she’s justified every step of the way and it’s my job to find those justifications. Virginia is in this male dominated field and is comfortable with her sexuality and she’s not exactly welcomed by other women, so she gets it from both sides. She has ambitions and goals outside of being somebody’s wife and a stay-at-home mom. Gender inequality is not something that’s relegated to the Fifties. If anything, doing this show has pointed out how far we’ve left to go.
Have you become more comfortable with the sex scenes?
The sex scenes have never been particularly uncomfortable. I’m asked to do some more challenging sex scenes in season two. I dare them to present me with a sex scene that I can’t tackle.
What does the show say about sex, and our attitude towards it?
The show says many things about sex, that sex is complicated. It’s difficult to separate it from emotions and intimacy and love. And a lot of people, when keeping secrets around their sexuality or who are not armed with knowledge, end up suffering for it. You can watch our show and think we’re making a comment on how far we’ve come since the 1950s, but if you actually pay attention it’s saying quite the opposite. We have a lot further to go. If you’re a man who is promiscuous you’re treated one way and if you’re a woman who’s promiscuous you’re treated the opposite way. These are old ideas and they’re still around.
Has it taught you anything about sexuality?
It’s taught me a lot about people’s attitudes toward their own sexuality and my own attitudes toward other people’s sexuality. The moment you become sexually active you’re struggling to figure out what your sexual identity is. It defines you more than a lot of people would care to admit. Putting judgment on people is probably the most dangerous thing you can do, especially young people who are trying to figure out what their sexual identities are.
Sheen as William H. Masters finds Caplan as Virginia E. Johnson impossible to resist. Can you blame him?
What to you is sexy, and what makes you feel sexy?
Sexy in a man? Confidence. I know that’s so boring and lame, but I’ve met a lot of guys who aren’t confident, especially in the face of a girl who takes her clothes off on a television show. So confidence is key, in both genders. I have to fake sexiness and confidence as my job and I’ll say the two go hand in hand. If you can convince yourself that you’ve got it going on, then other people will think you’ve got it going on. If I can be capable of acting sexy in front of nine strangers every day—our pared-down crew—it becomes easier to pull it off in real life.
You did a lot of comedy before. Do people take you more seriously now that you’re in a drama?
They kind of do. It’s strange. I don’t take myself seriously but they do. I’m still figuring out what it means to be a dramatic actress. I still feel like a fraud. I’m not sure if that feeling ever goes away. But I’m certainly being taken seriously when it comes to being considered for other dramatic roles, which was a concept that seemed completely foreign to me a couple of years ago.
Of course you’re too busy now to take them.
Yes. We work really long hours and this job has taken a lot out of all of us. But look, I’m not working in a coal mine. I remain an extraordinarily lucky human being to do this for a living.
But you did make a movie, a comedy, between seasons.
Yes, The Interview. It will be out in October.
With James Franco and Seth Rogen—a reunion for you.
I worked with both of those guys in Freaks and Geeks; it was my first job when I was 15. The movie is pretty wild. It’s a very broad comedy, not rooted in any sort of reality. Seth and James play the two biggest morons on the face of the earth who are dispatched to go do this deed. I’m the CIA agent who hires these two nimrods to assassinate Kim Jong-un. It’s definitely ridiculous. I think it will do very well.
Any word on the rumored Party Down movie?
No news, but the answer will always remain the same for me. I would love to do it and I think I speak for everybody when I say we all want to, but everybody is busy now, which is great, but not for the Party Down movie.