Mad for It Man; TELEVISIONMichael Sheen Is Set to Sizzle in C4's Latest Imported American Series, Masters of Sex, about the Real-Life Geeky Gynaecologist Whose Risque Research with His Glamorous Lab Assistant Revolutionised the Way We Think about Sex. Liz Hoggard Reports
Byline: Liz Hoggards
HE MAY not look on paper like Don Draper but American gynaecologist and obstetrician Dr William Howell Masters is surely TV's next sex god. And Michael Sheen's stock will go through the roof when he plays Masters in Channel 4's hotly anticipated new American import, Masters of Sex, next month.
The drama focuses on the geeky but risk-taking Dr Masters and his lab assistant Virginia Johnson, who spent hours watching and documenting couples having sex in the controlled environment of their clinic to come up with theories and evidence, about the female orgasm particularly, that revolutionised the way we think about sex.
Sheen is brilliant as Masters, 41, the uptight doc who is beginning to understand the way his world restricts women, in and out of the bedroom.
A scientific boffin, he lacks people skills. So when he meets his researcher, Johnson (Lizzy Caplan), a former nightclub singer, she becomes his way of connecting with the world, bringing him willing female subjects for his work.
This is the eve of the sexual revolution and this couple sizzle. A cross between Betty Page and Audrey Hepburn with her heavy fringe and dark, sparkling eyes, Caplan is dressed for the role like a fashionista's dream. In her close-fit knits and constricting pencil skirts, she eclipses the other women in the show with their frumpy, fussy 1950s suits and hats.
Things really begin to fire when the collaboration between Masters and Johnson becomes a flirtation. The scene in the first episode where he asks her to describe the female orgasm is full of longing. "It's like trying to describe salt to someone who's never tasted salt," Johnson tells him, smartly. Masters, who has already been shown making love to his first wife with his eyes shut, is clearly both attracted and repelled by this young woman's power and candour.
"I don't think it's ever particularly clear to either of them what the true nature of their relationship is. I think that there are a lot of different currents flowing between them and through them, and they're playing out a lot of different things in their relationship," says Sheen of the couple's complicated chemistry.
We've been here before, of course. Masters of Sex has the retro glamour, sexual frankness and un-PC humour of Mad Men in an era when men were men and women were required to look coiffed and gorgeous. The sets are full of cool, mid-century modern furniture.
The soundtrack is jazz and swing. But this time the focus is squarely on female sexuality from the outset.
The research is mind-blowing stuff.
We see Masters convincing prostitutes to let him spy on them through peepholes while they do their work, or trialling "Ulysses", a dildo with a camera invented by the doctor. Sheen admits he took some convincing to take on the role. (It was originally offered to British actor Paul Bettany, who quit the production without explanation.) Sheen was on stage in Hamlet at the Young Vic when he was approached by executive producer John Madden (Shakespeare In Love, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel), who also directed the pilot. …