Viewers tuning in to Showtime’s new series Masters of Sex (Sundays at 10 p.m. ET/PT, The Movie Network; 10 p.m. ET/9 p.m. PT, Movie Central) might find themselves doing a high school reunion–like double-take: “Is that babe in the pencil skirt Janis Ian?” Yes, Lizzy Caplan, who stars with Michael Sheen in the period drama about pioneering sexologists, is the same talented comedian who played the caustic goth in 2004’s hit film Mean Girls.
Unlike certain actresses, Caplan didn’t peak in North Shore High School. Her clever, quirky appeal has won her several acclaimed, if under-the-radar, roles: irreverent Casey on the late, great series Party Down; cynical cokehead Gena in the ensemble comedy Bachelorette; stylish marriage-phobe Sarah in the indie rom-com Save the Date. Next year, she’ll play a CIA agent in The Interview, an assassination caper directed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. “I’ve always been picky with the parts I play,” says Caplan, “sometimes too picky—like, before I should have been able to be.” Being spoiled with roles she can “sink her teeth into,” she says, has been a blessing and a curse. It’s harder for her now to accept “the half-cooked role”—“the placeholder girls, instead of the fleshed-out three-dimensional characters.”
Caplan’s part in Masters is, happily, more well-done: She plays Virginia Johnson, the real-life down-on-her-luck secretary who teamed up with gynecologist Bill Masters on the controversial research that paved the way for the sexual revolution of the 1960s (she died this past July). A triple-divorcée who, says Caplan, “really prided herself on being able to separate the emotional from the sexual,” Johnson was a woman not of her time.
Convinced casting directors saw her only as a comedic actress, Caplan thought there was “no way in hell” she would land Johnson, and Masters of Sex creator Michelle Ashford admits that she “couldn’t envision Lizzy playing period.” But when Caplan auditioned, Ashford knew she’d met Virginia. “She was in ’50s clothing and had her hair done—she looked fantastic—but more than that, Lizzy just embodied this woman,” says Ashford. “The fact that she has this contemporary quality that runs underneath made her a perfect fit.”
Not content to wait for more scripts like Masters to arrive in her mailbox, Caplan is now thinking of writing her own role, ideally in a “really smart romantic comedy.” What would she play? “A sarcastic girl who can’t commit in relationships,” she deadpans. “Because I don’t think people have seen enough of that from me.”
FOR THE PAST 10 YEARS OR SO, Lizzy Caplan has been Hollywood’s version of an indie band: beloved but often little-seen – as a snarky, vengeful goth in Mean Girls, a snarky, pink-bow-tied caterer in the short-lived Starz series Party Down, and a snarky, coke-huffing,- leg-spreading bridesmaid in Bachelorette. With Showtime’s new series Masters of Sex, the Caplan cult is growing. The 31-year-old actress – who is no longer in a long-term relationship with Friends star Matthew Perry – is as comfortable talking about anatomy as Virginia Johnson, the curious, determined sex researcher she plays on Masters.
How has your life changed since Masters of Sex debuted?
My day-to-day life hasn’t changed. I’m extremely stressed out from flying back and forth to Canada to shoot a movie while I’m trying to move into a house I bought, which is my first house. I’ve been too anxiety–ridden to pay attention to the show premiering. Which sucks, because I’m finally on a show people give a shit about. But I will say I’ve felt a shift in how people perceive me as an actress. They now see I’m capable of playing somebody other than the sarcastic girl in a comedy.
Do you get recognized in public now?
Not really. I think I give off a don’t-come-chat-with-me vibe. And it’s on cable. The number of viewers we get pales in comparison to a network show. It’s not like I’m one of the kids from Glee.
The show takes place in 1956. Were you surprised by the differences between sexuality then and now?
Yes. It’s strange to realize how much of my modern outlook on female sexuality was informed by a woman and a team of scientists I had not heard of. The world saw female sexuality as problematic and nowhere near as important as male sexuality. It’s funny to think about [William] Masters [played by Michael Sheen] as a feminist icon, but he sort of is. It’s certainly not what he set out to do, but the science, the truth, set a lot of women free.
Then again, a lot of the public reaction to your show has amounted to “OMG, boobies!” Maybe we aren’t as sophisticated today as we think.
Big-time. It’s glaringly obvious to me. Just the word “sex” makes people uncomfortable in America. I thought we might go through a period of people saying, “Oh, my god, this is exploiting women, look at all these breasts! It’s just smut and porn.” But people quickly figured out that it really is a feminist show and not just an excuse to show a bunch of titties.
Check out Lizzy’s recent interview on Chelsea Lately.
Lizzy’s TV Show, Masters OF Sex has been nominated for Golden Globes including Michael Sheen’s performance. 71st Golden Globe Awards airs on January 12.
Best TV series, drama
The Good Wife
House of Cards
Masters of Sex
Best Actor in a TV series, drama
Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad
Liev Schreiber, Ray Donovan
Michael Sheen, Masters of Sex
Kevin Spacey, House of Cards
James Spader, The Blacklist
Lizzy will be on Chelsea Lately on Dec 10!
Tu 12/10: Lizzy Caplan, John Caparulo, Cameron Esposito, Jo Koy
Check out the promo and sneak peeks of Lizzy in Sunday’s episode of Masters Of Sex.