‘Masters of Sex’ cast: How to shoot quality sex scenes

The folks at Showtime like to joke that “Masters of Sex,” the period drama about human sexuality researchers in 1950s St. Louis, is their most arousing program.

And yes, the subject matter would dictate that sex scenes are almost everyday occurrences on set, but, as the cast and crew members that gathered Tuesday at the TV Academy in North Hollywood attested, the show also raises feelings on issues like gender roles, female friendships, homosexuality and, perhaps most shocking of all, love.

“There’s a fair amount of sex and nudity in our show, obviously, but it never, never feels gratuitous,” says Lizzy Caplan, who plays the realistic nightclub singer-turned-aspiring doctor Virginia Johnson to Michael Sheen’s stuffy and science-minded William Masters in the series. “Without fail, when I’m watching television, I struggle to find one example of it not feeling a bit gratuitous. Our show is about sex and intimacy. Most shows are about other things. Maybe dragons? No disrespect at all, but it does feel at times that it’s like time out dragons, let’s watch these people get it on.”

So why does Caplan think the sex scenes in her show have more emotional impact than say, the sexposition on “Game of Thrones”? Perhaps it has something to do with the chromosomal makeup of series creator Michelle Ashford.

“I think it’s because our captain is a woman,” says Caplan. “She’s not really interested in sex for sex’s sake.”

Ashford, for her part, said she finds gratuitous sex scenes boring, while executive producer Sarah Timberman added that they would “violate the entire purpose of the show.”

Caplan had done nudity before signing onto “Masters of Sex,” but the idea of filming this type of scene might have been more shocking to other cast members.

“Michelle and Sarah called me and talked to me; I never saw the script, they just talked to me and I said I was on board with everything except when they said you may have to have sex. Do you know how old I am?,” said Allison Janney, whose character Margaret Scully starts the series as the repressed housewife of Beau Bridges’ Barton Scully, the provost at the university where Masters and Johnson work.

The reason for that repression comes from the fact that Bridges’ character is a middle-aged closeted gay man – a character description that Bridges says he didn’t know about until after he signed onto the show. He thought he was going to be playing a womanizer until executives at a Showtime Christmas party set him straight, so to speak.

The show will continue to conquer taboos in its second season, which begins July 13, although those on stage were mum as to exactly what those would be.

“It’s interesting to get to episode four and have it be a musical,” joked Sheen.