Teddy Sears as Dr. Austin Langham in Masters Of Sex (photo: Showtime)
Let’s talk about sex, Baby.
Okay, the Salt-N-Pepa song won’t be popping up in Showtime’s new drama series, Masters Of Sex, which is set in the 1950s when Dr. William Masters (played by Michael Sheen) and Virginia Johnson (Lizzy Caplan) conducted their revolutionary study of sex. The series is based on Thomas Maier’s biography, Masters Of Sex: The Life and Times of William Masters and Virginia Johnson.
Since the show is very much focused on sex, gay characters also are a part of the series.. In the first few episodes, a lesbian prostitute (Broadway’s Annaleigh Ashford) helps Masters move his study into a brothel in exchange for her getting her tubes untied so she can have a baby and have a chance at a ‘normal life’ with a man. And, never fear, check out episode 3 for gay men to also become a part of the study with Masters watching with wide eyes.
Because of the time that Masters and Johnson were conducting their studies, there was a level of secrecy in their work and the recruitment of people to study. One of those subjects, Dr. Austin Langham, works in the same hospital as an orthopedist and becomes a test subject. As played by Teddy Sears, who played Zach Quinto’s lover on the first season of American Horror Story, Langham may be married but is more than happy to have sex with a stranger for the sake of science.
TheBacklot sat down with Sears recently to talk about his Masters Of Sex character as well as his role on the groundbreaking Ryan Murphy series.
TheBacklot: Is the character you’re playing, Dr. Austin Langham, real or fictional?
Teddy Sears: The name is not real, I think because they had to change it, but I’m based on a real character. He’s mentioned in the book but he doesn’t have a very huge, fully elaborated on story. There’s a few pages on this guy… I met Thomas [Maier] when we shot the pilot [and] he did know this guy. He did interview this guy and talk to this guy.
But, yeah, this Harvard-educated guy who has a sense of fun in his life. The fun part for me is filling all the blanks the best I can about why this guy is what he is. I was told that he was quite a libertine for that time. You know, he felt morally fine with having trysts outside of his marriage, and I believe it eventually caught up with him. I don’t know if there will be a similar fate for me. Hopefully we’ll have enough years under our belt where we don’t get there.
TBL: How much do we get to know about Langham outside of the hospital? Do we eventually get to see who this guy is outside of work and the study?
TS: It’s a very good question. When we see Langham, he’s mostly contained within the hospital walls. He does step out a little bit. Those times he does step out, significant things seem to happen in his life. Wonderful moments. Interesting moments, sort of debatable moments, I think. And at one point, we do catch a glimpse of his home life. But it’s not very expanded upon, and in keeping it deliberately vague, it really doesn’t last that long but it’s pretty telling.
TBL: Does taking part in the Masters and Johnson study change him? Just from having the experience during much more conservative times?
TS: Absolutely. I think it does. I think it will…Dr. Langham is different at the end of the first season in some ways than he is when we meet him but in no way is it even close to a full character transformation. I think he’s beginning to learn about himself, his proclivities, his tendencies, in a way he’s never had to think of before. He’s not a self-reflective guy…but I think when it comes to the women in his life, there is something there that is very messy and he’s never really dealt with it.
That would be fun to see being played out. But as I said, I hope we get more time to do it, because we’re just beginning to recognize that there are a couple of paths he could take after the end of this first season and I’m not sure which one he’s going to choose.
TBL: Now, the minute you read this script and saw that you’d be naked in some of it, was it like ‘put the pizza down, get to the gym and work out?’
TS: No, it’s funny. I got the script about a week before I was to audition, which doesn’t usually happen. Usually it’s a day or two or something. So while there was enough time, I suppose, I didn’t really think about all that. I just think about how can I just go in guns blazing? I really wanted to get this part, and how can I go about doing that?
So I read for Junie Lowry-Johnson and Libby Goldstein [casting directors] who were in the room, as well as Michelle Ashford [series creator], and there was a reader and there was myself. So I have, I think, three scenes in the pilot. We read all three. I remember getting the audition and thinking, ‘How do I play this last scene, which is the sex scene that we see? I’ve been to enough auditions to know that okay, yes, clearly I’m not going to be having sex or even simulating it, but how can I put my best foot forward and do this?’ So the audition itself was fine. I don’t remember what I did, but I didn’t do any sort of bear thrusts or anything like that. I just sat in a chair and I read the words the best I could.
TBL: Talk to me about American Horror Story and playing Patrick, the lover to Zach Quinto’s character. I mean the whole Rubber Man thing, which I saw at one point Wikipedia had you listed as Rubber Man.
TS: No, that was Tate. Evan Peters. And in one scene, Zach Quinto, he puts on the rubber suit, which is, ironically, how the rubber suit got in the house, is he was trying to spice up our relationship. I saw that online. I was going back and forth with some guy about sort of rough sex, and Quinto wanted to spice things up, so he went out and got a rubber suit, which eventually is co-opted by Tate.
TBL: How was it being a part of that show’s first season?
TS: That was a series I was so happy to get on. I didn’t know anything about it and it hadn’t aired, but I knew that it had a killer cast, and just to be able to play with these people. And Ryan Murphy set up such an amazing world. To be able to do that, I thought, ‘Well, this can’t be anything but fun.’ Almost like Ryan Murphy’s fun house, to sort of like get us to tell this story. And I said to myself, after I got the part, I was going to go at it a hundred percent. Whatever Ryan wanted, I was going to do, and that really sort of broke the seal. It definitely helped me feel very confident about auditioning for this show. Something with trying to keep up with guys like Denis O’Hare and Zach Quinto. I just wanted to be in league with those guys.
TBL: Did you know what the whole context of what was going on in the show was, or did you just know your piece of the story?
TS: I knew what was happening in the story. At that time, we were getting complete scripts. Towards the end of the first season, the scripts started to arrive in pieces, just based on what was approved, and that was needing to be shot based on the schedule. But at that time, I remember that even though it was not the way it had been, I was still okay with it because I remember our stuff was still pretty fleshed out, at least the stuff that I was doing. But other people, I know, got their stuff last minute. My experience with it was fine…the proof is in the pudding, man. That show, shot on film, it’s one of the only ones left being shot on film and it really attracted great directors and it’s just so damn creepy, man. Season One. They did a great job.
TBL: Now these projects that we just talked about are definitely dramas. Do you want to do comedy? What’s in your wheelhouse?
TS: I don’t know what my wheelhouse is. My wheelhouse is probably not doing British accents until I get more training. [laughs] But whether it’s funny, light, serious, I don’t know, and so I’m sort of figuring it out. You know, [Masters Of Sex] actually gave me a good opportunity to do both. There’s clearly very heavy things, very dramatic things, that the show deals with and that I will deal with, specifically. But this character, his approach to life, his approach to how he handles situations, is with a real sense of fun, which allows me to be light when otherwise, everyone else is being dark. I do love comedy. I like silliness. I like fun.
TBL: At this point in your career, you’ve done a lot, but do you still feel like you’re still learning with each job?
TS: Oh yeah. Absolutely learning. Always learning. I hope it’s always that way. I really do. I’ve been really lucky to work consistently and it’s nice that the work that I’ve been doing recently has been on shows with a lot of layers and a lot of meat on the bone. But my hope is that I will always learn, and that’s one of the things that drew me to this. There’s always a new subject to explore. There’s always sort of a new topic to dive into, whether it’s the sexual culture of St. Louis in 1956, or if it’s sex addiction in the gay community in 2011, like in American Horror Story. There’s always something to dive in and have fun with. That’s the way that my mind works, too. If I’m learning and my brain is engaged, then I’m happy.
Masters Of Sex premieres Sunday at 10pm on Showtime.