Allison Janney Heats Things Up (in the Bedroom) on Masters of Sex

Ingela Ratledge
Episode 305, allison janney, tate donovan, masters of sex
Warren Feldman/ Showtime

For a character on Masters of Sex, Margaret Scully (Allison Janney) has engaged in remarkably little hanky-panky. But that could change very soon as the series—chronicling the life and work of human-sexuality researchers Bill Masters (Michael Sheen) and Virginia Johnson (Lizzy Caplan)—jumps ahead to 1965. The former frustrated housewife is divorced from her closeted gay husband, Barton (Beau Bridges), and even has a new man: Graham Pennington (Tate Donovan), a charismatic scientist with some very progressive ideas in and out of the bedroom. Janney reveals what’s getting Margaret all hot and bothered.

The Sexual Revolution is in full swing this season. Will Margaret participate?
After not having had sex for so long, she is hellbent on experiencing everything that life has to offer. When she gets involved with Graham, she is not in her wheelhouse at all, but she is pushing herself to be open to new things, which is why she seeks help from Bill and Virginia. They welcome her with open arms.

Has Margaret stayed in touch with her ex, Barton?
They’re divorced, but they still have a great fondness and love for each other. At the start of the story arc, they haven’t spoken for awhile—she needed some time away from him—but they run into each other in a very awkward way.

How serious is her relationship with Graham?
Margaret wants to find her true love, and she’s hoping that he’s it. They’ve been together for several months and they’re giving it a go, but there’s a unique aspect to their relationship that is incredibly difficult for Margaret to accept. It’s very hard to talk about because I don’t want to give it away! This is an unbelievable storyline for Margaret. It makes me laugh for her, cry for her and just feel for her.

How was it to film some of the racier scenes?
I knew I was going to have to act with someone and have him [simulate] oral sex on me. I was so relieved when I found out it was Tate, because I know him a little from back in my New York days. As awkward as it was, we laughed through it.

With six Emmys under your belt, including one for this show, it’s surprising to hear that anything makes you feel awkward.
I become my mother in these moments. The first thing I do when I read a script is go, “Oh God, please don’t make me do a sex scene.” I will do whatever I have to do, but I have a certain amount of vanity about my naked body. If you tell me that my thigh or boob looks good, then I’m OK, but those are the kinds of conversations I’m having!

Speaking of all those Emmys, where do you keep them? Is there enough room on the mantel?
Actually, I moved into a house that didn’t have one shelf in it, so I was like, “What do I do?” For now, they’re scattered all over the kitchen. I had this idea to use them to make a really creative glass coffee table. Is that disrespectful? I don’t think so!

What’s it like to change gears from your CBS sitcom, Mom, to this?
The writing styles couldn’t be more polar opposites. One is not better than the other, but they are completely different. I feel comfortable in both worlds, but I guess you don’t do Noël Coward the same way you do Arthur Miller. They are both very physical roles—but I would rather pull up my skirt and jump out a window than pull up my skirt and have someone go down on me!

Masters of Sex, Sundays, 10/9c, Showtime