NEW YORK, N.Y. - Michael Sheen can mould himself into just about any kind of role. He's played British Prime Minister Tony Blair, interviewer David Frost and a vampire in the "Twilight" films.
Sheen says that with public figures like Blair and Frost, the roles are daunting, but he feels less pressure playing sex researcher William Masters on Showtime's "Masters of Sex," now in its second season and airing Sundays (10 p.m. EDT).
"Very little is known about the inner life of Bill Masters," he said. "We have the facts of what happened in his career and certain things in his life, but he was a very private man and a very sort of secretive man ... which is kind of great for me and for us because we need to invent."
"Masters of Sex" also stars Lizzy Caplan as Virginia Johnson, a research assistant who has a sexual relationship with Masters. (In real life, they were married in 1971.)
Sheen, a producer on the show, talked about telling the story of Masters and Johnson and why he loves variety in his career in a recent interview with The Associated Press.
AP: Your show has experimented with jumps in time. One episode ended with a surprise development, and we didn't see the fallout right away in the next episode. Instead, the story picked up a few years later and the repercussions of that cliffhanger were revealed throughout that next hour. You also did a jump in time in that episode. Why?
Sheen: Because of the overall time period that we're hopefully gonna be able to show in their lives, we can't hang around in any one period of time unless in between seasons we take big jumps. We did think it would be more interesting to do it within a season ... I liked the idea of Bill and Virginia getting to a certain point of their relationship, Bill certainly feeling like they've gotten to a certain point emotionally and psychologically with each other ... and to have that just swiped away. And rather than seeing the immediate aftereffects of that to jump ahead and to ... let the audience do a bit more work. I thought that was kind of interesting and it's something that we're gonna I think probably explore more of.
AP: How has Masters changed Johnson so far?
Sheen: I wanted to make him at the very beginning of season one be as far away as possible to where he might end up. He is incredibly remote and closed off and guarded and scared and cold and all those things that people sort of describe him as. ... When Virginia comes along, there's something about her that sort of calls to a part of him that wants to break out of that. Then he starts moving down a path that starts to create change, but he's also resisting it as much as he wants to move toward that kind of siren call.
AP: Some actors get pigeonholed. Why hasn't that happened to you?
Sheen: I think (Constantin) Stanislavski said there are, broadly speaking, two types of actors. One, where you kind of look for parts that will suit what you do. ... Then there are other actors who tend to be thought of as more supporting or character actors or whatever. You try to change yourself into the role. I find that more challenging as an actor and that's what I enjoy. I think it's also whether you can do it, whether you have the ability to do it — not everyone (does).
Alicia Rancilio covers entertainment for The Associated Press. Follow her online at http://www.twitter.com/aliciar
By Alicia Rancilio, The Associated Press