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Beau Bridges on ‘Masters of Sex,’ Technology, Sexuality, Podcasts and Love

Beau Bridges on 'Masters of Sex,' Technology, Sexuality, Podcasts and Love

Beau Bridges, to quote the kids today, has no absence of chill. When Indiewire sat down with the legendary stage and screen actor at the TCA press tour this summer, we largely talked about his work on the Showtime period drama "Masters of Sex," which — as the closeted campus provost whose sexuality is more than a complication for his marriage — has earned him two Emmy nominations.

READ MORE: ‘Masters of Sex’ Creator Michelle Ashford on Season 4 Plans and Beyond

But Bridges was also more than happy to explain why he’s always been a fan of working in television… and why he’d also be interested in podcasting.

You seem pretty relaxed.

I’m having a good time.

If you’ve done it a few times, it’s a pretty fun experience.

It also took me a while in this business to understand the importance of getting the word out.

I mean, it’s tough.

But it’s just as important as making a movie and getting the word out.

Yeah?

I think so.

Especially when you’re talking about something like “Masters of Sex,” which is telling a pretty important story, especially with regards to your character.

Yeah.

When you first started in Season 1, did you always know that this character was going to go on this sort of journey?

No, not at all. The pilot was shot in New York. My night job at that time was on Broadway in “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” and that was a challenge for me because I had never done a big Broadway musical like that.

I imagine.

So I was about two or three months into that experience, and this script came along. I loved it immediately. I knew that story because I was a teenager in the ’50s, so I remember very much Masters and Johnson and their book and the very profound effect it had on all of us at that time. [And in the script] basically I was Masters’ mentor. I was the provost at this major university where the sexual experiments were happening, and I didn’t dig that because I was worried that it was going to affect the university in a negative way. So I thought, "Oh this is interesting, this guy."

And then when we got picked up, like everybody else on the show, I was very happy and excited. I went to a Christmas party with my wife, and the execs were all coming up to me and patting me on the back, saying how happy they were that I’m in the show. And I’m getting a little puffed up.

My wife said she saw it coming. Michelle [Ashford] says, we have the most interesting twist for your character. I thought, I’m the provost, I’m in a position of power, there’s going to be all of this sexual stuff happening behind the scenes. I bet I’m getting it on with all these young girls, cheerleaders, and stuff. And I said, "What’s the twist?" And she said, "You’re gay!" I thought my wife was just going to lose it. She was laughing so hard because she knew where my head was going.


But then when the smoke cleared, I figured, God, this is a great opportunity because I can maybe lift some rocks up here, let people shine the light on what it was like to be a closeted gay person in the ’50s and ’60s. There was a lot of ignorance afoot in the land. I lived it, I know that. We never talked about homosexuality at that time. It just wasn’t a topic that you discussed. I probably had a lot of gay friends that I didn’t know were gay. And that’s not right.

So I felt, this is good. It’s a responsibility that I feel keenly, but I know there are great writers on this show and they are going to reach out. And Michelle told me early on, "You know, there are a lot of dysfunctional couples in this story, but you and your wife," portrayed by Allison Janney — because I’m married. As a closeted gay man, I’m married to a woman and I have a child — she says, "but you two are going to stand out because the audience is really going to hook onto you guys as the one couple that really love each through everything." I thought, "But we’re pretty dysfunctional, too." And she says, "I know, but your love will sustain you." I think that’s beautiful because in the end we should not define each other by our sexuality. We should define each other by our capacity to love. Because love trumps everything, don’t you think?

Absolutely. I think that’s beautiful. They’ve been able to keep you on the show. Were you expecting that? Especially when certain things happened at the end of Season 1.

That they would have me back?

Yeah.

Yeah, I never know because I’m not a regular on the show. I’m a guest. But I think I did like nine out of 12 the first time, which was difficult because I was doing another series at that time, “The Millers,” which got picked up for a second season. So I’m in that second season, and I think I only did two episodes of “Masters of Sex” because I only had time for that. Then “The Millers” just had a two-year run and then was done. So this year I was able to do more. I’ve done about half of the episodes.


In terms of the way your storyline has gotten to evolve, have there been any surprises for you?

It’s always a surprise. It’s like opening a Christmas gift when you open that script. I sat down at the beginning of the year with Michelle, as I did at the beginning of the previous year, talking about the arc of my character. She has a big war map up there on the wall of where it’s all going. But things evolve and change too, I’ve found out. So I don’t really know. We don’t get the scripts until, if we’re lucky, a week before.

But you could be on this show until the very end?

I could be. I’d like to be. I enjoy it.

The television landscape, of course, has changed dramatically in the last couple of years, and any level of actor doesn’t consider doing a TV show beneath them. But you’ve had a really interesting run. You’ve always had TV as a fundamental part of your career. I’m wondering, coming up with that approach, what’s been really exciting for you about it?

In TV?

Yeah.


Well, I think you said it. The technology that’s involved is changing so fast. It’s going to be totally different in two years. It’s going to be a different business altogether, with the streaming and people binge-watching shows. It’s a total different fabric. I was talking to Matt Blank, one of our chiefs at Showtime, and I said, "Wow Matt, it must be amazing for you to be sitting in the driver’s seat trying to make all these decisions when the business is so fluid. And he said, "Yeah, but what it really comes down to is the stories themselves." He says, "If they’re worthy, then they’ll be there." That’s good.

That was going to be my question for you. Is there something that you feel like is fundamentally always going to be at the core of it? But I guess that comes down to the story.

Oh yeah. The story’s the thing. “The play’s the thing,” as Shakespeare said a long time ago.

Of course, but TV is a different beast than a play because you get the opportunity to really build a character over years.

You do. And it’s a very intimate situation, isn’t it? Because the audience is sitting in their bedroom maybe, relaxed, going to kick their shoes off. It’s a whole different thing. I really enjoy it, but I have been fortunate to play in all of the different medias, really. When I grew up, my first experience as an audience was radio. I would hide under the covers and listen to “The Red Rider” or “The Lone Ranger” when my parents thought I was asleep. My dad actually did the voices for some of those shows. I remember the excitement of when “The Lone Ranger” became a TV series for the first time, and my friend Pat Kelly was the first to have a TV in his house. We all rushed down the block and gathered around this funky little TV and watched. [hums the theme song, laughs]

It all comes full circle because now we have podcasts that do that sort of thing.

Yes. And I want to get more active in that as an actor. I’m asking people all the time,"What is a podcast? How do I make that happen?" It’s a fascinating world, our entertainment world right now.

"Masters of Sex" airs Sundays at 10pm on Showtime. 

READ MORE: How To Handle Your Husband Coming Out: A ‘Masters of Sex’ Advice Column For the Scully Family

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