Outside of her usual snappish, direct office charm, it’s been fairly quiet for Betty Dimello thus far on the third season of the Showtime series “Masters Of Sex,” but thankfully that all changes this Sunday when Sarah Silverman returns as Betty’s lover, Helen.
While we haven’t seen or heard much about Helen, she and Betty (Annaleigh Ashford) have built a home together and are about to embark on a new journey: having a baby of their own. What were the challenges for a same-sex couple to have a baby in the 1960s?
The series will delve into that issue, and the actress—who won a Tony in June for her role on Broadway in “You Can’t Take It With You,”—also told me recently at the Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour that she’ll share a heartfelt scene with Beau Bridges, whose character is coming out of the closet and about to embark on his first gay relationship.
While we haven’t seen Betty and Helen together this season, they’ve clearly been together all this time.
Annaleigh Ashford: Yes. Betty left Gene and started up her relationship with Helen again, and they’ve been living happily as a couple in St. Louis, which is so incredible because there were many people in these times and throughout history who had shared a love that they had to keep so quiet and secret. They were beautiful partners. So we catch up with Betty and Helen, who want to have a baby, a want that is extremely complicated in 1967 for two women.
We were filming episode 307, which is when Sarah comes back, and we start exploring the possibility and the challenge of having a baby together, and it was right when we passed marriage equality federally. My husband is actually in that same episode. He plays the very first surrogate patient.
I’ll keep an eye out for him.
AA: Joey [Tapper] and I were lying in bed when we got the news, it was a Friday morning, you know. My CNN feed came up on my phone, and I was like, “I think gay marriage just passed,” and he’s like, “There is no way,” and we both pulled out our phones and we both had a sweet little cry of joy together. We were just so happy for all of the beautiful people in our lives to now have this opportunity and also for our children and our children’s children…no matter the blessing upon them, their sexual preference, they will be able to live their lives freely, and it was just such a beautiful parallel to filming that episode, for these two women who desperately want to share a life together but still have to do it so quietly behind closed doors.
One of the kind of fascinating things about Betty and Helen is they’re a little bit later than Beau Bridges’ character, like Scully can’t do anything, can’t say anything, can’t do anything, or he still feels…Betty is quite open about it with people that she feels comfortable with, which is another big change for Betty.
I have to say I love the scenes with Betty and Masters. She just doesn't take any guff from him anymore and just lays it on him, but he kind of takes it like he's so used to it now. He's not as angry.
AA: Not as angry. They’ve also been helping each other for years. She’s been taking care of him, and he’s been taking care of her. One of the things that we tap on in this season is that Betty and Lester, but especially Betty, know all of their secrets. She schedules all of their professional life. She schedules all of their personal life so she knows exactly what’s going on and for that reason, I think, you know when this conflict comes up, Masters has a duty to protect and take care of Betty because she’s protected and taken care of him for so long. It’s like another interesting level to the dynamic of their relationship.
When I talked to [creator] Michelle Ashford, she mentioned that you have a good scene coming up with Beau, which makes sense since he’s finally accepting who he is as a gay man.
AA: Beau and I have the most beautiful scene in [episode] 310, and it is such a lovely comment on growing up with a sexual preference that is different from all of those around you. The writers did such a lovely job of putting it into words, which is such a hard thing to do, and it’s such a special moment between two characters who are on the outskirts, who find each other on a common ground.
In that scene she kind of explores how hard it was for her in the beginning to admit her sexuality, and that's exactly where he is right now. It's something that is real, it's happening, but it's hard for him to admit and she's kind of sharing with him that it's OK. It also opens the door for a lovely relationship for Scully and Betty, which I'm really excited about. I can't wait to see what we do in season four.
Season four you’ll be hanging out at the gay bars together.
AA: Honey, I am ready. I’m ready for that outfit! Can we please get to ’72 immediately?
I was so touched watching the scene where Scully finally calls his daughter to tell her why her parents’ marriage fell apart.
AA: Oh my god, I know. That part of the episode, to me, was so beautiful and Allison Janney was brilliant, you’re just like, “Oh my god, you’re brilliant. You’re really good at acting, is basically what’s happening here,” and then Beau is just so lovely and beautiful. I feel like that part of the show and that part of the story has such a lovely parallel with what’s happening in our culture today.
I have to ask, where do you keep your Tony?
AA: Oh my god. It’s so crazy. The day after the awards I had to walk it to the American Theater Wing so they could engrave it and I had to fly back to L.A. that afternoon so I was like, “I’ll just walk it over,” which was really weird. I showed up in a sweat suit with my Tony in a tote bag and they were like, “Oh. Hi, Annaleigh.” And then my husband picked it up the next day. We’re subletting our apartment right now, so it’s in a file cabinet, in a velvet-lined box. We’ll take it out when we get home.
Tell me about “Sylvia,” which I know you’ll be starting soon on Broadway. You’re playing the role of a dog!
AA: We just added Matthew Broderick to the cast, which is such an amazing way to keep “Sylvia” such a family affair, you know this magical connection to Sarah Jessica Parker (who played the role off-Broadway in 1995), who gave me a treasure. She and [playwright] A.R. Gurney gave me a treasure of a role. Not only is Sylvia loving, funny and sweet, but she’s feisty and her main goal is to take care of her master and love her master and owner. I’ve been taking dog classes with my dog. We’ve been taking agility, obedience and we’ve been sheepherding on the weekends. I’m on my eighth dog psychology book. I’m in full-out research mode right now and I’m terrified, which is the way it goes. This is what happens right before you start rehearsals for a play, where you play a dog, so that’s what’s happening.
What have you learned about yourself in your research to play a dog?
AA: Well I’m a major people-pleaser. It’s like one of my biggest faults, but I can use it in a special way in playing a dog because they really are the biggest people-pleasers of all time. Dogs are the only creatures in the world that love others more than themselves, like they would do anything for you, which is just such a beautiful way to look at life. Isn’t that sweet? So, I’m crazy excited but also, like, terrified at the same time.
Somebody was asking me earlier, "Are you going to wear, like, dog ears?" I was explaining that the only thing that is literal will be my dog collar, and then the rest of it is very representational. So, I think that's kind of the thing that I'm most excited to get in the room for, creating a vocabulary of movement that makes sense, that feels like dog behavior but also still lives in the world of human body. I can't walk around on all fours for the whole play, it's too much. It'll be weird. I run into the apartment, and I cannot calm down. He's like, "What are you doing?" One of my first lines is like, "I have to check it all out. I have to check out what's going on in here. I have to look at everything. I just need to look at everything."
I’m guessing this won’t be a singing part for you.
AA: No, but Sylvia, me, Julie White, and Matthew Broderick have this really sweet moment where we sing together as a little family. There are lovely moments of music that he’s crafted into it, but we’re not doing, like, a musical number. It’s just a little moment of magic.
“Masters Of Sex” airs Sundays at 10pm on Showtime.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.