The name Caitlin FitzGerald is one we’re wagering audiences will come to know well this autumn season. With the premiere of her latest project around the corner — Showtimes’s new one-hour drama Masters of Sex, based on the scientific collaboration credited for teaching America how to love — FitzGerald is making the transition from indie darling to Hollywood starlet.
Recognized on the international film festival scene for her roles in movies including Edward Burns’s recent features Newlyweds (2011) and The Fitzgerald Family Christmas (2012), as well as Whit Stillman’s Damsels in Distress (2011), which saw her opposite Greta Gerwig, the actress isn’t hurting for indie cred. And, though evidently her focus over the last few years has been primarily on films destined for the festival circuit, FitzGerald has balanced her indie projects with guest spots on Gossip Girl and a memorable role in It’s Complicated (2009), as Lauren Adler, the fictional eldest daughter of co-stars Alec Baldwin and Meryl Streep.
“It’s wonderful to work on projects where there is the money to make all kinds of magic happen, but there’s also something really satisfying in working on little movies where everyone is there for the love of the game, and you feel a sense of camaraderie,” she shares. “If I am lucky, I will continue to get to do both.”
In her latest role on Masters of Sex, FitzGerald gets her first taste of being a series regular — and likes it. “I have to say, shooting Masters was one of the most pleasurable jobs I have ever had,” she gushes. “It helped that I really love my co-stars and the whole creative team, and that we had great material to work on, but I think as an actor, it’s wonderful to work for such an extended period of time.”
The story of William Masters (Michael Sheen) and Virginia Johnson’s (Lizzy Caplan) pioneering research into the scientific world of human sexuality, Masters of Sex takes audiences inside the silent sexual revolution of the 1950s, leading up to the not-so-silent revolution of the ‘60s, by way of the homes and lives of the duo responsible for inciting the paradigm shift.
Playing the better half of the good doctor, Libby Masters, FitzGerald is the picture of wifely perfection: a beautiful household goddess with a pleasant disposition and a keen eye on the hearth. But, Libby’s inability to conceive a baby has left her fraught with marital anxieties that have her questioning whether she might be the cause of her husband’s intimacy issues and why Dr. Masters must dedicate his professional career to sex, considering the fact that he best falls under the category of “cold fish” when in bed lying beside her.
“Libby is a survivor,” says the actress of her character. “And if she is optimistic, it comes from a place of necessity and a strong belief that if she works hard enough and loves hard enough, she will be loved, or, at the very least, she will be safe.”
One look at FitzGerald, and it’s easy to see her in the role of the ideal 1950s women. With a natural beauty that harmonizes the mystique of the Hitchcock blonde with the delicacy of an English Rose, FitzGerald steps effortlessly into the role of the era’s graceful housewife. All looks and no substance, isn’t the actress’s style though — the woman is after all reading Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust “and really enjoying it.” In the head of Libby Masters, FitzGerald leans on her aptitude for portraying the quiet complexities and unfurled layers that define a character to colour her Mrs. Masters with the vulnerabilities, strengths and aspirations of women from the period.
In New York gearing up for the premiere of Masters of Sex on September 29th, FitzGerald talks to FILLER about her character’s perspective on marriage, the evolution of human sexuality and her unswerving love for the city that never sleeps.
To start, tell us a bit about your character Libby Masters. What are some of her dominant characteristics?
I think Libby is a very open-hearted person, whose love has often gone unreturned. Despite repeated heartache, first with her family and then later with her husband, she instinctively tries for optimism in most situations. I don’t want to make her sound naive or facile though, because despite the dangerously generous nature of her heart, she is also very smart and astute about others and their limitations, particularly in regards to her husband.
Do you feel like Libby is a cookie cutter product of her times or a woman who challenges the expectations of her era?
When I began to do research and read first-hand accounts from women of that era, I quickly discovered that the image of wifely perfection we have received from period television and magazines is — unsurprisingly — a fantasy that bears little resemblance to the daily lives (and daily struggles) of most 1950s era women.
Much more complex and layered than they’ve been perceived to be, I’m guessing.
It would be easy to see Libby as a prototypical ’50s housewife, but it was important to both me and the writers that we make her much more complicated and insightful and three-dimensional than that. Like so many women both then and now, the story of happily-ever-after that she had thought inherent to married life is beginning to reveal the flaws in its construction.
And that’s where her optimism comes in…
As I said, she is at a heart a survivor, and her journey over the course of the first season is that of a woman who comes to understand and cope with the reality of her life. It’s not the life she thought she’d have, but she is determined to make it work, no matter the cost.
Sounds like a woman who knows what she wants. Was there any trait in Libby that you connected with or related to especially?
Having the peripatetic, insecure life of an actor, I can really relate to Libby’s hunger for security and safety. I also think her desire for intimacy and closeness with other people is a pretty universal human trait.
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