Tall, blond, and classically handsome, Dr. Austin Langham is Masters of Sex‘s resident womanizer. He’s the sort of man who will blithely flirt with a 19-year-old patient after recently breaking off an affair with her mother, or go to a jewelry store to buy earrings for his wife and end up giving them to the shop girl. He’s hard to hate, however, not because he is suave or charming, but because there is a slightly apologetic, ever-optimistic earnestness hovering around him—”a cad, but no bounder.”
The second season of Masters of Sex will premiere on Sunday night, with Dr. Langham back and in between affairs. “I remember feeling very good about knowing who this guy was,” says Teddy Sears, who plays Langham on the Showtime historical drama. “They were very keen on him having a sense of levity in his life. I was reading the breakdown for the character: Harvard-educated, served in World War II. He’s a doctor and he’s got a sense of fun. I thought, ‘Well, I didn’t go to Harvard, but I do come from an East Coast, WASP-y family, and I think I’ve got a pretty good sense of fun.’ “
At 37, Sears’ career is only getting better and better. After a stint on the soap-opera One Life to Live, a show his mother had watched while pregnant with him, the Maryland-native floated from guest role to guest role: Ugly Betty, CSI, Big Love, Mad Men, Samantha Who?, Dollhouse, Law & Order. Then, in 2011, Sears was cast in American Horror Story. On the first season of the anthology show, Sears played Patrick, one of the many ghosts trapped in the “Murder House” along with his former partner, Chard (Zachary Quinto). Soon after American Horror Story aired, Sears auditioned for Masters of Sex.
EMMA BROWN: I’m sorry to call you so early. Have you always been a morning person?
TEDDY SEARS: Always. I was a swimmer growing up, which meant being in the pool at 5 a.m. You get used to it. You get up at 4:15 a.m.; my parents, who were amazing, they were up at 4:15 a.m. or earlier to drop me off at the pool and then go to work. I eventually stopped doing that, but the pattern remained. I like getting up really early. It feels like my time of day.
BROWN: How much did you know about Masters and Johnson before you started the show?
SEARS: I knew their names. I knew that they were pioneering sex researchers. I knew it was not of my era. That’s essentially all that I knew about them. I had heard their names floated now and again when I was in school—high school, college—or referenced in films or on TV. I remember watching Mallrats, the Kevin Smith movie, and one of the characters calls another character “The junior Masters and Johnson.” I remember thinking, “Oh, yeah. There are those names again. They’re involved in sex somehow.” Then, of course, my mind was off to the next thought. When the series came along, I read Thomas Maier’s book, which gave the very full and complete story.
BROWN: What was your audition like for Masters of Sex? I know Nicholas D’Agosto had to act out the scene where Ethan goes down on Virginia.
SEARS: [laughs] My audition was the same kind of awkward. I’m in the pilot; I have three scenes, so my audition was those three scenes. It was for Michelle Ashford and Junie Lowry-Johnson and Libby Goldstein—the two casting directors at the time. There was a reader, and I just had to go for it. The third scene was where the Jane character and I meet. We are instructed as to what is about to happen, and then we start having sex. There’s acting and then there’s auditioning; mastering auditioning is sort of the first thing an actor really needs to nail down when he or she wants to get a part. It’s a different animal entirely to acting. Having gone through many, many auditions over the years, I knew, “Okay, I’m not going to actually have to mount the reader.” There are certain boundaries… I wasn’t really nervous about it. But I was on American Horror Story at the time, and I know the casting directors and the producers got to take a look at that. Maybe that helped seal the deal, because clearly I had no problems taking my clothes off for that series.
I remember getting a call a couple of weeks later: “They’re going to go in a different direction. Sorry it didn’t work out.” I thought, “All right. Well, that sucks but that’s how these things go.” Then a couple of weeks later getting a call back saying: “They didn’t find what they thought they were looking for; they went back and looked at the tapes and they want to test you for the part.”
BROWN: Your character has a very powerful storyline with Allison Janney‘s character, Margaret Scully. It’s quite affecting.
SEARS: It was extremely sad and very telling. Someone asked me the other night if my [character’s] relationship with Allison Janney’s character revealed anything about my character. That’s sort of a vague question, but the first thing that popped into my head was: When the shit’s going down—in that great episode where the civil defense drill is happening all around the hospital, and I find out that there’s been an unfortunate accident between myself and another study participant—the first place I go and the first person I seek out is Allison Janney’s character. There’s something in her that I need; something that Langham didn’t quite want to feel when he was with her, because he very quickly and very unceremoniously dumps her. I loved that we see these two characters, who are literally untethered [in the pool]—and the script even said, “These two are floating like astronauts, untethered in space”—talking about space exploration. It was a difficult scene to shoot, too. We had to stay floating far enough away from each other so that we weren’t touching, but close enough that we weren’t out of the frame, and the water was fucking freezing.
BROWN: Allison Janney plays all of these outrageous characters, but then she seems quite soft-spoken in person. I wasn’t prepared for that.
SEARS: Same. I was expecting this ballsy, brassy, tough woman—C.J. in the West Wing, Drop Dead Gorgeous, The Way, Way Back. But she’s not like that at all. She is the epitome of an actor; she truly is one way—a bit reserved and shy and soft-spoken, and sweet as can be—then on camera, she indulges this other side of herself. I was taken aback, too. “I was expecting to be a little bit intimidated because of your strong personality, but you really are sweet.”
BROWN: Was there a specific moment that made you want to be an actor? I know you were very athletic growing up and didn’t get into acting until after college.
SEARS: My wife loves to give me shit for it, because she grew up wanting to be an actor, and she is, but for me, it was never an overt desire. It was never really a conscious thing, until it was. My siblings and I, we were raised on TV and films. Not a day went by that we weren’t watching one of three movies—Caddyshack, Animal House, Beverly Hills Cop—on rotation. Our comedy, our personalities were set watching Sesame Street: these really sort of wacky, Jim Henson-y characters. It didn’t become a conscious desire until I was in New York City and I was 23. I was working with a modeling agency, briefly, and they sent a few of their guys on an audition for a soap. I went out on the audition thinking it would make a great story for my grandkids. That’s what went through my mind. I didn’t know anything about acting, I just knew the acting that I didn’t like was the kind that looked fake. I was like, “I’m just going to go and pretend that this is actually happening to me.” Pretty fucking simple, but it’s not so easy to execute all the time.
I got cast—maybe it was a couple of lines as a bartender, whatever. But I just loved it. I turned up to work terrified, convinced that I was going to stutter on camera because I was so nervous inside. It sounds corny, but it was one of these things that balanced me. I thought, “Oh, man. I would like to do this every day.” That was the lightening bolt moment for me. Luckily for me, they kept asking me back. It eventually became a contract role, before I was fired. I discovered that I had a love for it, but I was woefully unprepared and quite terrible. So I committed to a two-year program in New York City—night school, essentially—with a teacher named William Esper and just tried to stay alive until I could get jobs that could support me. All I wanted to do was be a working actor. I will tell you this story, because this just happened to me. You can interject any time and say, “Teddy, shut the fuck up.” I was living in New York City, it was probably 2003, and I was watching a movie called Tully (2000), which starred Julianne Nicholson, who plays Dr. DePaul on our show. She’s so beautiful, but she’s so unique, and she’s such a great, subtle actress. And I remember watching this movie, dreaming to call myself an actor. It was such an insurmountable obstacle, so nearly impossible that it would ever happen as a kid sitting in an apartment at 2 p.m. on, like, a Tuesday, watching cable TV, daring to call myself an actor. Then, a couple of weeks back, I had a scene with Julianne, and it was just such a wonderful moment for me. I hadn’t thought about that moment—it’s not like a moment I stored in my head. But suddenly, I’m sitting with her on set and flashback to that kid in the apartment in New York just hoping to one day do any job—to get two lines on Law & Order, let alone to be on a series that’s so well written. That was cool for me.
BROWN: What was your “I can legitimately call myself an actor now” moment, then?
SEARS: I feel like I’ve had that moment a few different times, because it was a lot of stopping and starting for me. I did almost two years on One Life to Live, so I was thinking, “Oh yeah, I’m an actor now.” Then I got fired and I didn’t work again for over a year and I thought, “Oh, Jesus. What was that? I guess I was just an imposter.” I started doing little things—a couple of lines on Law & Order, some comedy sketches on Letterman, a little something on Conan. I thought: “Okay, maybe now I can call myself an actor.” But then that stopped. I came out to Los Angeles for a couple of meetings in the summer of 2005, and I ended up getting a movie called Firehouse Dog for Fox. And I thought, “Oh, man. I’m doing a movie. Maybe I’ll work a lot more now. I’m an actor now.” Then, [for] eight, nine months I didn’t work after that. After that movie, I began to get some guest star roles, fairly consistently, but because I had been so presumptuous before in thinking that the other jobs would lead to something, I realized: “Just get up. Go to work. Go home. This is your job just like everyone else’s job.” I guess now I can relax a little bit, but I still know how fickle things are.
BROWN: When you got fired from One Life to Live, was your character killed off in an exciting fashion?
SEARS: One of the best stories I remember hearing is that one character walked upstairs to get a pair of skis, because he and his girlfriend were going to go on a ski trip, and he never ended up coming back downstairs. They just left it at that. I wish it had been something as sexy as that or, the old Joey Tribbiani, falling-down-an-elevator shaft. But no. It just faded out. I wasn’t related to anybody or anybody’s lost, amnesiac lovechild. They just didn’t have room for me, so it was a slow fade. I remember feeling the writing on the wall: “This is not going to end well for me.” So I took a class with an ABC primetime casting director named Marci Phillips, who’s still there. Marci took a shine to me, so when I did get fired, I called Marci and she said, “Congratulations. Now you can start doing some primetime stuff.” She began to bring me in and actually introduced me to my manager, who I’m still with. So I’m sort of indebted to getting fired, but also that the people at One Life even gave me a job with literally no résumé. My headshot was a fucking Polaroid. It was kind of a joke.
BROWN: You’ve had quite a few guest roles over the course of your career. The first role on your IMDb page is an episode in Season Four of Sex and the City. You are credited as “Fashion Show Guy.”
SEARS: Fuck. That should not be on my IMDb anymore. That’s the sort of thing you put on your IMDb when you have no credits and you really just want to have a line on your résumé. I had just gotten to New York and there was a massive open call for extras for Sex and the City. One of my college roommates’ buddies—there was some connection—she worked in the office and saw my name in the massive stack of randoms just trying to be on the show, which was a big hit. She’s like, “I know this dude. Let’s throw him in there.” It’s the episode where Carrie is fashion roadkill, and if you go back and look at that scene, in the front fucking row, is me doing the biggest overacting—the biggest face-acting job you’ve ever seen. I go back and I look at that and I’m like, “What an idiot. C’mon buddy.” So I’m embarrassed that you are even asking me about that.
SEASON TWO OF MASTERS OF SEX BEGINS THIS SUNDAY, JULY 13, ON SHOWTIME.