Anyone can take their clothes off onscreen, but allowing yourself to be naked – emotionally vulnerable – in a way that truly serves the work, is another thing entirely. Actresses Rachel Kimsey, Ruby Lewis, Ana Walczak, and Rya Kihlstedt know quite a bit about this crucial distinction. Each talented actress exposes a piece of herself, literally and or figuratively – on the highly acclaimed first season and much-anticipated season 2 of ‘Masters of Sex’. Lucky for us, they also found a moment to chat with BGB about their preparation, training at the studio, the wackiness of the audition process, and the importance of stepping outside your comfort zone.
BGB: What was the first and or most helpful bit of preparation that each of you did when you found out you booked a part on ‘Masters of Sex’?
Rya (new role in Season 2): I auditioned only with sides, so now that I’m cast I’ve been reading the script and re-watching last season to really get a feel for the world they’ve created. I don’t know where my character is going yet, but I have to be able to weave her world and needs into my own imagination and be open enough to grab onto what is thrown my way.
Rachel (Nancy Lawson in Season 1): Wardrobe and hair was an important part of my preparation. Meeting with the styling teams helped me so much to know about the social status, the lifestyle, and the daily habits of this woman so that I could react to her world. It’s amazing how much those vintage undergarments affect the way you move and interact with the world. I found myself unconsciously perching on the edges of chairs with my ankles tucked and crossed demurely underneath me.
Ana (new role in Season 2): I’ve focused my preparation on establishing very clear relationships with my own parents – and the guilt and shame that could come along with those relationships under difficult circumstances.
Ruby (Connie in Season 1): Honestly, after wrapping my head around the role I went to the Korean Spa. I felt like I needed to spend some time becoming really comfortable with my body so that the nudity wouldn’t be a distraction for me. Plus it really eased my nerves.
True onscreen intimacy is about so much more than nudity or sex – it’s about exposing a piece of yourself… What do you each do to get yourself in that mindset/state?
Rya: It changes with every job a bit, but breathing…a lot.. letting go and trusting that I have done the work and am prepared for the ride. And stopping the chatter in my head so I can listen to everyone else and just be in the scene.
Ruby: I ground myself as much as I can mentally. I try to remain as down-to-earth as possible, and as intuitive and open as possible, to prepare myself to really connect with the other person in a real way…to truly care about them and find commonality with them right away.
Rachel: I remember being on a set once….the scene is set, the director is ready, and buckets of money are about to be spent on the take. Each reset will take at least a half an hour. I was terrified! I started trying to get it under control and get cool, I wanted to be a pro. Then I remembered I was about to be attacked by a giant terrifying monster – being terrified was exactly right!! I think of that every time I walk into a scene that scares me. Life is scary. There’s nothing wrong with being scared. All there is to do is say, “yup, I’m scared,” and stand up and walk into it anyway. It never stops being exhilarating.
Ana: It’s not too difficult or far fetched to identify with my character’s struggle with intimacy and how it has affected her whole life. Even today women are made to feel shameful about their sexual desires while men are encouraged and applauded. I can easily identify with feeling “wrong” when we still live in a culture that treats women’s sexuality with ignominy.
Vulnerability is most certainly power for an actor. Does the intimate subject matter of this show allow you get to that vulnerable place more easily, or is it a hindrance?
Ana: The intimate subject matter undoubtedly allows me to access any sense of vulnerability much more easily. Vulnerability is intensely colorful and diverse. It can show itself as fear, shame, feeling unworthy, or any emotional susceptibility. Having the courage to be imperfect and be authentic becomes my journey on ‘Masters of Sex’.
Rya: I don’t think vulnerability and sex are the same thing – nor do they have to be connected (although I’d say great sex is impossible without vulnerability). Sex is a loaded subject for a lot of people, especially in that time period – it brings up higher walls and greater discomfort in characters. But as an actor, being vulnerable and open is the key to what we do no matter the topic or dialogue.
Ruby: I found the intimacy of the sexually intimate scene to be quite a gift. It was certainly a challenge, but it was a beautiful scene that unfolded naturally. In a way, being nude freed me up to do some of my best work, because I had nothing left to lose (no pun intended).
Rachel: The subject mater dealt with on ‘Masters of Sex’ is life and culture-changing stuff – both at a time when this research was being done, and now. In that way, I think the subject matter both asks and expects us to rise above and give more, share more and be more bare. I know I felt that way. I love it for that.
How would you say taking class at BGB prepared you for your ‘Masters of Sex’ audition/ on set work?
Ana: Enormously! With amazing teachers like Steve and Risa, I’ve learned to make the reader the star of the audition, have a strong point of view, not to over complicate, and find an intimacy in the audition. These skills have been invaluable in grounding all of my work.
Ruby: Working with Risa and Steve set me up to trust the scene, and trust the relationship so that I knew whatever happened organically with my fellow actors would be genuinely vulnerable and honest. Getting out of my head about “the character” and focusing on the relationship and the raw vulnerability, that’s what made the work fulfilling and I think successful.
Rachel: Class at BGB prepared me for this audition in every way. I thought very literally about the process we go through with cold reading scenes and applied it to my audition. I read it and got my first impression. Then I thought about how I could personalize it for myself. Then I made a decision about how to raise the stakes as high as I could. It was the same process we use in class. I remember thinking: Well, if I’m going to play with it anywhere, it might as well be here! It worked out pretty well!
BGB: Rya, how did your previous training or experience prepare you for your ‘Masters of Sex’ audition?
Rya: I’ve been doing this since I was 21 – that’s about 24 years, minus the 10 or so I took off to have kids and be at home with them. Now, at this point in my life, everything comes with me. Life experience, acting experience, a freedom in my skin and self I didn’t have in my 20’s. I look at the time in the room as an opportunity to act – and I do everything I can to make the most of it. The best auditions for me are the ones in which I can let loose and trust the choices I’ve made, let go of the lines and my ideas of where it should go – and see where it takes me.
<BGB: Ladies, thank you so much for your insight and your talent. We appreciate the bold work you do at our studio and in ‘Masters of Sex’!
Vulnerability and empowerment are not mutually exclusive. Discover both here at the BGB Studio.