Award Watch: Michael Sheen in ‘Masters of Sex’

Michael Sheen, Masters of SexShowtime

Michael Sheen – he’s done everything and been everyone; from (evil) vampire royalty in the Twilight saga, to the titular character in a recent production of Hamlet at the prestigious Young Vic in London, to Liz Lemon’s decidedly non-dreamy “Future Husband” Wesley Snipes on 30 Rock. And he’s played each part to a T.

 Now, he’s sinking his teeth (sorry, it was such low-hanging fruit, I couldn’t resist) into quite the juicy role on critics’ darling Showtime’s newest endeavor, Masters of Sex. He plays the ultra-repressed William Masters, whose unflinching and clinical exterior masks quite a bit of fear and childhood abuse. My words can’t do him justice; he’s eminently watchable, and I think Emmy voters will agree. Forget Wesley Snipes the “Future Husband,” can you say “Future Emmy Winner?” (Actually, don’t forget about Wesley, please: he was delightful and a true high-point in late-era 30 Rock).

Sheen’s performance on the show is nothing short of fascinating. There’s just something about the way he lets everything simmer just below the surface – in fact, there’s a wonderful moment when his wife, Libby (Caitlin FitzGerald) first announces her pregnancy. Barely moving a muscle, he gives a look that somehow manages to radiate pure terror. He gives a similar stone-faced look (though rather more hopeful than frightened) when research assistant Virginia (Lizzy Caplan) disrobes in front of him for the first time. Even though we’re well past the halfway point in its freshman season, the only time we’ve actually seen him boil over so far was a heartbreaking moment in the episode “Catherine,” where Libby’s miscarriage and the corresponding guilt he places on himself causes him to break into heart-wrenching sobs privy only to Virginia. And he’s so ashamed by this momentary loss of control that he actually orders her to close her eyes – it’s deep stuff, and Sheen plays it all perfectly.  It’s not all stoicism and intermittent sobbing, though: Sheen also brings levity to the show (humming a cheerful tune after doing some “research” with Virginia is one moment that pops to mind), and his chemistry with co-star Caplan does much to drive the series forward.

No matter how good Sheen might be (and he is good), this Emmy season Bryan Cranston is the one to beat. From his going full Heisenberg over the phone to Skylar and the police to his (relatively) peaceful, almost romantic end, it might not be the year for upsets. That said, Sheen could give heavyweight Cranston a definite run for his money, and I’m looking forward to watching him do so.