In Masters of Sex, which is set in the ’50s and ’60s, you play Margaret, who discovers that her sexually distant husband is gay and suicidal. What are your hopes for her?
I’m coming back to shoot four more episodes for the third season, but I have no idea what will happen. I think Margaret’s pretty sure that, although she loves her husband, she’s not going to live the rest of her life with him. But I could also see her continuing to support him while she has affairs. Maybe she’ll become one of those sex therapists who helps people have orgasms.
What was it like to be part of such an important and powerful storyline?
When I signed on, I had no idea how beautifully it would be written and told. I certainly didn’t think, Oh, I’m going to win an Emmy for this. I didn’t know how much impact it was going to have, but I know it resonated with a lot of people. Just myself, I’ve known many marriages that ended because the man came out as gay. Margaret was a wonderful character: She wasn’t a victim, but it was so heartbreaking to see someone thinking she was inadequate, that there must be something wrong with her, feeling so unsatisfied, yet knowing she was loved. It was so confusing for her. It’s probably my favorite role I’ve ever gotten to play. While filming, I was also going through a strange time with some sad things that were sort of paralleling her journey. It can be hard to get emotional on cue, but there was something about what was going on in my life at the time that made the work very easy. I felt very connected to her.
Barbara, your character in American Beauty, also had a closeted husband. Did she know he was gay?
No, she was too out of it. She was deeply unhappy, and I decided she was overmedicated on early antidepressants. She blamed herself for everything, so she thought it was her fault that he didn’t want her.
Was there any hope for poor Barbara?
It’s the perfect movie, but there was one scene that got cut, unfortunately, where she finds a bloody T-shirt and realizes it was her husband who killed Kevin Spacey’s character. She was agoraphobic, and there’s a wonderful moment where she decides to put it in an envelope and mail it to the police, and you see her walking out of the house to the mailbox. It was so much fun to act—this woman torn between protecting her husband and turning him in. And you see in that moment that she might actually change and survive. It was really powerful.
Have you ever dated a gay man?
I have been madly in love with a few men who were not out at the time. We made out a lot, but I had no idea they were gay. You know, there are some other guys I’d like to look up on Facebook to see who they’re dating now. [Laughs] I have gay friends that I would marry in a heartbeat and be perfectly happy. That might be my next step. I’d have a partner to share my life with, but I’d go have affairs. Maybe I’d get on Tinder?