From FARGO to BETTER CALL SAUL and now MASTERS OF SEX, starseems to have a charmed and spectacular year on some of television’s most lauded shows. But for fans, this is not unexpected at all. Julie’s career has been building for a decade from shows like Steven Spielberg’s TAKEN and ER to HOUSE, DEXTER and SUITS. Then in 2014, it seemed to be the year that Julie could be found across the television landscape. Whether it was as the loving yet grieving pregnant Ida Thurman in FARGO or as the ruthlessly gold-digging Betsy Kettleman in BETTER CALL SAUL or even the ill-fated nosy neighbor Nancy in THE FOLLOWING, Julie’s performances stand out. Her latest role as Jo in Showtime’s MASTERS OF SEX was an eye-popping surprise in last week’s episode when Margaret (Allison Janney) walked in on Graham (Tate Donovan) and Jo in bed together. At first glance, it seemed like Margaret had caught Graham in an illicit affair, but viewers quickly found out that Margaret knew about Graham’s relationship with Jo and was accepting of it. So just who is Jo and how does she figure into Graham and Margaret’s lives?
Checking in with star Julie Ann Emery, we posed that question to her and tried to pry out a few more secrets about what she has been up to during this momentous year as she appears on the hottest prestige dramas currently on television.
So you have been quite busy this year!
JULIE: (Laughs) I have happily, happy been very busy on quite wonderful things.
And now you’re doing a story-arc on Showtime’s MASTERS OF SEX. What can you share about the character of Jo?
JULIE: There’s a big spoiler in the first episode involving my character, so I’m not going to reveal too much storyline. She is in a very unusual relationship for the time period and I think her relationship today would still raise eyebrows. I’ve gotten to work with people who I’ve admired for a long time — really wonderful actors and directors.
How were you approached for the role? How did you get involved with the show?
JULIE: I auditioned. I think it is a great show. I love the cast and the writers, and the creative staff is fantastic. So when a role came along, my agent called and asked, “Do you want to go in?” And I was like, “Yes, yes! Please, yes.” The show has such great guest cast and great guest-stars. Josh Charles is on this year. Allison Janney has already won an Emmy for her role on it. They pull in such terrific actors. Risa Bramon Garcia does a wonderful job casting the show.
What surprised you once you got into the role? Was there anything outside of the character itself that might have surprised you?
JULIE: Yes, but I don’t want to reveal it. Who I was going to be working with the whole time was a surprise to me and what her thoughts are on her relationship, that surprised me.
Maybe you could talk about what you took away from it, generally, working on the show.
JULIE: Adam Arkin directed my second episode, and I’ve been an admirer of his work as an actor for a long time. He is such a brilliant director. All day, he would come in and give you something that was the opposite of the direction the scene is going in. So he would come in and say, “What if she is angry?” Or “what if she thinks this humorous”? He was always pushing the boundaries of the scene on all ends of it. You don’t get that in television very often. And I think as an actor that I wait to be given permission to do that. And I won’t do that again. I found it a very challenging and scary, but ultimately exhilarating work.
It sounds like it gave you a bit of freedom to play a little bit.
JULIE: Lots. He pushed us. He wants to play. He pushed us to go in widely different directions to see where it took us. That is something you do when you are in class when you start out or maybe when you’re doing a play in rehearsals until you find where the material wants to sit. It rarely happens even on a film set.
Would you come back to MASTERS OF SEX, if given the chance?
JULIE: Absolutely! It’s really exciting work. The show is set in the ’60’s now and I think that is an interesting time for it, and female characters as well. There are even parallels now as we look at women and their place in society. It is interesting to see where it goes moving forward.
Have you been watching the show? Are you familiar with how it has changed from last season to this season?
JULIE: Yeah. I think the time period is the biggest thing. The very first part of this season is about the book being out and it being very public and sort of how the public responds to that book. So I think as it moves from the ’50’s to the ’60’s and the difference in our society is pretty wide. There was that time in the ’60’s when people were trying to break rules and there was a lot of bash lash for that, I think.
Having watched the show, do you have a particular favorite character?
JULIE: I love Beau Bridges’ character. I’ve loved him from the very beginning and the whole storyline of his character coming out and the storyline between him and Allison Janney’s characters. It’s my favorite on the show. I thought it was brave of them in that time period to portray that subject matter. It’s really wonderful. And he is such a wonderful actor and such a kind man.
The show is rather conservative given the subject matter, which always surprised me. I always thought they could have pushed the envelope a little bit more and yet now it seems like they are trying to dabble a bit more in that direction.
JULIE: I think so. The beginning of it was about sex, but they are scientists. They are breaking sex down into science. Then I think this season, the show is about breaking the rules.
You must be excited by that since all your characters seem like they like to break the rules!
JULIE: (Laughs) They do like breaking the rules!
You have done a string of prestige dramas recently from FARGO to BETTER CALL SAUL to now working on MASTERS OF SEX. What is your secret to getting on those kinds of shows?
JULIE: Luck. Absolute pure, utter luck. I’ve been in the business for a long time. Sometimes you just hit on the right thing. I take chances in my auditions, now more so than when I was a younger actor. I’ll have a take on the character that is not necessarily written and just kind of go for it. Sometimes it can bite you in the butt, yet it has served me well over the last year and a half. I feel very fortunate.
You are not only a risk-taker, but it feels like there is a kernel of love there — you have loved your characters for whatever their flaws are or whatever their quirks are and not every actor can love a character that way.
JULIE: Yeah, I think you have to have a complete lack of judgment. No one thinks that they are the bad guy or no one actually thinks that they are doing anything wrong. I really like to dive into the heart of the character. I follow their journey back to when they were young in my own homework, and when you do that, it builds in an identification system. It builds into your thought-process on how they view certain things. I think that is really important. It is important as a world that we learn to understand each other better. I try to approach my work the way and I hope, as actors, that is what we do — we try to help everyone in society understand each other a little bit better. Like someone like Betsy Kettleman.
We love Betsy! We’re hoping to see more of her next season on BETTER CALL SAUL.
JULIE: (Laughs) That is a spoiler and completely out of my hands! But I have the same hope.
Were you completely ecstatic when the Emmy nominations came out and BETTER CALL SAUL was so heavily nominated?
JULIE: Yeah! So happy and thrilled for my friends. That group — they are so decent over there. Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould are such decent human beings. And Bob, I’ve known him for a long time and since FARGO. He is such a great guy. So is Jonathan Banks. My husband and I always say we don’t confuse talent with temperament and there is no confusing that on that set. The temperament is great. Everyone is there for the right reasons. There are no ego-trips. It is such a wonderful, wonderful place to work. So I’m really thrilled to see all the award nominations come out.
You seem to have been under a lucky star this last year. It has been amazing watching every role you have stepped into.
JULIE: Thank you! I’ve been lucky. I’m just trying to keep the streak going.
So what is next? What else can we look forward to besides your role on MASTERS OF SEX?
JULIE: (Laughs) We’re in a moment where there are a lot of nondisclosure agreements. So there is nothing I can talk about yet. But there are some exciting things coming up.
To find out just who Jo is and what role she has to play in MASTERS OF SEX this season, be sure to tune in for an all new episode of MASTERS OF SEX on Sunday, August 9th at 10:00 p.m. on Showtime.