December 20, 2013 at 05:00 AM EST

Allison Janney didn’t begin this year expecting to rule the world — or at least TV. But after she booked a high-profile gig as Anna Faris’ recovering-alcoholic parent Bonnie on Mom, a call came in from Showtime that her services were needed to play the lonely wife of a gay provost on Masters of Sex. Suddenly, the 54-year-old actress, who costarred as a merry divorcée (coincidentally a boozehound as well) in this year’s comedy confection The Way, Way Back, was about to embark on one of the best years of her career. “It was a wonderful confluence of events,” says the actress, who also did an episode of HBO’s Veep earlier this year.

Best known for her Emmy-winning role as press secretary C.J. Cregg on The West Wing, Janney had an easy transition to the CBS comedy — mostly because of co-creator Chuck Lorre. “After The West Wing, I had a development deal with him, so we had quite a few dinners. I’ve always felt very comfortable around him.”

The Sex-y role, however, shook her up a bit, especially once she found out that her character, Margaret Scully, would have an affair with a libidinous younger doctor. “I was terrified about the nudity part. It was like, Are you kidding me? Do you know how old I am? But I had lost some weight and was working out a lot, so this is as good as I’m gonna feel about my body. So I might as well be brave.”

This Showtime drama tells the steamy story of real-life sex researchers in the 1950s.
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