When an established actor doesn't appear in a movie for a few years, some might start to worry. But in the case of Michael Sheen, he's just been busy making Showtime's hit drama "Masters of Sex" as sex expert Dr. William Masters opposite Lizzy Caplan's Virginia Johnson.

Sheen's back on the big screen Friday with "Far from the Madding Crowd," an adaptation of Thomas Hardy's classic Brit-lit that puts Sheen in the role of Lord Boldwood, one of three suitors for Carey Mulligan's Bathsheba Everdeen.

Though the 46-year-old actor never read Hardy's novel and decided not to revisit the 1967 film in which Peter Finch played his role opposite Julie Christie, he was unconcerned about doing a period costume drama at this point in his career.

"It felt very contemporary in an odd way, and I was really intrigued by what a director like Thomas Vinterberg would be able to bring to it, particularly because it did seem to have a lot of contemporary resonance to it," he says. "Then having such a complex female character at the heart of it and knowing that Carey Mulligan would be playing that -- it was a fascinating combination of elements that made it really stand out as a film to be involved in."

Boldwood's lack of success in winning Bathsheba's heart just made the character even more interesting to Sheen.

"What drew me to the character was the fact that he has this awful tragic trajectory through the story," he says. "I found that really fascinating, a man that's described at the beginning of the film as a 'man with great dignity' and to see a man lose his dignity and be aware he's losing it and have no control over it, to see a man unraveling like that."

With the third season of "Masters of Sex" scheduled to premiere on July 12, Sheen teased where Masters and Johnson's studies would take them.

"The two seasons we've done so far, everything they've been working on, their studies, have been kept very underground," he says. "Now in the third season, we're exploring what happens when they suddenly become well-known and how it affects their relationship now they're public figures and their work is being celebrated."