Ruth Wilson reportedly left The Affair over hostile work environment, frustration with unnecessary nudity
For four seasons, Ruth Wilson starred on Showtime’s The Affair as Alison — one of the participants in the eponymous affair that broke up two marriages — but, seemingly abruptly, she left the show after completing filming on the penultimate season. At the time of her departure, Wilson said little of her reasoning, other than reiterating it wasn’t about pay parity or other jobs, and stating that she wasn’t allowed to divulge anything else. But additional information has now come to the surface about the mysterious departure.
On Wednesday, THR broke the story that Wilson’s decision to quit the show was due to an alleged hostile working environment, discord between her and showrunner Sarah Treem, and frustrations with the amount of nudity required of her.
Many of the sources interviewed for the exposé claim Wilson, who is restricted by an NDA, took issue with how often she was required to be undressed and the nature of some of the nude scenes she was involved in. Her pushback on these issues led her to being labeled “difficult,” according to THR. (Representatives for Treem and Wilson have not replied to EW’s request for comment.) The article goes onto attest that Wilson felt Treem, particularly, pressured her into performing such scenes and would coax her and fellow actresses to get undressed by telling them they were beautiful or implying they were holding up production.
Treem responded to the accusations by telling THR, “I would never say those things to an actor. That’s not who I am. I am not a manipulative person, and I’ve always been a feminist.” Treem added that she did everything she could to make Wilson feel comfortable with these scenes, including cutting certain scenes the actress was uncomfortable with, storyboarding scenes ahead of time, and showing her cuts of scenes for her to approve before they aired. “I have devoted my entire professional life to writing about and speaking to women’s issues, women’s causes, women’s empowerment and creating strong, complex roles for women in theater and in Hollywood, on and offscreen. It’s what I think about, what I care about, it’s what drives my life and work. The reason I even created The Affair was to illuminate how the female experience of moving through the world is so different from the male one, it’s like speaking a second language. The idea that I would ever cultivate an unsafe environment or harass a woman on one of my shows is utterly ridiculous and lacks a grounding in reality.” (EW reached out to Treem for a comment but has not yet received a response.)
Yet, THR‘s sources contend that there were multiple incidents that left both cast and crew members uncomfortable and point to the fact that Showtime did not begin employing an intimacy coordinator until the show’s final season as contributing to the problem. Then, in 2016, Jeffrey Reiner (an executive producer and frequent director on The Affair) and Girls creator and star Lena Dunham happened to be in the same restaurant in Montauk and a conversation between Reiner, Dunham and Jenni Konner (Girls co-showrunner) ultimately gave Wilson her opportunity to leave the Showtime series. Konner detailed the events of that evening in a letter published on Dunham’s now-shuttered website Lenny Letter. She wrote, “We ran into a small portion of the crew of another TV show that shoots nearby and introduced ourselves. Within five minutes, a producer/director of that show had cornered Lena…The director asked Lena to have dinner alone the following night with an actress on the show he works on. Not because he thought they should meet, but because he wanted Lena to persuade the actress to ‘show her t–s, or at least some vag’ on TV. Surely Lena could make a compelling argument. After all, he continued, ‘You would show anything. Even your a–hole.'” As Konner tells it, Reiner also took out his phone and showed Dunham a graphic photo of a mutual friend next to a man’s genitalia, which was reportedly The Affair actress Maura Tierney and a male actor working as a body double for actor Josh Stamberg.
However, Cleta Ellington, an assistant director on The Affair, shared a different version of the story. “The 2016 Montauk conversation described in Jenni Konner’s September 2016 Lenny Letter did not happen as portrayed by Konner,” Ellington told THR. “While this quick, funny conversation took a few explicit twists and turns, Lena was the provocateur in the conversation. Yes, we did discuss nudity, body doubles, the ins and outs of filming sex scenes, what the various networks expected, and even shared a nude picture of male genitalia after Lena accused The Affair of not showing equal male nudity. But our candid conversation did not once ever pause in discomfort. I feel the Lenny Letter, which inexplicably erased me from the conversation, was a clickbait smear against a trusted colleague.”
Perturbed by the encounter between Reiner and Dunham, Treem reportedly flew out to set a few days later, but it wasn’t until Konner’s letter was published that Reiner met with HR. Soon after, Treem sent an email wide to the show’s cast and crew in regard to sexual harassment without pointing explicitly to the Reiner incident. “In conversations with Jeff [Reiner] and Michele [Giordano, a co-executive producer], we on the management side of this ship just want to state what should be obvious: We have a zero tolerance policy on sexual harassment and assault,” she wrote in the email obtained by THR. “This is a sexy industry and we are creating a show with a lot of sexual content … But we want to keep that sexy, sexy stuff onscreen. Offscreen, we want to make sure you feel safe and protected while you’re working with us.” Some on set felt this was an inadequate response on Treem’s behalf, but, according to the showrunner, only the network executives were permitted to address the situation. “I asked Showtime if we could shut down production for weeks,” she told THR. “I asked for sensitivity training. I asked for Jeff Reiner to address the cast and crew. I was told that Showtime had to be the one to handle it.”
In Feb. 2017, THR‘s sources say Wilson lodged a complaint with Showtime regarding a hostile work environment, prompting an internal investigation. In a statement obtained by EW, the network said that action was taken. “When confronted with a report of inappropriate behavior involving anyone within our offices or productions, we immediately initiate a process overseen by our compliance team in the case of our own shows, or in the case of series we license from others, we collaborate closely with the relevant production studio,” reads the statement. “In the instances that THR is referencing, appropriate and decisive action was taken.”
While the investigation was carried out, Reiner was reportedly allowed to stay on the show, but upon being told that he could no longer direct episodes that featured Wilson, he chose to depart. The incident allowed Wilson to negotiate her own departure from the series, but not before asserting her opinion on how her character’s storyline should conclude, which reportedly included vetoing Alison needing to fight off a brutal rape before being murdered.
Two marriages collide when a tragedy brings an affair to light; the Showtime original series stars Joshua Jackson and Maura Tierney.