Ever since Ruth Wilson decided to abruptly exit The Affair in 2018, the question of why has gone unanswered. In interviews, the actress, 37, who portrayed Alison Lockhart in the drama, has refused to disclose her reasoning, telling The New York Times she’s “not really allowed to talk about it” and urging the writer to reach out to showrunner Sarah Treem for more answers.
It seems the answers are now out. On Wednesday, December 18, The Hollywood Reporter shared multiple interviews they did with others involved, who claimed that her season 4 departure was due to friction between her and Treem, nudity on the show and the overall “hostile work environment” following a 2017 incident with Lena Dunham and producer Jeffrey Reiner.
According to insiders, Wilson had issues with the frequency and nature of certain nude scenes that seemed to be “titillating,” instead of a necessary part of the story. One source reportedly overheard the actress ask why the men didn’t need to show more but she did. Her concerns were reportedly labeled as “difficult” by others.
“There was a culture problem at the show from the very beginning and a tone-deafness from Sarah Treem about recognizing the position she was putting actors in,” one production source said of Treem, 39, and the Showtime drama. “Over and over again, I witnessed Sarah Treem try to cajole actors to get naked even if they were uncomfortable or not contractually obligated to.”
The source added that the actresses would be told, “Everyone is waiting for you” or “You look beautiful” to help, comparing the “toxic” situation to what “would be coming out of a man’s mouth from the 1950s.” Treem, for her part, denied making any such claims. She also told THR that she always did everything in her power to make Wilson comfortable, including cutting scenes she didn’t like.
“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 House of Cards writer said in a statement. “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.”
The turning point reportedly happened in September 2016 when Reiner ran into Dunham, Girls producer Jenni Konner and other cast members at 668 The Gig Shack in New York after shooting. Konner wrote a detailed blind item about the meeting on her website, LennyLetter, alleging that a “very drunk” Reiner showed Dunham a photo of a mutual friend with a penis next to her face, which was a still from the show; he later asked Dunham to meet with Wilson. The photo was allegedly of Maura Tierney and a nude male actor working as Josh Stamberg‘s body double.
“He wanted Lena to persuade the actress to ‘show her tits, or at least some vag’ on TV. Surely Lena could make a compelling argument,” the blind item read. “After all, he continued, ‘You would show anything. Even your a–hole.'”
Reiner did not comment on the claims. Assistant director Cleta Ellington denied that the actions were as reported. “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,” she told Us. “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.” (The picture in question was of a scene that had previously aired on TV and was taken for the purpose of getting actor approval.)
When Treem heard about the incident, she flew into town, but “the initial reaction from Sarah, which was then supported by Showtime, was to rally the troops around the director,” an insider said. Reiner met with human resources after the LetterLenny post, but no actions were taken. Treem sent out an email to the cast and crew about sexual harassment, without mentioning the incident. She told THR she asked the network if she could shut down production for a few weeks and hold sensitivity training but Showtime said the network would handle.
Shortly after, Wilson and Tierney both reportedly expressed “discomfort” in working with Reiner. In February 2017, Wilson reportedly complained about the work environment and CBS opened an investigation. Ultimately, Reiner was allowed to keep his job but not able to direct any episodes featuring Wilson. He chose to leave.
“At its core, Showtime has always prioritized the discovery and support of new talent, by providing an inclusive platform for original voices, and a safe environment for them to do their best work,” the network told Us in a statement. “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. In the instances that THR is referencing, appropriate and decisive action was taken.”
Wilson was able to leverage the information and negotiate an exit. One of her conditions was allegedly that Treem was not allowed on set with her. The actress was able to give her input on her ending, cutting out a part of the script where Alison fought off an attempted rape before being murdered. Treem fought to keep it but ultimately lost the battle. However, what Wilson really wanted, according to the report, was for Alison to “walk off into the sunset with her son and no man.”
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