Fans of The Affair have been wondering for over a year why Ruth Wilson mysteriously quit the award-winning show, which earned her a Golden Globe.
In 2018, the actress announced season 4 would be her last, later telling the New York Times her departure wasn't about "pay parity" or "taking other jobs," hinting, "There is a much bigger story." Now, a report from The Hollywood Reporter, published 18 December, dives into that bigger story, detailing how a toxic environment on set, an internal investigation, carelessness with nudity, and Lena Dunham all led to Wilson's abrupt exit.
Wilson, who is reportedly prohibited from speaking due to a nondisclosure agreement, clashed with showrunner Sarah Treem over a "hostile work environment," according to THR. One of the biggest sticking points was the nudity required of her character, Alison Bailey.
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While she had signed a nudity waiver when she tested for the pilot, Wilson apparently felt she was asked to get naked when there was no clear creative rationale. At one point, a source reportedly overheard Wilson ask on set, referring to a male co-star, "Why do you need to see me and not more of him?" Wilson was apparently labeled "difficult" after repeatedly expressing her concern, which was often met with push-back.
Yahoo Entertainment reached out to Wilson for comment, but did not immediately receive a response.
According to sources, Wilson felt Treem, in particular, pressured her and other actresses on set to perform nude scenes.
"There was a culture problem at the show from the very beginning and a tone-deafness from Sarah Treem about recognising the position she was putting actors in," a source with firsthand knowledge of the production told THR. "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."
Treem's alleged tactics included saying things like, "Everyone is waiting for you" or "You look beautiful." According to THR's source, "It's things you would think would be coming out of a man's mouth from the 1950s. The environment was very toxic."
A representative for Treem did not immediately respond to Yahoo Entertainment's request for comment; however, she spoke to 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 said, explaining she "did everything I could think of to make [Wilson] feel comfortable with these scenes." That included getting Wilson's approval for scenes before they aired and cutting what she wasn't comfortable with, according to Treem.
"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 theatre and in Hollywood, on- and offscreen," she continued. "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."
Sources told THR that actors were uncomfortable with shooting nude scenes because, at times, there were people on set that didn't need to be there or producers were careless with the monitors. That came to a head in September 2016 when Jeffrey Reiner, an executive producer and frequent director on the The Affair, ran into Girls creator Lena Dunham in Montauk, New York, where both shows were shooting on location.
Reiner allegedly showed Dunham a graphic photo of actress Maura Tierney, who played Helen Solloway on the show, with male genitalia next to her face. Reiner allegedly had the photo on his phone of Tierney and the nude actor, who was working as a body double for actor Josh Stamberg. It was from a scene shot on a closed set over a year prior, an image that sources tell THR was taken off either a monitor or a computer.
Dunham's former producing partner Jenni Konner detailed the disturbing encounter in a detailed blind item on Lenny Letter three years ago. Konner also claimed Reiner — who "seemed very drunk" — asked Dunham to have dinner alone with Wilson the next night to persuade The Affair star to "show her tits, or at least some vag," before he went on to "critique and crudely evaluate the bodies of all the women on his show."
Reiner declined to comment, but Cleta Ellington, an assistant director on the Showtime show and associate of his, told THR she was present for the conversation with Dunham. Yahoo Entertainment received her statement.
"As a female ‘below the line’ employee in the film business, I do not condone harassment of any kind. That said, the 2016 Montauk conversation described in Jenni Konner’s September 2016 Lenny Letter did not happen as portrayed by Konner," Ellington says. "I know this, because I was there. Unlike Konner, I was an active participant in the conversation. The conversation occurred between myself, Jeffrey Reiner & Lena Dunham."
Ellington continues, "While co-workers from both The Affair and Girls were nearby — the isolated conversation between us happened on a well populated sidewalk one night after both shows had wrapped. The night was young when Jeffrey and I organically ran into Lena through mutual acquaintances. This now infamous 10 minute conversation was filled with hilarious banter and witty outtakes between two filmmakers in charge of two shows that both tackled difficult sexual themes.
"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 (the scene had previously aired on national TV the year before). Our candid conversation did not once ever pause in discomfort and/ or insult one another’s filmmaking process," she notes. "Lena was never alone with Jeffrey. I was there the whole time, though excluded from Konner’s narrative (a female 1st Assistant Director with more than 20 years of experience). While this quick funny conversation, on a populated sidewalk, which was kicked off by Ms. Dunham calling me ‘a fox’ (thank you) took a few explicit twists and turns, Lena was the provocateur in the conversation, and we were highly entertained by her impromptu stand up act.
"At the time, I walked away thinking how refreshing Ms. Dunham was. It was only after the Lenny Letter’s false narrative was posted, followed by a conversation with Showtime’s HR department , and addressing this now 3 years later for the Hollywood Reporter — that I realise in hindsight — no one is safe when having a candid conversation about sex," Ellington concludes. "I feel the Lenny Letter was a click bait smear against a trusted colleague."
Yahoo Entertainment reached out to a rep for Dunham, but did not immediately receive a response.
The conversation between Dunham and Reiner reached the cast and crew. "The initial reaction from Sarah [Treem], which was then supported by Showtime, was to rally the troops around the director," a source claimed to THR.
It prompted Treem to send an email, obtained by THR, reminding everyone "We have a zero tolerance policy on sexual harassment and assault." She suggested that everyone should heed the advice her preschooler was given at his Montessori school and yell, "Please respect my body" should anyone feel uncomfortable. "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."
Treem told THR, "I asked Showtime if we could shut down production for weeks. 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."
A representative for Showtime issued the following statement to Yahoo Entertainment: "At its core, Showtime has always prioritised 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. When confronted with a report of inappropriate behaviour 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."
The network's parent company, CBS, apparently opened an internal investigation in 2017 after Wilson raised a complaint with Showtime alleging a hostile work environment.
According to THR, Reiner was told that he could stay on the show but couldn't direct episodes featuring Wilson. Frustrated, he departed after the third season. Sources say Showtime executives helped him find work on other shows.
"Jeffrey getting shuffled onto another show put a permanent wedge between the actors and producers because there was just no trust that this was being dealt with in a serious manner," a source who worked on the show told THR.
Wilson, who already wanted out, apparently used the incident between Reiner and Dunham to negotiate her exit. THR reports Wilson "shot her fourth and final season's entire arc ahead of the rest of the filming, and a source says a condition for Wilson returning was that Treem would not be allowed on set with her."
The actress isn't the only person who complained about inappropriate behavior on set. In 2017, Wilson's body double sued Showtime after she was allegedly fired for confronting a male assistant director for describing her on a call sheet as "Alison Sexytime Double." The case was settled.
The Affair just wrapped its fifth and final season.