In 2018, actor Ruth Wilson left her starring role on the Showtime hit The Affair, with no explanation as to why she would leave an Emmy-nominated series at the height of its popularity. As it turns out, the simplest explanation is correct: The Affair was, like so many work environments, apparently a shitty place for women.
Though The Affair was co-created by a woman, Sarah Treem, and boasted many women writers, sources recently told The Hollywood Reporter that nudity was pushed on the actors. Wilson was often asked to appear naked in scenes where the nudity didn’t seem important to the plot, which made her understandably uncomfortable. She also took issue with some of the sex scenes, which Wilson believed came off as non-consensual—though the production team reportedly attempted to convince her otherwise. Sources tell the Reporter that Wilson wasn’t the only actor who felt uncomfortable and were cajoled into unwanted nudity:
“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,” says one source with firsthand knowledge of the production. “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.” According to this individual, that coaxing took the form of pressuring actresses by telling them, “Everyone is waiting for you,” or “You look beautiful,” to ease any insecurities they may have had. “It’s things you would think would be coming out of a man’s mouth from the 1950s,” says the source. “The environment was very toxic.”
Insiders also allege that during nude scenes non-essential crew were often on-set, and that once, a monitor was left on during a sex scene, making it possible for someone uninvolved with production to watch the shoot. Another scene Wilson chose not to shoot for being too “rapey” was instead reportedly foisted on a body double who would later sue the show for being described as “Allison Sexytime Double” on call sheets.
The situation was finally brought to a head during a chance meeting between The Affair crew, including executive producer Jeffrey Reiner, and Girls producers Jenni Konner and Lena Dunham when they ran into each other while filming on location. During their interaction, according to a blind item in the now-defunct Konner and Dunham newsletter Lenny Letter, Reiner asked Dunham for tips on coercing an actor on The Affair “show her tits, or at least some vag” and allegedly showed Dunham a picture involving of one of the show’s stars that he may have taken off a monitor while filming and saved on his phone for over a year. :
“At one point, Reiner pulled out his phone to show Dunham a graphic photo of ‘a mutual friend with a cock next to her face,’ as Konner described it. Sources say that the image was of Affair actress Maura Tierney and a nude male actor working as a body double for actor Josh Stamberg.”
The blind item in Lenny Letter seems to have affected small changes on the show. Afterward, Reiner reportedly met with HR, though sources told the Reporter nothing came of it, but Reiner was told by studio executives that he could not direct episodes featuring Wilson. He departed the show before its fourth season in a huff over the loss of creative control. Meanwhile, in response to the Lenny Letter piece, Treem sent an email to cast and crew reiterating the show’s “zero-tolerance policy on sexual harassment and assault.” The incident also gave Wilson a means of negotiating her exit, which ostensibly included an NDA preventing her from speaking about her reasons for leaving.
In 2018, Wilson told the New York Times to ask The Affair co-creator Sarah Treem about her reasons for leaving, indicating that there was a “bigger story.” However, Treem told Hollywood Reporter that the bigger story doesn’t include her: “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.”