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Ruth Wilson reportedly left Showtime's The Affair due to an increasing pressure to do nude scenes

Ruth Wilson, Maura Tierney, showrunner Sarah Treem, Joshua Jackson and Julia Goldani Telles of The Affair.
Photo: Jason Kempin (Getty Images)

Showtime’s Emmy-winning series The Affair wrapped up its five-season run last month, but it did so without original star Ruth Wilson. In the summer of 2018, the actress hinted that her departure wasn’t an amicable one, telling the New York Times that “It isn’t about pay parity, and it wasn’t about other jobs, [but] I’m not really allowed to talk about it” and that “There is a much bigger story.” There was curiosity at the time regarding the truth behind Wilson’s words, and today The Hollywood Reporter published a piece that may have some answers.

Before we dig into that, however, it’s important to note that Wilson did not speak publicly to THR, as she’s still restrained by an NDA. Reporters Bryn Elise Sandberg and Kim Masters, however, did speak to “many of those involved in Wilson’s exit and the events that precipitated it” who claim that the actor left due to a “hostile work environment” that was reportedly the subject of a 2017 investigation by Showtime’s parent company CBS. Wilson particularly had issues with the amount of nudity the show was asking of her, and the ways in which showrunner Sarah Treem would pressure actors to show more skin. Wilson was reportedly labeled “difficult” for expressing her concerns.

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“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,” remarks a source THR says has 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.” Treem, per the source, apparently told the performers how “beautiful” they looked and pressured them by insinuating they were holding up production. “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.” Other descriptions note a general carelessness and lack of privacy during the filming of the show’s intimate scenes. On a separate but similar note, Showtime settled a lawsuit in 2017 from a body double for Wilson who claimed she was fired for confronting a male assistant director that described her as “Alison Sexytime Double” on a call sheet.

Treem, meanwhile, denies that she pressured performers. “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,” she told THR. “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.”

Wilson was reportedly able to secure her departure after an incident involving Jeffrey Reiner, an executive producer and frequent director on the show, and Girls producers Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner. During a casual hang, Reiner reportedly showed Dunham a photo of a nude actor on his phone from an Affair scene shot on a closed set. Konner later detailed the incident on she and Dunham’s Lenny Letter without naming Reiner; she did, however, describe the way he “crudely” evaluated “the bodies of all the women on his show.” He also, per Konner’s recounting, asked Dunham if she could persuade an actor on the show to “show her tits, or at least some vag.” Cleta Ellington, an assistant director on The Affair, disputes Konner’s telling, saying that “Lena was the provocateur in the conversation” and that the Lenny Letter post was “a clickbait smear against a trusted colleague.” She didn’t deny, however, that Reiner “shared a nude picture of male genitalia.”

Reports of this incident shook those working on The Affair, and, per THR, they were even more disturbed when it appeared Reiner would face no repercussions. Wilson and co-star Maura Tierney reportedly felt uncomfortable working with Reiner in the aftermath, and Reiner was told he wouldn’t be allowed to direct episodes featuring Wilson. “Frustrated, Reiner told his representatives that if he couldn’t choose the episodes he wanted to direct, he would not continue on the show,” reads the THR report, which notes he left the show following the third season.

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Wilson left shortly thereafter, agreeing to a fourth season on the condition that Treem not be allowed on set with her, per a source. Her scenes, it’s said, were shot ahead of the rest of the season’s filming.

Read the full report here.

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About the author

Randall Colburn

Randall Colburn is The A.V. Club's Internet Culture Editor. He lives in Chicago, occasionally writes plays, and was a talking head in Best Worst Movie, the documentary about Troll 2.