Allegations of a Hostile Work Environment Stated as Reason for Ruth Wilson’s The Affair Exit
Yesterday, a piece from The Hollywood Reporter was released discussing the alleged reasons for Ruth Wilson’s exit from the Emmy-nominated Showtime drama The Affair. Wilson was one of the show’s stars and biggest names, so the exit was a surprise for many. And the entire situation didn’t really smell right, so to speak. The article discusses the conflict between Wilson and showunner Sarah Treem especially when it came to nude scenes, as well as a toxic workplace in general.
What is illustrated in the piece is a set that appeared to be really chaotic, with a showrunner who alleges she was doing her best, but there was clearly a disconnect. THR‘s Bryn Elise Sandberg and Kim Masters frame it as a Rashomon-style situation and they are not wrong.
On Wilson’s side, which is provided mainly through sources because she did sign an NDA, she was allegedly frustrated by the level of nudity that was required of her, the direction that her character was going, and a general “hostile work environment.”
Apparently, while aware that she was signing on for an adult drama and that would mean nude scenes, sources say:
“Wilson was often asked to be unclothed in scenes where there seemed to be no clear creative rationale for the nudity other than for it to be ‘titillating,’ as one person involved with the production puts it. Another source overheard Wilson ask on set, referring to a male co-star, ‘Why do you need to see me and not more of him?’ Wilson had, of course, signed a nudity waiver when she tested for the pilot, but a SAG-AFTRA spokesperson notes that performers must still ‘provide meaningful consent and be treated with respect and dignity during production.’ Sources say Wilson expressed her concerns repeatedly only to receive push-back and be labeled “difficult.”
Wilson felt pressure to perform scenes and alleges that Treem didn’t seem to understand or recognize the uncomfortable situation that this was putting the actors in. One source “with firsthand knowledge of the production” claims that they witnessed Treem “try to cajole actors to get naked even if they were uncomfortable or not contractually obligated to.”
A lot of this sounds similar to what happened on SMILF, with creator Frankie Shaw who was accused of breaching another actresses contract while filming a nude scene. The Chi‘s showrunner also came forward about sexual harassment that happened on set. All of these properties are part of Showtime.
On Sarah Treem’s side, she denies that she ever pressured actors to perform nude scenes and that she did everything she could think of to make Ruth Wilson feel comfortable. Including cutting scenes.
“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,” says Treem. “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.”
However, there is an incident that is explored in the article that shows that other people felt uncomfortable and that it was something Treem was aware of.
Back in 2016, Jeffrey Reiner, an executive producer and director on the The Affair, met up with Lena Dunham, Jenni Konner, and other people from the Girls team. Konner wrote a piece on the now-closed Lenny Letter site, which explained how “a producer/director” on “another TV show” ended up talking to Dunham about how great it was that she comfortable showing such explicit nudity on the show. Reiner allegedly asked Dunham to speak with Wilson to persuade her to “show her tits, or at least some vag.”
He said this after showing Dunham, “an iPhone photo of a mutual friend with a cock next to her face, ostensibly a still from his TV show but shown at a completely inappropriate time.” That was the opener.
Cleta Ellington, an assistant director on The Affair, has a different take on the events. In her version of the story Dunham was the “provocateur in the conversation” but also says that: “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.”
Regardless of whose side is “right” they both agree that a nude picture of an actress and stunt double was shared, which a SAG-AFTRA spokesperson says, if true, would be “outrageous and reprehensible,” and “violate the terms of our agreement.” Also, why does Reiner just have that on his phone?
This incident was passed along to Treem and insiders say that “the initial reaction from Sarah, which was then supported by Showtime, was to rally the troops around the director.”
THR says that Treem sent out a cast-and-crew wide email about the incident, but that it did not explicitly address the incident.
“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,” Treem tells THR. “I was told that Showtime had to be the one to handle it.”
A source stated, “Reiner was told that he could stay on the show but that he would no longer be permitted 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. Reiner departed The Affair after the third season.”
So he got to leave on his own terms.
This incident allowed Wilson to negotiate her exit and her character was *spoiler alert* violently murdered by her married boyfriend.
While there is a lot we won’t know due to the NDA (for as long as that stands), it sounds like the climate around this show was messy. Even if we look at the only fully verified incident concerning Reiner.
Just a reminder that #MeToo has not even started to go far enough.
(via The Hollywood Reporter, image: Showtime)
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