Last summer, Ruth Wilson left The Affair, the Showtime series she starred in, without giving a reason but hinting in the press at a possibly bad situation that prompted her departure. Last week, The Hollywood Reporter broke a story that described a “toxic” and “hostile” environment on set that involved Wilson being coaxed into sex scenes that made her uncomfortable. There was also an off-set incident involving a conversation between Affair director Jeff Reiner and Lena Dunham that her former writing partner Jenni Konner relayed in a blind-item-style Lenny Letter essay. (Reiner allegedly praised Dunham for how much nudity her show Girls had, talked about women on The Affair in crass terms, and asked asked Dunham to lean on Wilson to bare it all more often for the Showtime show.)
Multiple sources from the set told THR about occasions when Wilson expressed her discomfort with how much her character got naked, while others defended series creator Sarah Treem and said the sex scenes were highly collaborative. Today, Deadline published an essay by Treem in which she defended The Affair’s creative choices, explaining how Wilson’s character was rooted in Treem parsing her own trauma and life experiences, and said that she was very flexible in working with Wilson to ensure delicate scenes were handled professionally.
“We didn’t agree on the choices of the character or whether or not a sex scene was necessary to advance the plot,” Treem writes. “But that is not the same thing as not respecting or supporting an actress’s need to feel safe in her work environment, which is something I always take incredibly seriously.”
Treem gives specific examples of scenes and episodes in which she and Wilson disagreed with what was right for the character and where the actress expressed her discomfort with the sex or the nudity, but says she always worked closely with Wilson to come to an amicable resolution. “I was working incredibly hard to locate some sort of happy medium for us, where she would feel good about doing the show and we could continue to move the story forward,” writes Treem. Her examples, however, do span each of the seasons Wilson worked on The Affair, indicating that the actress’ frustration with sensitive scenes was continuously present despite attempts at troubleshooting.
As for the interaction between Reiner and Dunham that was written about by Konner (an account that is disputed by Reiner’s assistant director, Cleta Ellington, who was present for the conversation), Treem says her requests to deal with the situation were rejected by Showtime. The show’s creator says that while she wanted to suspend production of The Affair, implement sensitivity training, and apologize to her cast for what had happened (Reiner apparently showed Dunham a photo of actress Maura Tierney with a penis next to her face that belonged to a body double on set), the network told her not to do any of those things and stick to talking points so they could handle the response from the top.
Treem concluded her essay by saying, “I did not always agree with Ruth Wilson, but I did always have respect for her craft, her ability and her process and I tried to write her a character deserving of her immense talent. I know she’ll continue to tell the story of complex, multifaceted, remarkable female characters for the rest of her long career. I plan on doing the same.”