When Ruth Wilson departed Showtime’s The Affair in 2018 after four seasons, the reason for her exit was shrouded in confusing secrecy: She refused to state her rationale, only confirming that it wasn’t due to pay parity issues with her male co-stars. Now, a bombshell report in The Hollywood Reporter claims Wilson left the popular drama series due to a widespread “toxic” and “hostile” work environment, which was further escalated by showrunner Sarah Treeme cajoling her into doing gratuitous sex scenes. Per THR, Wilson was troubled by the show’s frequent expectations of “titillating” nudity from the very first season, as well as the increasingly unhinged creative direction of her character. “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,” a source explained. “‘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. The environment was very toxic.” Wilson was soon labeled “difficult” for pushing back against this nudity.
Wilson’s growing dissatisfaction with the show took a sharper turn in September 2016, after a chance meeting in Montauk between Lena Dunham, Affair executive producer and director Jeffrey Reiner, and assistant director Cleta Ellington. According to a blind item written by Girls co-showrunner Jenni Konner in 2016, a “producer/director” who worked on a “TV show that shoots nearby” approached Dunham and allegedly praised her for showing “everything” on Girls, even her “asshole,” and begged Dunham to meet with Wilson to cajole her to “show her tits or at least some vag.” Per Konner’s account, he also went on to “critique and crudely evaluate the bodies of all the women on his show” and showed Dunham a graphic photo of “a mutual friend with a cock next to her face.” Sources told THR that the photo showed Affair actress Maura Tierney with a nude actor. The photo in question involved a body double for actor Josh Stamberg, whose Affair character appeared nude in an episode the previous year.
Ellington, however, disputes Konner’s account because she was not an “active participant” in the exchange. “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,” Ellington’s statement read, in part. “Our candid conversation did not once ever pause in discomfort and/or insult one another’s filmmaking process.”
When word of this encounter reached back to Wilson, Tierney, and The Affair’s other cast and crew members, Treem tried to defuse the situation with an email condemning sexual harassment. “This is a sexy industry and we are creating a show with a lot of sexual content,” the email read, in part. “But we want to keep that sexy, sexy stuff onscreen.” This did little for Wilson, who subsequently initiated a formal complaint against Showtime that alleged a hostile work environment. As a result, Reiner was not permitted to direct any future Affair episodes that featured Wilson, and she began to negotiate her exit from the show — which sources told THR included an additional guarantee that Treem wouldn’t be allowed to be on-set with her. Wilson would go on to shoot her entire season-four arc prior to the start of the rest of the filming schedule.
THR adds that Wilson signed an NDA, which is rendering her unable to publicly discuss her departure. Reiner and Dunham declined to comment for the story, while Treem denies that she ever pressured The Affair’s actors to perform unnecessary sex or nude scenes. “I would never say those things to an actor. That’s not who I am,” Treem said in a statement. “I am not a manipulative person, and I’ve always been a feminist. 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.”
Update, December 19, at 2:40 p.m.: The Hollywood Reporter corrected their report to note that Ruth Wilson was not given a “substantial payment” with her exit. The payment was compensation for her fourth and final season of The Affair.
*This story has been corrected to accurately reflect the THR report.