TV show hit with graphic allegations
The story of Ruth Wilson's abrupt departure from hit TV series The Affair in 2018 is acquiring more and more layers, with competing narratives, motives and twists that now encompass showrunner Sarah Treem, executive producer and director Jeffrey Reiner, Girls creator Lena Dunham, her collaborator Jenni Konner and the series' US network Showtime.
While Wilson is restrained by a nondisclosure agreement and has so far only publicly said that her exit was not determined by a disagreement over pay parity, a massive investigation by The Hollywood Reporter, who spoke with many of those involved with her exit, say the roots of the dispute are far deeper and more gnarled.
The sources indicate that, while Wilson joined the show understanding that as an adult drama, nudity would be required, she ultimately took issue with what appeared to be gratuitous instances thereof - "where there seemed to be no clear creative rationale for the nudity other than for it to be 'titillating,'" as one production source said.
At least one person overheard Wilson objecting to such a case, saying "Why do you need to see me and not more of him?" - referring to a male co-star. Sources indicate that she was repeatedly branded "difficult" because of these interactions.
Insiders felt showrunner Treem was the source of much of the pressure. "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," one production source said. "It's things you would think would be coming out of a man's mouth from the 1950s. The environment was very toxic."
Treem, for her part, denies these claims. "I would never say those things to an actor," she told THR. "That's not who I am. I am not a manipulative person, and I've always been a feminist," she added, claiming that she cut certain scenes to accommodate Wilson and previewed scenes for her approval ahead of broadcast.
Other broader incidents seem to bolster claims of the show's environment. One source described shoots attended by people that had no reason to be there, or monitors carelessly displaying sex scenes to individuals outside production. These instances were chalked up by sources to the fact that Showtime didn't employ an Affair intimacy co-ordinator - essentially a sex-scene wrangler, a position increasingly popular in the #MeToo era - until the show's last season. At one point, Wilson's body double sued the network, claiming she was fired after objecting to a call sheet that described her as "Alison Sexytime Double". The case was eventually settled.
The one thing all parties can agree on was that in September 2016, Lena Dunham and Girls producer Jenni Konner bumped into crew members from The Affair, including Reiner, at a bar in Montauk, New York. Konner eventually wrote a blind item on her and Dunham's now-defunct website Lenny Letter about the night, during which she claims Reiner "seemed very drunk," lauded Dunham's comfort with nude scenes, and allegedly asked if she'd try to persuade Wilson to acquiesce to more nudity. Konner claims that Reiner pulled out his phone to show Dunham a graphic picture of what sources add was a nude male actor working as a body double in a compromising position with actress Maura Tierney.
However, Cleta Ellington, an assistant director on The Affair and a longtime associate of Reiner's, claimed to THR that she was the only other active participant in the conversation between Dunham and Reiner, and dispute's Konner's version of events. Ellington said that "While this quick, funny conversation took a few explicit twists and turns, Lena was the provocateur in the conversation. 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."
Treem heard about the incident and flew to set within a few days, but Reiner didn't meet with HR until Konner's account was published two weeks later, at which point no action was taken. Treem eventually sent a production-wide email addressing the incident, which sources say was not well-received, though Treem told THR she felt hamstrung by the network. "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. I was told that Showtime had to be the one to handle it."
Eventually, Showtime's parent corporation CBS opened an internal investigation. Incidentally, The Affair is the third Showtime series - the other two areSMILF and The Chi - with clouds of misconduct allegations hanging over it.
One outcome of the investigation, according to a source on the show, was that Reiner was permitted to stay on the show under the condition that he could not direct episodes featuring Wilson. He eventually left after the third season. About two months after CBS's internal investigation concluded, Reiner was hired to direct an episode of S hameless, another Showtime series.
"Jeffrey getting shuffled onto another show put a permanent wedge between the actors and producers because there was just no trust that this was being dealt with in a serious manner," one Affair source told THR. Wilson used the incident to negotiate the terms of her gradual withdrawal from the show: She shot the entirety of her final season - the fourth - ahead of the rest of the cast and one source says a condition for her return was that Treem not be allowed on-set with her.
Wilson was, however, spared a final indignity for her character, insiders say. Treem's initial treatment for Wilson's character's death involved her fighting off an attempted rape before being murdered, which Wilson baulked at. Showtime execs got involved, and Treem argued to keep the assault. Eventually, while her character was violently murdered, there was no assault beforehand.
This article originally appeared on Page Six and was reproduced with permission.