When Showtime premiered The Affair, a relationship drama about infidelity that used a Rashomon-style mixture of unreliable narratives, all eyes were on its star, Ruth Wilson. She was the one who won the awards and received the lion’s share of acclaim, even as the series totally fell off the rails. When Wilson abruptly left the show in 2018, she didn’t discuss the details behind her decision publicly. The full details of what happened were never revealed, but a 2019 investigation from The Hollywood Reporter claimed that Wilson was both deeply uncomfortable with the amount of nudity demanded of her, and of the circumstances surrounding those scenes:
Sources, many of whom declined to speak on the record, 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?
Much of the blame was pinned on showrunner Sarah Treem, who was accused of pressurizing Wilson and other cast members into doing nudity they were not comfortable with. Treem denied the allegations, and things seemingly got even weirder when Lena Dunham — yes, really — got involved and she and former colleague Jenni Konner alleged that an exec producer and frequent director on The Affair, Jeffrey Reiner, showed them graphic photographs of an actress with a penis next to her face. Said producer was defended by Treem and he was able to keep working on the show as an investigation into his misconduct went forward.
Wilson got out of the show and was reportedly upset that Treem wrote her character out of the show by having her be raped and murdered. Wilson insisted on excluding the rape.
The chances are that Wilson is under a strict NDA so can’t fully explain her decision or the toxicity she faced. In an interview with Stylist, she could only hint at such things:
‘The reason I haven’t gone into The Affair is that I haven’t worked out how to discuss it. There’s a lot of noise and anger surrounding it, and really the power rests with me to choose how I discuss my life and my experiences. What’s important to say is that I did speak up. I did have a voice. I did stand up for myself. There was a situation on The Affair where things didn’t feel right, and I dealt with them, and I managed to protect myself.’
It’s dishearteningly unsurprising to hear about the struggles and toxic encounters that women, including high-profile ones, continue to deal with in the entertainment industry. For a long time, Wilson was really the only reason to watch The Affair and Sarah Treem just tossed her into the garbage because she couldn’t do her job properly. Treem, by the way, is still working. She’s developing a series on the life of Hedy Lamarr with Gal Gadot. Her Wikipedia page keeps bigging up her feminist credentials while reducing the accusations of inappropriate behavior to two mere lines.
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