Ruth Wilson on Her Departure from The Affair: There Were Things 'I Didn't Feel Safe About'
"There was a situation on The Affair where things didn’t feel right, and I dealt with them, and I managed to protect myself," Ruth Wilson said
In August 2018, Wilson, who played Alison Lockhart on the Showtime series, confirmed that she would not be returning to the show. At the time, Wilson told The New York Times that her departure wasn't "about pay parity, and it wasn’t about other jobs,” adding that “I’m not really allowed to talk about it" and "there is a much bigger story."
Now, more than two years after her surprising exit, Wilson, 38, is shedding some light on how she came to the decision to depart the series.
“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," she told Stylist in a new cover interview.
“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," she said.
Wilson said she left because there were certain things she "didn't feel safe about."
“It was before #MeToo and before Harvey Weinstein — and yet my instincts were very clear and strong about what I felt was wrong, about what was going on, and what I didn’t feel safe about," she told Stylist, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
In a report from The Hollywood Reporter in December 2019, insiders claimed that Wilson objected to filming some of the frequent nude scenes on the show, especially when it seemed unnecessary for her to be unclothed. The outlet reported that a source said the environment on the show was “very toxic” and that showrunner Sarah Treem would “try to cajole actors to get naked.”
In a previous statement to PEOPLE, Showtime claimed to have “a safe environment for [actors] to do their best work.”
“When confronted with a report of inappropriate behavior involving anyone within our offices or productions, we immediately initiate a process overseen by our compliance team in the case of our own shows, or in the case of series we license from others, we collaborate closely with the relevant production studio. In the instances that THR is referencing, appropriate and decisive action was taken,” the Showtime rep said.
Writing a guest column for Deadline that same month, Treem responded to allegations made in the THR article.
“A little less than two weeks ago, writers from The Hollywood Reporter reached out to say they would be publishing an article about how I created a hostile work environment and asked for a response,” Treem wrote. “Unfortunately, not much of my perspective made it into the story, nor the perspectives of many of the half dozen senior-level producers, director and other key crew members who spoke up.”
Treem also addressed a sex scene that was filmed in the second season of the show. THR reported that Wilson refused to shoot the “rapey” scene, and a body double filmed it instead.
“Did I know that scene reads as a male fantasy? Of course,” Treem wrote of the scene, which involved Wilson’s character being pushed up against a tree, according to THR. “That was the whole point. The Affair was about perspective. And specifically, about subverting the male narrative.”
She added that it “wasn’t a surprise” that Wilson “didn’t approve of the scene” because they “had been disagreeing on the character’s choices since the second episode.”
“So that day, as in most cases, we had a lengthy discussion about the scene, notes went back and forth, changes were made, and then Ruth played the scene the way she felt her character would,” Treem explained. “Which did alter the intent of the scene to something that seemed non-consensual. But we had discussed the scene and Ruth made her choices as an artist. Then we brought in a body double to do any nudity. And that was the scene we aired.”
The THR report also detailed a group dinner attended by Girls creator Lena Dunham, The Affair executive producer Jeffrey Reiner and others. Reiner allegedly showed Dunham a graphic image and tried to persuade her to get Wilson to “show her tits, or at least some vag” on the show.
Representatives for Wilson and Dunham did not return PEOPLE’s requests for comment, and Cleta Ellington, who is a longtime associate of Reiner’s and an assistant director on the show, recalled the conversation to be different than what was described in the THR report.
“When I heard about the incident, I came back to New York and tried to figure out what actually happened,” Treem wrote. “I repeatedly urged Showtime to do something. I wanted to shut down production, do sensitivity training, address the cast and crew and apologize for what had occurred. But instead, I was told to stick to certain talking points and let the network handle the response. By the time the third season was over, Showtime executives told me to write Ruth out of the show.”
Wilson indeed did not return for season 5 of The Affair and was killed off from the show in a violent murder, although THR claimed she successfully shot down the concept of an attempted sexual assault in her final episode.
Treem confirmed in the Deadline column that her original script did include an attempted sexual assault, but maintained that she believed it was a crucial part of Wilson’s character’s arc. “Alison needed to go,” Treem explained. “But for a character to disappear, on a show like this, she needed to die. She couldn’t just walk away into the sunset because we followed our characters wherever they went. I could have written that she got hit by a bus in the first episode, but I loved her character and wanted to finish her story meaningfully.”