We’ve learned a lot about what went on behind the scenes of Showtime’s The Affair, and though there’s still many mysteries afloat, one thing we know for sure is … that show was a mess. For those who have not yet read The Hollywood Reporter’s somewhat thorough account of the insider drama, here’s some nutshell bullet points to catch you up:
- Despite having agreed to on-set nudity, Ruth Wilson felt its use in certain scenes was gratuitous, and she made her discomfort known. She also took issue with her male co-stars’ comparative lack of nudity.
- Ruth Wilson felt Showrunner Sarah Treem applied undue pressure for her to appear naked, using a tone-deaf approach akin to men from the 1950s telling her she “looked beautiful” in an effort for her to disrobe.
- Monitors were left on, which showed the sex scenes to someone not involved in production. (Note: this complaint was also raised against the female Showrunner of Showtime’s Smilf, Frankie Shaw).
- Wilson objected to the content of certain scenes, including one that felt “rapey.” That scene was ultimately performed by a body double who later sued for alleged mistreatment.
- Last and perhaps most important, executive producer Jeffrey Reiner is alleged to have told Girls creator Lena Dunham and executive producer Jenni Konner something disturbing about Wilson, in addition to showing a graphic photo of another actress that was taken on set.
Sarah Treem’s defense of the last and perhaps most disturbing item is so anger-inducing she released a follow-up defense to Deadline, stating that “not much of [her] 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.” So did her follow-up, first-person response serve to exonerate her character? In short, no.
The Deadline article is largely about the ins-and-outs of Treem’s complicated relationship with Ruth Wilson, who by Treem’s account “had been disagreeing on the character’s choices since the second episode.” Treem furthers that she “tried to protect [Wilson] and shoot sex scenes safely and respectfully.” She altered scenes entirely, even it removed their original intent.
While it might be true that Treem had pure intentions and did the best she could to illicit comfort, she obviously failed in doing so, and it’s not my job to assign fault. All I can say is, if Ruth Wilson did not feel comfortable, then I respect that something on set was perhaps not up to snuff, instead of pointing fingers and implying she’s difficult. She’s a brilliant actress, so she’s obviously doing something right. Treem’s essay is more about defending Treem’s creative integrity than her moral integrity.
The Deadline piece doubles down on Treem’s statements to The Hollywood Reporter about her handling of the immensely disturbing Reiner incident. Treem stated that she “asked Showtime if we could shut down production for weeks” and “asked for sensitivity training.” She wanted “Reiner to address the cast and crew.” Instead, she “was told that Showtime had to be the one to handle it.”
If we take Treem’s words at face value, it’s still not good enough. Reiner’s behavior should be subject to a zero tolerance policy. Sensitivity training?! Treem should have asked for his removal. How much sensitivity training does an adult male need to know he shouldn’t show compromising pictures of another actress from a sex scene on a closed set? Her defense sounds painfully similar to the don’t-blame-me-blame-the-network defense from The Chi’s Lena Waithe (another Showtime series).
It should be noted that being a Showrunner is an EXTREMELY difficult job. Treem has admitted to its challenges in a very powerful, revealing essay for Red Online about “having it all.” When that article is cross-referenced with the issues on The Affair, it is not surprising that she was perhaps unable to get ahead of the on-set issues and react appropriately. Had she shown an inch of that vulnerability in her Deadline article, I’d be way more forgiving. She said that the Reiner incident overlapped with having had a new baby, and the Red Online article indicates that this was a trying time in her personal life, and she should have asked for more help. But there’s no “I wish I would have done things differently” in the Deadline piece. Instead, she points fingers, avoids responsibility, and implied Wilson was the issue.