Setting The Affair

Article written by Kathleen O'Steen; pictures courtesy of Showtime.

When television writer and producer Sarah Treem decided to set her taut psychological series The Affair in Montauk, her reasons were both professional and nostalgic. As a child, Treem had spent many summers here, and she had wonderful memories of the small town’s warm and intimate scale, and of the area’s forested rolling hills, its rugged, rocky cliffs and its sweeping white-sand beaches.  

The Golden Globe-winning television series, which enters its second season on Showtime this fall, stars Dominic West and Ruth Wilson as Noah and Alison, star-crossed lovers from wildly different social backgrounds—he’s a professor and writer escaping New York City for Montauk with his wife and children as part of the area’s moneyed summer crowd; she’s a working-class townie, a waitress, married to a man whose family has owned the local horse stables for decades. But while Noah and Alison’s red-hot romance is the dynamic that drives this drama, the show’s producers say there is a third important character that lends depth and texture to the series. That character is Montauk itself.

“Noah and Alison fell in love in Montauk, and it seemed so natural for them to do so in this incredibly vivid space,” says The Affair’s associate producer, Ryan Selzer. “You have the open sky, and the light playing off the water… There’s so much natural landscape to be found. In these wild, unkempt spaces, it just felt like chance encounters like this could really happen.”

Selzer says that Treem (who co-created the series with Hagai Levi) was anxious to bring the show to Montauk because she remembered her childhood summers so fondly, taking horseback riding lessons at Deep Hollow Ranch and wanting to work—just like Alison—as a waitress at the Lobster Roll restaurant on Montauk Highway.

“Her grandparents would bring her here,” says Andrea Anthony, one of the Lobster Roll’s owners, of Treem. “So when they came here to film, she had a real sense of familiarity.”

Indeed Montauk’s stark, natural beauty and its sense of genuine tranquility have been bringing families back summer after summer, generation after generation. “I have kids working for me whose parents worked for me when they were young,” Anthony says with a chuckle. 

Her restaurant, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, offers a full menu of steak, chicken and seafood—but it’s likely the lobster rolls and the puffer & chips that keep crowds lining up. And much of The Affair’s drama in the first season occurs there; Alison and Noah meet in the Lobster Roll’s beach-casual setting when she saves one of his children from choking.

Another prime location in the series is Deep Hollow Ranch, which stood in as the ranch owned by Alison’s husband, Cole (Joshua Jackson), and his family. When one of Noah’s sons comes to work at the ranch for a summer job, it further entwines the two clans at the core of this riveting drama.

“The film’s producers and location scouts wanted an authentic ranch,” says ranch owner Cate Keogh. “They took a lot of our advice, and we were excited to have them here.”

Established in 1658, the Deep Hollow Ranch is said to be oldest cattle ranch in the United States. Cate and her husband, Patrick, bought the ranch four years ago. “We’d been coming here for years and the ranch had always been a big part of our lives,” she says.

The couple maintain riding trails on fifteen wooded acres that lead out to the Atlantic Ocean, where beach riding is not only allowed but actively encouraged. “I truly feel that it’s such a special place,” Keogh says. “As you wind your way on horseback, you can come across foxes, deer and hawks. For me it’s just a way of life.”

In the TV series the ranch is a symbol of sorts, representing a deep sense of history and family connection to Montauk. “It has been the glue that holds Cole’s family together,” producer Selzer says. “This land has been in their family for generations and it gives them a valuable stake in this community, one that they’re desperately trying to hold on to as events begin to spin out of their control.” 

So as much as The Affair is a tale of desperate love, and of two families that are each scarred by loss, longing and betrayal—not to mention an unsolved murder—part of the story is also Montauk itself, the land, the ocean, the endless sky. 

 “What I think the TV series did was to capture the essence of this place,” Andrea Anthony says. After all, she should know. “Sarah Treem captured what it feels like to live here as a local and what it feels like to come here as a summer tourist. I haven’t seen much else that’s done that as successfully.”