The two stars of Paramount Pictures’ 1968 adaptation of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ have sued the studio for sexual harassment, sexual abuse, and fraud over a nude scene that they say they were misled into performing. Olivia Hussey, who played Juliet, previously defended the inclusion of the scene.
Filed in California last Friday and reported by Variety on Tuesday, the lawsuit alleges that actors Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting were told by director Franco Zeffirelli that they could wear flesh-colored clothing during the scene in question. However, he changed his mind on the day of filming, allegedly insisting that the movie “would fail” unless the actors – who were 15 and 16 at the time – performed naked while wearing body makeup.
Zeffirelli allegedly told them that the nudity would not be included in the final cut. As it turned out, Whiting’s bare buttocks and Hussey’s breasts were briefly visible in the finished film.
“What they were told and what went on were two different things,” Tony Marinozzi, a manager for the pair, told Variety. “They trusted Franco. At 16, as actors, they took his lead that he would not violate that trust they had. Franco was their friend, and frankly, at 16, what do they do? There are no options. There was no #MeToo.”
The lawsuit alleges that Hussey and Whiting suffered emotional distress in the 55 years since the film’s release, and missed out on other job opportunities due to the scene. The filing accused Paramount of sexual abuse, sexual harassment, fraud, and distributing unlawful images of minors.
The actors are seeking damages “in excess of $500 million,” Variety reported, citing the court documents.
Hussey and Whiting are now in their 70s, and would not have been able to sue the studio were it not for a 2020 change to California law that removed the statute of limitations on child sex abuse cases. That legal change saw high-profile cases brought against large organizations like the Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts of America, before it expired on New Year’s Eve.
Hussey previously stated that she had no problem performing nude. In a 2018 interview with Variety, she said that “it was needed for the film.”