The stars of the 1968 film Romeo And Juliet have filed a lawsuit accusing Paramount of sexually exploiting them and distributing nude images of adolescent children.
As Variety reports, Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey – who portrayed the titular characters, respectively – were teenagers when they starred in the Franco Zeffirelli-directed adaption of the Shakespeare tragedy.
The suit alleges that Zeffirelli (who died in 2019) assured both young actors that there would be no nudity in the movie. It is claimed that the filmmaker said they would instead wear flesh-coloured undergarments in the bedroom scene.
However, Zeffirelli allegedly asked Whiting and Hussey to perform in the nude with body makeup during the final days of filming “or the Picture would fail”.
Whiting was 16 years old and Hussey was 15 at the time of the shoot.
According to the complaint, Zeffirelli showed the two actors where the camera would be positioned, and assured them that no nudity would be captured or released publicly.
The suit claims that the director was being dishonest on that occasion, and that Whiting and Hussey were in fact filmed while they were naked without their knowledge.
Tony Marinozzi, who is a business manager for both actors, said: “What they were told and what went on were two different things.
“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 two actors, who are now in their 70s, are said to be seeking damages “believed to be in excess of $500million [£415m]”. They claim to have suffered mental health issues and emotional distress in the 55 years since Romeo And Juliet came out.
Whiting and Hussey state in the complaint that they have lost out on acting jobs as a result, having both experienced only limited careers in the industry.
The actors’ attorney Solomon Gresen said: “Nude images of minors are unlawful and shouldn’t be exhibited.
“These were very young naive children in the ’60s who had no understanding of what was about to hit them. All of a sudden they were famous at a level they never expected, and in addition they were violated in a way they didn’t know how to deal with.”
The suit partly relies on a California law that temporarily suspended the statute of limitations for older claims of child sexual abuse.
In turn, the courts saw an increase of complaints against the Boy Scouts of America and the Catholic Church, among other organisations, in the days leading up to the deadline of December 31.
Back in 2018, Olivia Hussey defended the nude scene in question during an interview to mark the 50th anniversary of Romeo And Juliet.
“Nobody my age had done that before,” she told Variety. “It was needed for the film.”
Paramount did not respond to the outlet’s request for comment regarding the new lawsuit.