The stars of Franco Zeffirelli‘s 1968 Romeo & Juliet adaptation are coming forward years after the film was released to file a lawsuit against Paramount Pictures. The Associated Press reports that Olivia Hussey — who was 15 at the time and is now 71, and Leonard Whiting — who was 16 and is now 72 — are suing Paramount for over $500 million, accusing the studio of sexual abuse, sexual harassment and fraud.
Hussey and Whiting claim they were coerced into filming a nude scene for Romeo & Juliet after initially being told they would wear “flesh-colored undergarments” while filming, per the AP. They actors say Zeffirelli (who died in 2019) told them on the day of filming that they would only be wearing body makeup during the shoot, but assured the young actors that they would not be shown nude on screen.
Their suit says they were still “filmed in the nude without their knowledge,” per the AP. Hussey and Whiting say the director threatened their careers if they did not comply, allegedly telling them they needed to appear nude in the scene “or the Picture would fail,” per the AP.
Tony Marinozzi, business manager for both actors, said the two were manipulated into filming the scene as teens and trusted Zeffirelli.
“What they were told and what went on were two different things,” he said, per 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.”
While Romeo & Juliet was a smash hit upon its release, garnering four Oscar noms, the two stars didn’t see the success they were promised after playing the star-crossed lovers. Their complaint alleges that Hussey and Whiting endured lasting emotional trauma from the film and subsequently lost out on roles later in their careers.
Hussey previously stood by the nude scene in a 2018 interview with Variety. While marking the 50-year anniversary of Romeo & Juliet, she told the outlet that the scene was filmed respectfully, adding, “Nobody my age had done that before. It was needed for the film.”
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