Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting, who starred in 1968’s Romeo and Juliet, filed a lawsuit against Paramount for child abuse over a nude scene in the film.
Per Deadline, Hussey and Whiting filed the lawsuit in Santa Monica Superior Court on Jan. 3, accusing Paramount of sexual exploitation and the distribution of nude images of underage children. Now in their 70s, both actors were teenagers at the time they starred in the film; Hussey, who played Juliet, was 15 and Whiting, who played Romeo, was 16. The actors are seeking damages of over $100 million. “believed to be in excess of $500 million.”
Based on William Shakespeare’s iconic play of the same name, Romeo and Juliet was nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards at the time of its release. Directed by Franco Zeffirelli, who died in 2019, the film includes a nude bedroom scene that showed Whiting’s buttocks and Hussey’s breasts. According to the suit, Zeffirelli told both actors at the time that “no nudity would be filmed” for Romeo and Juliet and they would instead wear “flesh-colored undergarments” for the scene.
Despite this, the director allegedly told them in the last days of filming that they had to perform the scene nude or “the Picture would fail.” When Zeffirelli showed the actors how the camera would be positioned for the scene, Hussey and Whiting were assured the film would not include any nude scenes, meaning that no nudity would be captured on camera or released to the public. The suit claimed that the Hussey and Whiting were filmed “nude or partially nude […] without their knowledge.”
“What they were told and what went on were two different things,” Tony Marinozzi, the business manager for both Hussey and Whiting, said in a statement to 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 complaint also states “mental anguish and emotional distress” or both Hussey and Whiting. The actors stated that their roles in Romeo and Juliet negatively affected their careers in the over 50 years since its release. In 2018, Hussey spoke about the use of nudity in Romeo and Juliet, saying that it was “needed for the film.”
Paramount has not released a statement responding to the lawsuit at the time of writing. The filing came just before the Dec. 31 expiration of a California law that temporarily suspended the statute of limitations on older claims of child sexual abuse.