The lead actors of the 1968 film adaptation of Romeo and Juliet have filed a lawsuit against Paramount Pictures for sexual harassment over the movie’s nude scene.
The suit was filed by the stars of the film, Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting, on Friday, December 30, accusing the studio of “sexual abuse, sexual harassment and fraud,” according to the Associated Press. The costars claimed that director Franco Zeffirelli — who died in 2019 — told both actors that the film would not have any nudity and for the bedroom scene the twosome would wear flesh-colored undergarments.
The suit alleges that Zeffirelli later suggested that the performers filmed the scene naked or the movie “would fail.” At the time of the production, Hussey was 15 years old and Whiting was 16.
“What they were told and what went on were two different things,” the actors’ business manager Tony Marinozzi told Variety on Tuesday, January 3. “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 critically acclaimed romantic drama was a box-office success upon its 1968 release, and Hussey previously defended the film’s controversial nude scene. The Shakespeare adaptation went on to earn four Academy Award nominations and took home the awards for Best Costume and Best Cinematography in 1969.
In August 2018, Hussey spoke to The Guardian about her role in the film in honor of its 50th anniversary. “I loved playing Juliet,” the Argentina native said at the time. “The only part I didn’t like was all the PR. It was exhausting, and I was this wild little thing.”
Hussey and Whiting, who are now both in their 70s, have filed their lawsuit with the Santa Monica Superior Court 55 years after the film’s initial release. According to Variety, California law temporarily suspended the statute of limitations for older claims of child sexual abuse until the deadline of December 31, 2022.
The complaint also states that the actors have suffered from mental anguish and emotional distress since the film’s release. The pair claim that they have lost out on job opportunities, despite their breakout performances in the Oscar-winning picture. The pair are seeking $500 million in damages, per the Associated Press.
Keep scrolling to learn more about the Romeo and Juliet and Paramount lawsuit: