Romeo and Juliet actors sue Paramount for child abuse in 1968 film

The two leads from the 1968 adaptation of Romeo and Juliet are suing Paramount for child abuse over a nude scene in the film.

According to Variety, Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting, who were teenagers when making the Oscar-winning film, filed a lawsuit on 30 December accusing the studio of sexual exploitation.

In the suit, the pair claim that the director, Franco Zeffirelli, told them there would be no nudity and flesh-coloured items would be worn in the bedroom scene but he then later insisted they performed nude “or the picture would fail”. Zeffirelli died in 2019.

“What they were told and what went on were two different things,” said Tony Marinozzi, a business manager for the two actors. “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.”

Hussey was 15 and Whiting 16 at the time of production. The complaint alleges the pair have suffered “mental anguish and emotional distress” in the years since and have lost out on job opportunities. Damages are being sought “believed to be in excess of $500m”.

“These were very young naive children in the 60s who had no understanding of what was about to hit them,” said Solomon Gresen, a lawyer for the pair. “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.”

In a 2018 interview with the Guardian, Hussey said: “I loved playing Juliet. The only part I didn’t like was all the PR. It was exhausting.” She also claimed that Zeffirelli called her “Boobs O’Mina” on set before he later confessed that she was the unrequited love of his life.

Romeo and Juliet was a box office hit at the time and received four Oscar nominations, winning two for best cinematography and best costume design.

The lawsuit has arrived at the end of a temporary suspension of California’s statutes of limitations for childhood sexual abuse cases. The last week has seen a flood of other suits before the deadline on 31 December.

Paramount has yet to respond to the claim.

The Guardian