Romeo and Juliet stars sue Paramount for alleged sexual exploitation over nude scene in 1968 film

Romeo and Juliet stars Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey are suing Paramount Pictures over a nude scene in the 1968 movie, which was filmed when they were minors.

In a complaint filed Dec. 30 in Santa Monica, Calif., and reviewed by EW, Whiting and Hussey, who were 16 and 15 at the time of production, accused the studio of exploitation, sexual harassment, fraud, sexual abuse, negligence, and the distribution of nude images of children.

The actors, who are now in their 70s, say they have suffered mental anguish and emotional distress in the five decades since the film’s release, and have lost out on job opportunities. According to the lawsuit, “Paramount owed a duty to protect their minor children employees from child and sexual exploitation.”

They are seeking damages “believed to be in excess of $500 million,” per the suit.

Everett Collection Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting in ‘Romeo and Juliet’

Representatives for Paramount didn’t immediately respond to EW’s request for comment Tuesday.

Hussey and Whiting’s complaint alleges that Romeo and Juliet director Franco Zeffirelli assured them there would be no nudity in the movie, and that they would instead wear flesh-colored undergarments to shoot an intimate scene between the titular star-crossed lovers. However, in the final days of filming, Zeffirelli allegedly encouraged them to film the bedroom scene nude with body makeup, or the movie “would fail.”

Hussey and Whiting also allege that Zeffirelli — who died in 2019 — misrepresented where the camera would be and filmed them naked without their knowledge. The finished film included images of Hussey’s breasts and Whiting’s buttocks.

“What they were told and what went on were two different things,” Tony Marinozzi, a business manager for both actors, told 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 lawsuit was filed under a California law that temporarily suspended the statute of limitations for claims of child sexual abuse.

Solomon Gresen, an attorney for Whiting and Hussey, told Variety, “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.”

Hussey has defended the nude scene in past interviews. In 2018, she told Fox News that it “was done very tastefully” and “wasn’t that big of a deal.”

Representatives for Hussey and Whiting didn’t immediately respond to EW’s request for comment.

Romeo and Juliet was a critical and commercial success at the time of its release, and was nominated for four Oscars. Hussey went on to appear in films such as Black ChristmasDeath on the Nile, and Undeclared War. Whiting’s subsequent film credits included The Royal Hunt of the SunSay Hello to Yesterday, and War Is Hell. The two also reunited in the 2015 film Social Suicide

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