The actors, who were both 15 years old during filming, claim that the final release of “Romeo and Juliet” featured images of adolescent nudity.
The stars of the 1968 film “Romeo and Juliet” have filed a lawsuit against Paramount Pictures, alleging that the studio allowed the movie to be released when it contained sexually explicit scenes featuring underage actors.
According to CNN, the lawsuit was filed last week in Santa Monica Superior Court by Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting, both of whom accused Paramount Pictures of sexual exploitation and the distribution of nude images of adolescent children.
The complaint broadly contends that the film’s director, Franco Zeffirelli, informed the actors that there would be no nudity in the final release and that they would be able to wear “flesh colored undergarments during the bedroom/love scene.”
CNN, which received a copy of the lawsuit, notes both that Zeffirelli died in 2019 and that his estate is not named as a defendant.
Despite Zeffirelli’s alleged promises, the director later told Hussey and Whiting—who were both aged 15 at the time of production—that “they must act nude or the Picture would fail.”
Attorneys for the actors claim that Zeffirelli provided the stars with body make-up and told them exactly where the cameras would be positioned.
While the director continued to insist that the final release would contain no nudity, the theatrical version showed images of Whiting’s buttocks and Hussey’s exposed breasts.
Tony Marinozzi, a business manager for both actors, told Variety that Whiting and Hussey agreed to continue filming “Romeo & Juliet” because they trusted that the director had made promises in good faith.
“What they were told and what went on were two different things,” Marinozzi said. “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.”
Solomon Gresen, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said that the nude scenes were filmed when his clients “were very young naïve 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.”
Both Hussey and Whiting claim that they continue to be traumatized by the release, and that they lost subsequent casting opportunities as a consequence.
Giuseppe Zeffirelli, the late director’s son, lamented the lawsuit, stating that his father never intended to create pornography and reiterating that both actors had long maintained their gratitude for their roles.
“It is embarrassing to hear that today, 55 years after filming, two elderly actors who owe their notoriety essentially to this film wake up to declare that they have suffered an abuse that has caused them years of anxiety and emotional distress,” Giuseppe Zeffirelli said.