Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey captured the hearts of audiences around the world with their performance during 1968’s Hollywood version of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.
The critically acclaimed film was nominated for four Academy Awards at the time, with the romantic tragedy catapulting the teenagers to a new found levels of fame while both won a Golden Globe award for most promising newcomers for the film.
However the leading pair have now filed a lawsuit with producers at Paramount, accusing the production company of sexual harassment, fraud, sexual abuse and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Whiting and Hussey have launched a lawsuit for more than $500 million over a nude scene shot when they were teenagers.
Hussey, then 15 and now 71, and Whiting, then 16 and now 72, filed the suit in Los Angeles County Superior Court.
Director Franco Zeffirelli, who died in 2019, initially told the two that they would wear flesh-coloured undergarments in the bedroom scene that comes late in the movie and was shot on the final days of filming, the suit alleges. The complaint states that Zeffirelli ended up being untrue to his word.
On the morning of the shoot, Zeffirelli told Whiting, who played Romeo, and Hussey, who played Juliet, that they would wear only body make-up, while still assuring them the camera would be positioned in a way that would not show nudity.
Yet they were filmed in the nude without their knowledge, in violation of California and federal laws against indecency and the exploitation of children, the suit says.
Zeffirelli told them they must act in the nude “or the picture would fail” and their careers would be hurt, the suit says. The actors “believed they had no choice but to act in the nude in body make-up as demanded”. Whiting’s bare buttocks and Hussey’s bare breasts are briefly shown during the scene.
The business manager of the two actors, Tony Marinozzi, told Variety: “What they were told and what went on at the time were two different things. 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 that Whiting and Hussey have suffered mental anguish and emotional stress in the 55 years following the film’s release.
It claims that despite their breakout performances, they have lost out on future job opportunities as a result of the film.
The pair’s attorney Solomon Green said: “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.”
The lawsuit states that both actors are seeking compensation of around $500,000,000 to match the amount that the film has earned since 1968.
Paramount have not responded to the allegations.