The two stars of 1968’s “Romeo and Juliet” sued Paramount Pictures for more than $500 million on Tuesday over a nude scene in the film shot when they were teens.
Olivia Hussey, then 15 and now 71, and Leonard Whiting, then 16 now 72, filed the suit in Los Angeles County Superior Court alleging sexual abuse, sexual harassment and fraud.
Director Franco Zeffirelli, who died in 2019, initially told the two that they would wear flesh-colored undergarments in the bedroom scene that comes late in the movie and was shot on the final days of filming, the suit alleges.
But on the morning of the shoot, Zeffirelli told Whiting, who played Romeo, and Hussey, who played Juliet, that they would wear only body makeup, while still assuring them the camera would be positioned in a way that would not show nudity, according to the suit.
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 said. The actors “believed they had no choice but to act in the nude in body makeup as demanded.”
Whiting’s bare buttocks and Hussey’s bare breasts are briefly shown during the scene.
The film, and its theme song, were major hits at the time, and has been shown to generations of high school students studying the Shakespeare play since.
The court filing says the Hussey and Whiting have suffered emotional damage and mental anguish for decades, and that each had careers that did not reflect the success of the movie.
It says given that suffering and the revenue brought in by the film since its release, the actors are entitled to damages of more than $500 million.
An email seeking comment from representatives of Paramount was not immediately returned.
The lawsuit was filed under a California law temporarily suspending the statute of limitations for child sex abuse, which has led to a host of new lawsuits and the revival of many others that were previously dismissed.
Hussey defended the scene in a 2018 interview with Variety, which first reported the lawsuit, for the film’s 50th anniversary.
“Nobody my age had done that before,” she said, adding that Zeffirelli shot it tastefully. “It was needed for the film.”
The Associated Press does not typically name people who say they have been sexually abused unless they come forward publicly, as Hussey and Whiting have.