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04th Jan 2023

Romeo and Juliet child stars sue film company for $500 million over nude scene

Steve Hopkins

The teens were told they must act in the nude ‘or the picture would fail’

Two Romeo and Juliet actors are suing Paramount for USD$500 million (£417m) over nude scenes in the 1968 film shot when they were just teenagers.

Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting, who were minors while filming Franco Zeffirelli’s adaptation, have filed a lawsuit against the movie studio in Santa Monica Superior Court.

British actress, Olivia, who is now 71, was just 15 at the time. Leonard, now 72, was 16.

The pair are suing Paramount Pictures, alleging sexual abuse, sexual harassment and fraud, Variety reported.

According to the suit, the director, Zeffirelli, initially told the pair they would wear flesh-coloured underwear in the bedroom scene that was shot on the final days of filming.

But on the morning of the shoot, Zeffirelli, who died in 2019, told the pair they would wear only body makeup. The suit says the director showed Olivia and Leonard where the camera would be positioned and assured them that no nudity would be photographed or released in the film.

Olivia’s breasts were visible in the scene as was Leonard’s buttocks.

The suit says the actors were filmed in the nude without their knowledge, in violation of California and federal laws against indecency and the exploitation of children.

Zeffirelli told them they must act in the nude “or the picture would fail” and their careers would be hurt, the suit claimed, and the actors “believed they had no choice but to act in the nude in body makeup as demanded”.

“What they were told and what went on were two different things,” said Tony Marinozzi, who is a business manager for both actor 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 film has been shown to generations of students studying the Shakespeare play since.

The suit claims Olivia and Leonard had suffered emotional damage and mental anguish for decades, and that their careers had not reflected the success of the movie.

Given the amount of money the movie has made since its release, the actors suggest they are entitled to more than $500m ($417m).

Paramount Pictures has not responded to news of the lawsuit.

Sky News noted the case was filed under a California law temporarily suspending the statute of limitations for child sex abuse, which has led to numerous lawsuits and the revival of many others that were previously dismissed.

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