Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting, the stars of 1968’s Romeo and Juliet, are filing a major lawsuit against Paramount for alleged sexual abuse. Directed and co-written by Italian director Franco Zeffirelli, the film adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic love story would go on to garner massive critical acclaim. It received four Oscar nominations, including for Best Picture, and won for Best Cinematography and Best Costume Design. It would also win Best English-Language Foreign Film at the Golden Globes that year. Zeffirelli’s film remains one of the most highly praised film adaptations of Romeo and Juliet to date.
Nearly 55 years after the film’s release, stars Hussey and Whiting are suing Paramount Pictures for $500 million+ (via Variety) for allegedly sexually exploiting the adolescent actors and for distributing sexual material of minors. The lawsuit was filed on December 30, 2022 and concerns a sex scene in the film which showed Hussey’s breasts and Whiting’s buttocks, despite reassurances supplied to the actors that there would be no nudity in the film. At the time, Hussey was 15 years old and Whiting was 16. Read an excerpt from the filing below:
At the time of filming, Mr. Whiting (Romeo) was a minor child aged 16 years and Ms. Hussey was also a minor child aged 15 years. Plaintiffs were told by Mr. Zeffirelli that there would be no nudity filmed or exhibited and that Plaintiffs would be wearing flesh colored undergarments during the bedroom/love scene. However, on the morning of the shoot of the bedroom scene in the second week of December 1968, the very last days of photography the minor children Plaintiffs were given body make-up and were told by Mr. Zeffirelli that they must act in the nude or the Picture would fail. Millions were invested. They would never work again in any profession, let alone Hollywood. Zeffirelli showed them were the cameras would be set so that no nudity would be filmed or photographed for use in Romeo & Juliet or anywhere else. Plaintiffs believed they had no choice to act in the nude with body make-up as demanded on the last days of filming.
Everything We Know About Hussey and Whiting’s Lawsuit
The lawsuit alleges that Zeffirelli told the young actors that there would be no actual nudity in Romeo and Juliet, and that the actors would simply be wearing flesh-colored undergarments. However, on the day the sex scene was set to be shot, Zeffirelli told Hussey and Whiting that the film would “fail” if they did not act in the nude, while still assuring them they would be obscured by the positioning of the camera. Despite the director’s alleged involvement, he died in 2019 and was not named as a defendant in the suit. Instead, the actors are suing Paramount Pictures, which distributed the film.
While the lawsuit might seem sudden over 50 years later, this isn’t the first time Hussey and Whiting have spoken about Romeo and Juliet‘s sex scene in recent years. In 2018, Hussey actually defended the scene in an interview, stating that it was “needed for the film” and “wasn’t that big of a deal.” Hussey also says that while the nude scene was shocking in America in 1968, it was much more common in European films, and that “in the middle of shooting, [she] just completely forgot [she] didn’t have clothes on.”
Despite seemingly agreeing with the nude scene in 2018, Hussey and Whiting have changed their viewpoints since, and are well within their rights to do so if they feel as though they were sexually exploited, particularly as minors. Hussey and Whiting’s manager has commended them for filing the suit, saying that it was very courageous of the now 71- and 72-year-old actors to speak out against the “sexploitation” of minors. While Paramount Pictures has not yet commented on the suit, there will no doubt be developments on the Romeo and Juliet case in the coming weeks.
More: Who Does Rosaline End Up With In Romeo & Juliet’s Story?