Franco Zeffirelli's 1968 film adaptation of William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet is considered a classic.
Unlike previous film versions, Zeffirelli cast authentically young actors to play the doomed star-crossed lovers—16-year-old Leonard Whiting and 15-year-old Olivia Hussey.
However the two actors—both of whom are now septuagenarians—aren't looking back fondly on their experience. They filed a lawsuit against Paramount Pictures due to a scene in which Whiting's bare buttocks and Hussey's bare breasts were visible.
According to the complaint, both Whiting and Hussey are accusing Paramount Pictures of "sexual harassment, fraud, sexual abuse, negligence, and the distribution of nude images of children." They are seeking upwards of $500 million in damages.
The lawsuit also alleges they both suffered from mental anguish and emotional distress following the film's release and believe the nude scene cost them future job opportunities.
While Hussey worked fairly regularly in film and TV productions, she had few leading roles in major studio pictures since Romeo and Juliet.
Whiting's career stalled in the 1970s.
The duo did reunite, playing spouses in the 2015 film Social Suicide, a loose modern update of Romeo and Juliet in which they played the Juliet equivalent's parents.
The suit also says Zeffirelli, who passed away in 2019, initially told the actors the film wouldn't contain any nudity but eventually convinced them the "movie would fail" if they weren't authentically nude during the scene.
Tony Marinozzi—business manager for both Whiting and Hussey—told Variety Zeffirelli misrepresented what the camera would capture during the scene.
"What they were told and what went on 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 pair's attorney, Solomon Gresen, agreed Zeffirelli took advantage of their youth and naivité, telling Variety:
"Nude images of minors are unlawful and shouldn't be exhibited."
"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 timing of the lawsuit coincides with California temporarily suspending the statute of limitations for claims of child sexual abuse.
Reactions to the lawsuit on Twitter were somewhat mixed.
Many applauded Whiting and Hussey for stepping forward.
There were a few who questioned why they waited this long—missing the part about the very short statute of limitations on sex crimes being waived making the lawsuit possible only now—or if it really affected their careers as badly as they claimed.
Hussey previously defended the nude scene, telling Fox News in 2018 the scene "was done very tastefully" and "wasn't that big of a deal."
Paramount has yet to comment on the lawsuit.
In addition to a number of television versions, there have been two major studio film adaptations of Shakespeare's classic love story since the 1968 film. Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes played the star-crossed lovers in Baz Luhrmann's 1996 modern adaptation.
A 2013 film version starring Oscar nominee Hailee Steinfeld caused a similar stir when it was reported the then 14-year-old Steinfeld would appear nude in the film.
The film's director Carlo Carlei later confirmed it was in the original script, but was dropped upon the underage Steinfeld's casting.