The stars of the 1968 Oscar-winning movie “Romeo and Juliet” are suing Paramount Pictures for sexual assault over a nude scene in which they appeared.
Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey were teenagers when they co-starred in the movie.
In a new lawsuit, the two British actors, now in their 70s, say director Franco Zeffirelli encouraged them to perform nude scenes despite earlier assurances that they would not have to.
Paramount has not publicly responded to the claim.
The two actors are seeking more than $500m (£417m) in damages, based on the suffering they say they have endured and the revenue the film has generated since its release.
They claim Zeffirelli, who died in 2019, initially told them they would wear skin-colored underwear in the bedroom scene.
They said that on the morning of the filming, the director told them that they would only wear body make-up, while assuring them that the camera would be positioned so that nudity would not appear.
In the final version of the film, Whiting’s bare bottom and Hussey’s bare breasts were briefly shown during the scene.
In the lawsuit, the two alleged that Zeffirelli told them they had to pose nude “or the movie would fail” and their careers would suffer. They said they “thought they had no choice but to act in nude makeup as required”.
Whiting was then 16 and now 72, while Hussey was 15 when the movie was made, and is now 71.
The two are suing Paramount for sexual assault, sexual harassment and fraud.
The lawsuit accuses the Hollywood studio of sexually exploiting the two young actors and distributing nude pictures of teenage children.
The lawsuit says Whiting and Hussey suffered decades of mental damage and mental anguish as a result of the way they were treated.
The film was a huge hit at the time, and has been shown to generations of students studying Shakespeare’s play ever since.
It was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Director and Best Picture, and won two for its cinematography and costume design.
The lawsuit was filed Friday in Santa Monica Superior Court under a California law that temporarily suspended the statute of limitations, which meant that action usually could not be taken once a certain time had passed for child sexual abuse.
The suspension has led to a host of new lawsuits and the revival of several other previously dismissed cases.
“What they were told and what happened are two different things,” said Tony Marinuzzi, the actors’ manager.
“They trusted Franco. At 16, as actors, they believed his pledge that he would not violate their trust in him. Franco was their friend, and frankly, at 16, what would they have done? No choices. There was no #MeToo movement.”
“Nude images of minors are illegal and should not be shown,” Solomon Greesen, the lawyer for the two, added.
“They were two small, naive kids in the ’60s who didn’t understand what was about to happen,” he added.
“Suddenly they became famous at a level they never expected, plus they were being violated in a way they didn’t know how to deal with,” he said.
In a 2018 interview with Variety, Hussey defended the nude scene.
“No one of my age has ever done that before,” she said, adding that Zeffirelli filmed the scene with sufficient propriety.
“It was essential to the movie.”
In a separate interview with Fox News, also conducted in 2018, she said the scene was “taboo” in the United States, but such nudity was common in European films at the time.
“It wasn’t a big deal. And Leonard wasn’t shy at all! Halfway through the shoot, I totally forgot I wasn’t wearing clothes,” she said.