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Brooke Shields Says Director Twisted Her Toe During Sex Scene at 15: "He Was Hurting Me"

The former child star worked with Franco Zeffirelli on 1981's Endless Love.

The new documentary Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields is all about model and actor Brooke Shields' early career, how she was mistreated by the media and adults around her, and how the sexualization of one young star reflected what was happening in society at the time. During her teenage years, Shields starred in a few films that had sexual themes, including 1981's Endless Love. Directed by Franco Zeffirelli, the movie is about two teenagers who fall in love and begin a sexual relationship as their families try to keep them apart. It's a subject that Zeffirelli was familiar with: He's best known as the director of 1968's Romeo and Juliet.

But, the documentary reveals that Zeffirelli's directing style made the young stars of Endless Love uncomfortable, as it apparently also did the stars of his Shakespeare adaptation. Read on to see what Shields shared about the strange tactic Zeffirelli used to influence her performance in a sex scene and to find out what the stars of Romeo and Juliet recently claimed about the late filmmaker.

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Zeffirelli admitted to twisting Shields' toe for a reaction.

Franco Zeffirelli in 1980
Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields features footage of an interview Shields and Zeffirelli did together to promote Endless Love. She was 16 when the movie was released and 15 during filming, and they're both asked questions about how the intimate scenes in the movie were shot.

At one point, Zeffirelli explained that he wasn't getting the reaction from Shields that he wanted during a scene in which her character loses her virginity.

"When I had the camera on her, she was not giving exactly the impact that the scene requires," he said. "So, I was there and the camera was here, and I kind of grabbed the toe and twisted it, and she screamed, 'Ahh!'"

Shields says that he hurt her.

Brooke Shields in "Endless Love"
Universal Pictures

In the documentary, present-day Shields says of shooting Endless Love, "The physicality and the exploration of sexuality felt really dangerous to me. And I didn't trust the director to create a safe environment for me."

She adds of him trying to physically get a performance out of her, "Zeffirelli kept grabbing my toe and, like, twisting it so that I had a feeling—so that I had a look of sort of, I guess, ecstasy. But it was more angst than anything, because he was hurting me. His thing was, 'The look on your face, it has to be ecstasy.' And was like, 'I don't know what that is.'"

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She says she disassociated to get through the experience.

Shields explains in the documentary that she mentally removed herself during filming.

"I didn't want to appear stupid or untalented, so I just disassociated," she says in the documentary. "It's like, in an instant, zooming out, seeing a situation, but you are not connected to it. You instantly because a vapor of yourself around something that's happening."

She continues, "I was really shut down after that. I thought of myself as just the sort of the workhorse. They paid me. I did the thing. They sold it. Everybody's happy. It was transactional."

The stars of Romeo and Juliet recently claimed that the director manipulated them.

Franco Zeffirelli, Olivia Hussey, and Leonard Whiting in London in 1967
Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In January, Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey, who starred in Romeo and Juliet, filed a lawsuit against the film's distributor, Paramount Pictures, requesting $500 million in damages for alleged "unlawful" nudity.

The actors, who were teenagers at the time the movie was made, claim that Zeffirelli, who died in 2019, told them that there would not be nudity in the film. They say that they were later convinced to film nude when the director allegedly told them the movie would fail otherwise and also that their nudity would not be seen onscreen. Despite his alleged promise, the movie briefly features Whiting's backside and Hussey's breasts.

Best Life reached out to Paramount Pictures for comment but did not receive a response.

Shields wasn't "surprised" by their lawsuit.

Shields was asked about the Romeo and Juliet lawsuit when Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January.

"It doesn't surprise me," she told Deadline. "It was a very different era in filmmaking and, I think, many directors did take liberties, and sort of tell the actors one thing, and then tell the studio another … They were in charge. They were the star, really."

Shields said that her mother, Teri Shields, helped protect her from Zeffirelli, because while Teri and Zeffirelli had a love-hate relationship, he respected Teri. "I think that I was much more protected than many people probably were," Shields said.

Lia Beck
Lia Beck is a writer living in Richmond, Virginia. In addition to Best Life, she has written for Refinery29, Bustle, Hello Giggles, InStyle, and more. Read more
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