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"Romeo and Juliet" Stars, Now in Their 70s, Just Filed a Lawsuit Over "Unlawful" Onscreen Nudity

Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting were teens when they starred in the Shakespeare adaptation.

The stars of one of the most famous Shakespeare adaptations in film history are taking action against the studio that made the movie, 55 years later. Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting starred in Franco Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet in 1968 when they were both teenagers and minors. Now, the actors are suing for what they claim was "unlawful" nudity in the film. Read on to find out more about their lawsuit and how they claim they were misled on set.

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Romeo and Juliet was well-received and has become a classic.

Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey in "Romeo and Juliet"
Keystone Features/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The 1968 adaptation of Romeo and Juliet was a hit with viewers and critics. It was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, and won for two: Best Cinematography and Best Costume Design. The movie also lived on for decades, as it has remained popular to show to students learning about Shakespeare.

Whiting and Hussey claim they were told there wouldn't be nudity in the film.

Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting at the premiere of "Romeo and Juliet" in 1968
Bob Aylott/Keystone/Getty Images

At the time that Romeo and Juliet began filming, Whiting was 16 and Hussey was 15. (Today, they are 72 and 71.) In their lawsuit, they claim that they were told that they would not have to do any nude scenes. But in the released version, Whiting's backside and Hussey's breasts are briefly shown.

According to Variety, the actors claim that Zeffirelli originally said that they wouldn't be filmed nude at all and would instead wear nude-colored underwear. But eventually, the filmmaker urged them to disrobe and explained that due to where the camera was placed, their nudity wouldn't actually be captured. The lawsuit claims that the director, who died in 2019, told them, "the Picture would fail" if they didn't do the scene the way he asked.

The lawsuit was filed against Paramount Pictures, with the pair claiming they were sexually exploited and that the company distributed nude images of children via the film. According to the AP, they are seeking over $500 million in damages. Best Life has reached out to Paramount for comment but has not yet received a response.

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Their lawyer says that they were taken advantage of as young people.

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

As reported by Variety, Hussey and Whiting's lawyer, Solomon Gresen, said, "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 lawsuit claims that the actors lost out on jobs because of the film and suffered emotional and mental distress. The lawsuit is being filed now because California has temporarily suspended the statute of limitations for older claims of child sexual abuse, as reported by Variety.

They've addressed the controversial scenes over the years.

Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey at the 2018 TCM Classic Film Festival
Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images

The two actors have previously reflected on filming the nude scene. In an interview with Variety in 2018, Hussey said, "Nobody my age had done that before … It was needed for the film." In an interview with Fox News that same year, she said, "In America, it was very taboo. But in Europe a lot of the films had nudity. Nobody really thought much of it. But it was just the fact that I was 16 that got a lot of publicity…"

As for Whiting, according to a fan website called Lenpage, in a 1995 TV interview, he said, "Franco thought the scenes were—one of manifestations of beauty, sensuality and visual interest in the differences between Romeo and Juliet. At first he asked: 'Do you agree play naked?' We had said—no, no, no! But he so implored, that we finally agreed."

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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