It was announced last week that actors Olivia Hussey (71) and Leonard Whiting (72) have filed a lawsuit against the film studio Paramount Pictures. They believe there is child abuse because they were filmed naked in the movie Romeo & Juliet. But that’s nonsense, says Pippo Zeffirelli, director Franco Zeffirelli’s son, to The Guardian.
Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting – who were 15 and 16 when Romeo & Juliet was filmed – claim they were pressured by director Franco Zeffirelli to act in a nude scene. However, it was initially agreed that they could wear tan underwear, but Zeffirelli changed his mind on the morning of the shooting. “If you don’t do that, the film will flop,” he reportedly told them. The two actors are now suing Paramount Pictures for sexual exploitation and child abuse. Compensation could be $500 million.
Director Franco Zeffirelli died in 2019, but his son Pippo has stood in for his father ever since. In a statement to The Guardian, he said the scene in question was “far from pornographic”. “Zeffirelli himself was accused of being a reactionary because he repeatedly spoke out against pornography,” it says, and does not contain any morbid mood.
Zeffirelli states that he believes the film’s two producers, John Brabourne and Anthony Havelock-Allan, had permission from the actors’ parents to film the scene. “It is embarrassing to hear that two elderly actors, who owe their fame solely to this film, are waking up now – 55 years after filming – to explain that they were abused and that it was years of fear and caused emotional discomfort. ‘ said Zephyrelli. “It seems to me that you have had a relationship of deep gratitude and friendship with Zeffirelli over the years. For example, they have given hundreds of interviews about the happy memory of their very fortunate experience, which turned out to be a worldwide success.”
The director’s son adds that Hussey worked again with Zeffirelli in the Jesus of Nazareth miniseries and that Whiting attended his funeral.