Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting, the stars of Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 film adaptation of “Romeo and Juliet,” have sued Paramount Pictures for sexual exploitation and child abuse over a nude scene in the movie, per Rolling Stone.

According People magazine, the pair filed the lawsuit last Friday in Santa Monica Superior Court in California, and are seeking compensation in an excess of $500 million, or the amount the film has acquired since its 1968 release.

The film was nominated for an Academy Award, but was also the center of controversy for a bedroom scene in which Hussey and Whiting, who were 15 and 16 years old at the time, are captured partially nude.

According to Variety, the lawsuit claims that Zeffirelli, who died in 2019, told the actors that the film would have no nudity. During the bedroom scene, he allegedly assured them that they would be given flesh-colored coverups to wear. But when it came time to film the scene, Zeffirelli encouraged the teenage actors to wear only body makeup instead, “or the Picture would fail,” according to the lawsuit.

Before filming, Zeffirelli allegedly showed the young actors where the camera would be directed and reassured them that no nudity would be captured or put in the movie. The suit claims Hussey and Whiting were lied to by Zeffierelli, and were filmed nude without their knowledge, per Rolling Stone.

“What they were told and what went on were two different things,” said Tony Marinozzi, who is a business manager for both actors, per Variety. “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?”

British actress Olivia Hussey and actor Leonard Whiting stand under the balcony of the Capulet family’s home in Verona, northern Italy.
British actress Olivia Hussey and actor Leonard Whiting, who are playing the title roles in Italian Franco Zeffirelli’s film “Romeo and Juliet,” stand under the balcony of the Capulet family’s home in Verona, northern Italy on Oct. 19, 1968, where the two famed lovers secretly met and declared their love. | Associated Press

The lawsuit claims that since the 1968 release of the movie, the young actors suffered “extensive emotional distress and mental anguish” and that the film led them to both miss out on opportunities for further success in their acting careers, per Rolling Stone.

“Nude images of minors are unlawful and shouldn’t be exhibited,” said the actors’ attorney, Solomon Gresen, in an interview, per Variety. “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.”

Olivia Hussey previously defended the scene

In a 2018 interview with Variety, Hussey defended the nude scene. “Nobody my age had done that before,” said Hussey. “It was needed for the film.”

In a different 2018 interview, with Fox News, Hussey said she felt at ease on set, even during the scenes with nudity, because they were done “tastefully.”

“In America, it was very taboo. But in Europe a lot of the films had nudity. Nobody really thought much of it.”