The two leads of the hit film are taking the action over a nude scene in the feature which was shot when they were teenagers. Olivia Hussey, who played Juliet when she was 15 and is now 71, and Leonard Whiting, who was 16 when he played Romeo and is now 72, filed the suit earlier this week in Los Angeles County Superior Court alleging sexual abuse, sexual harassment and fraud.
Previously, Ms Hussey defended the scene in a 2018 interview with Variety, for the film’s 50th anniversary.
“Nobody my age had done that before,” she said, adding that the director shot it tastefully.
“It was needed for the film.”
But the new lawsuit was filed under a California law temporarily suspending the statute of limitations for child sex abuse, which has led to a host of new lawsuits and the revival of many others that were previously dismissed.
And in legal papers, the two actors claim that the movie’s director Franco Zeffirelli, who died in 2019, initially told them that they would wear flesh-coloured underwear in the bedroom scene that appears late in the movie and was shot on the final days of filming.
But on the morning of the shoot, Zeffirelli allegedly told the two young protagonists they would wear only body makeup, while still assuring them the camera would be positioned in a way that would not show nudity, according to the suit.
Yet they were filmed in the nude without their knowledge, in violation of California and federal laws against indecency and the exploitation of children, the suit claims.
Zeffirelli told them they must act in the nude “or the Picture would fail” and their careers would be hurt, the suit says.
The actors “believed they had no choice but to act in the nude in body makeup as demanded.”
Mr Whiting’s bare buttocks and Ms Hussey’s bare breasts are briefly shown during the scene.
The film, and its theme song, were major hits at the time and has been shown to generations of secondary school students studying the Shakespeare play since.
The court papers allege that Mr Hussey and Ms Whiting have suffered emotional damage and mental anguish for decades, and that each had careers that did not reflect the success of the movie.
The suit further argues that given that suffering and the revenue brought in by the film since its release, the actors are entitled to damages of more than $500 million.
Paramount Pictures has yet to respond to the lawsuit.