Romeo and Juliet stars say they were exploited as minors; Christian Bale tells us he’s finally old enough to star in The Pale Blue Eye; George Romero, the king of zombie horror, helped inspire The Last of Us, but wasn’t a fan; Jeremy Renner’s situation has improved. All in today’s Movie News Rundown.
Christian Bale: Here’s Margeaux Sippell’s interview with Christian Bale about his new film, The Pale Blue Eye, which we’re giving you several days before it appears in our new print issue. The Pale Blue is an Edgar Allen Poe origin story that Bale and director Scott Cooper have been developing for years. Bale plays an investigator named Augustus Landor. “There were other projects we were going to do first, and I think he also kind of liked the idea of me aging somewhat before trying to play Landor,” says Bale.
Patient Zero: The new HBO big swing The Last of Us owes its origin to a college class in which Last of Us creator Neil Druckmann was assigned to pitch a movie idea to George Romero, whose Night of the Living Dead launched the zombie genre. But as Druckmann recently explained, Romero wasn’t into his idea. So Druckmann had to settle for creating “the best video game story ever,” in the words of Craig Mazin, who is leading the HBO series based on the game.
Michelle Williams: The actress spends a lot of The Fabelmans watching movies, but doesn’t watch her own movies in real life, for reasons she quite reasonably explains here.
Jeremy Renner: “Thank you all for your kind words. Im too messed up now to type. But I send love to you all,” the actor wrote in an Instagram message as he recovers from horrific injuries sustained in his New Year’s Day snowblower accident. Nevada’s Washoe County Sheriff Darin Balaam says Renner was run over by a seven-ton snow plow while trying to help a family member who had gotten stuck driving on a private road in heavy snow. You can watch the news conference here if you’re some kind of weirdo.
Romeo and Juliet Lawsuit: The two stars of 1968′s Romeo and Juliet have sued Paramount Pictures for more than $500 million, alleging sexual abuse, sexual harassment and fraud over a nude scene they shot as teenagers. Olivia Hussey, then 15 and now 71, and Leonard Whiting, then 16 now 72, said director Franco Zeffirelli, who died in 2019, initially misled them by saying they would wear flesh-colored undergarments, but informed them on the morning of the shoot that they would wear only body makeup. He also told them they would be filmed in a way that would not show nudity, according to the suit.
And Yet: As countless ninth-graders who have been shown the film in public school classes can attest, the film shows Whiting’s buttocks and Hussey’s breasts. “Nude images of minors are unlawful and shouldn’t be exhibited,” the actors’ attorney, Solomon Gresen, said in an interview with Variety after the suit was filed Friday. “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.”
What Does Paramount Say? Paramount did not respond to requests for comment, because just imagine being a Paramount lawyer or publicist who may not have been born when this movie came out. What would you say?
Why Now? The Romeo and Juliet suit was filed under a California law that temporarily suspended the statute of limitations for older claims of child sexual abuse. It expired on December 31, which is why the suit had to be filed by Friday, the last business day of 2022.
Hussey’s Past Comments: “Nobody my age had done that before,” she told Variety in a 2018 interview, adding that Zeffirelli had shot the scene tastefully. “It was needed for the film.” And in a 2018 interview with Fox News, she said that while the scene was “taboo” in America, nudity was common in European films at the time. “It wasn’t that big of a deal,” she said. “And Leonard wasn’t shy at all! In the middle of shooting, I just completely forgot I didn’t have clothes on.”
May I Editorialize? Of course the problem isn’t nudity; it’s that the nude actors are so young. It also doesn’t really matter how Hussey processed the events of 50 years earlier in 2018, when I’m sure she thought she had no legal recourse. The issue is whether the studio allowed the minor Romeo and Juliet actors to be exploited under the laws of 1968. This will be a fascinating case, if Paramount doesn’t settle to make it go away as quickly as possible, which I’m sure is the hope of the plaintiffs: $500 million is such a huge number that it’s hard to see it as anything but a starting point for settlement talks.
Also: Is my ninth-grade English teacher going to prison? I hope not, because he was a very cool guy aside from having us watch this. I still remember him not getting mad at us when we read Romeo and Juliet aloud in class and we all cracked up at Sampson saying “My naked weapon is out.” Hopefully kids today are watching the Baz Luhrman Romeo + Juliet instead. I don’t remember if it has any nudity but it does have lovely moments like this:
Main image: Bella Ramsey and Pedro Pascal in The Last of Us, courtesy of HBO.