Actor Johnathon Schaech, 48, has accused celebrated film director Franco Zeffirelli, 94, of sexual misconduct.
In a statement given to People, Schaech alleges that the incident occurred in 1992 when the Oscar-nominated Italian director cast the 22-year-old newcomer as the lead in his movie Sparrow.
Schaech, who had only been modeling and studying acting in Los Angeles for three years at the time, says he felt vulnerable around Zeffirelli from the start because his dyslexia made it difficult to master the film’s dialogue and dialect.
“I could tell he wanted something from me beyond just being his leading man,” Schaech says. “He was in his sixties at the time, and you’d think I’d be safe in that situation. But I just knew I wasn’t safe. I felt it. My instinct was to stay away from him.”
Schaech adds that Zeffirelli “would drink to extremes, and become very aggressive and abusive.” He claims that while they were staying at an Italian château, the director would repeatedly knock on his locked bedroom door late at night.
“Almost every day, Franco would say, ’I need to be with you,'” Schaech recalls. “During the day, he would say things like ’I’m coming up to see you tonight’ and I would say, ’I’m not OK with that Franco, it’s not OK.’ He didn’t listen.”
It was at a hotel in Sicily where Schaech says Zeffirelli finally got a key. “I was in bed sleeping and he let himself into the bedroom and he got beside my bed and was over the top of me on the side of the bed as I awoke,” he says. “He got in my face.”
“There was a moment where I was telling him ’No’ and he told me, ’We have to.’ I remember his breath smelling of scotch.”
“He molested me in my bed,” Schaech continues. “He put his hands in places that I couldn’t even imagine and he did things that I am not proud of. But it’s not my fault. His pants never came off but I can [still] see him fumbling with his belt. He attempted to give me oral sex. I just remember being like, ’God, please no. I’m OK, I’m OK.’ I did nothing. I just lay there in bed. It felt like four hours but it was probably like 30 seconds.”
“When it was obvious Franco wasn’t getting what he wanted that night, he just left. He never tried to touch me again. I told him not to come near me again. He never said anything about it.”
“In the moment, I don’t remember thinking, ’Oh no, my career, I have to do this.’ [Instead] I felt like it was a rite of passage, like I had to do it in a sense. I was vulnerable. I didn’t scream and yell. I didn’t physically stop him, and it took me 25 years to answer the question why not.”
Schaech says that he was finally inspired to come forward by the bravery of his Doom Generation co-star Rose McGowan, one of Harvey Weinstein’s accusers.
In 97’ I was contracted to play Montgomery Clift in a movie called Beautiful Loser. It’s a story about a brilliant actor struggling with life in the public eye. Struggling with his addictions. His sexuality. His very being. Kevin Spacey was to direct this movie I was going to star in — until Esquire ran a story; outing him. https://www.google.com/amp/m.eonline.com/amp/news/35213/kevin-spacey-rips-esquire-on-outing-story I remember talking to him on the phone throughout the night before they were going to run the article. He felt he no longer could direct the movie. He was scared to death because he knew just how harsh the public eye could be. Like Monty he would be forced to diminish parts of his creative life. "If you see me, talk to me, or talk about me based on just one of the many stories that make up who I am, you reduce me to a single story." THE DANGER OF A SINGLE STORY.' CHIMAMANDA NGOZI ADICHIE It was heartbreaking. It was the same thing I experienced with Ellen when I would hold her hand on the red carpet. Fear of being their authentic selves. Shamed for being who they authentically are. Because millions of ordinary people like you and me hold certain opinions, assumptions, and prejudices. We're human. I’m so glad and proud Ellen is in a place now where she can educate us all on love and power. Just by living her life by example. Her actions every day SPEAK volumes to the human being she is. As a father — I also hope all the women and the men speaking out keep the real predators from harming our future generations. (It's most important to protect the minors who haven't matured enough to know what's right from wrong.) And speaking from experience. There’s a big difference between being molested and being considered a piece of meat. It’s important to realize that a famous person grabbing your package in a bar is not the same crime as a powerful producer manipulating an actor or actress into coming to his or her hotel room. Having to put your body on the line for a job because they have the power to do that. (Or they manipulate you to think that.) It's just not. It's not okay for anyone to use their power to use and abuse someone's dreams
“A predator found me and gave me this great opportunity and took advantage of me,” Schaech says. “I was molested, touched, groped, I was verbally abused. He beat me down to do that.”
Schaech, who has a young son with wife Julie Solomon, blames the abuse for years of intimacy issues and violent behavior. “When he crossed that boundary, I went from being a very vibrant young charming person who faced evil to someone who didn’t know himself,” says the That Thing You Do! star. “It’s caused me to have major alcohol and drug problems, sexual addictions—it caused my whole world to be confused for a long time. I carried this shame all along.”
“I don’t care if you’re 22, or 12, a man or a woman, it’s not OK to take away innocence because you’re in a power position to do so,” Schaech concludes. “You have to face that thing that’s evil inside you or you will continue it onto the next generation. For my son, for the future of all of our kids, we have to stop it. Stop the evil. That’s why I wanted to talk. I want future generations to know they’re not alone.”
In a response issued to People, Zeffirelli’s son Pippo says that Schaech’s allegations are “not credible and cannot be proved.” Pippo adds that his father is in poor health and will be unable to respond personally.
Zeffirelli, who came out publicly as gay in the mid-’90s but remained discreet about his personal life, revealed in his autobiography that he had been sexually assaulted by a priest while attending Catholic school. He clarified that he did not feel emotionally damaged by the incident and wrote that homosexual experiences “are not always bad for boys.”
Bruce Robinson has also claimed that Zeffirelli sexually harassed him when he appeared in the director’s 1968 adaptation of Romeo and Juliet.
Schaech, who grew up with a gay uncle and two gay aunts, famously escorted Ellen DeGeneres to various events before the comedian came out as gay.