Johnathon Schaech: I was abused by Franco Zeffirelli

‘He gave me this great opportunity and took advantage of me‘: Actor Johnathon Schaech says he was sexually abused by Franco Zeffirelli on the set of the 1993 film The Sparrow, when he was 22 and the famed Italian director was 70

Actor Johnathon Schaech wrote a personal essay for on Thursday, claiming he was sexually abused by director Franco Zeffirelli, 94, on the set of the 1993 film The Sparrow. 

Schaech, who is now 48, says he was 22 years old and new to Hollywood when the then 70-year-old Italian director cast him in the film. 

‘You can imagine what a big opportunity this was for me,‘ the Ray Donovan star writes. 

Right from the start, Schaech says he knew something was off with Zeffirelli, and was uncomfortable with the way he tried to ‘seduce‘ him with flattery. 

‘He would tell me how wonderful and beautiful I was, told me incredible stories and what I needed to do to really be a real artist. I could tell he wanted something from me beyond just being his leading man,‘ he said. 

He added: ‘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.‘ 

When he wasn‘t trying to impress him, he says Zeffirelli was prone to bad moods and became verbally abusive on the set, especially after he had been drinking.  

Zeffirelli‘s (pictured) son Pippo released a statement denying the accusations 

‘It got to the point where he made me feel like I couldn’t act, I couldn’t do anything right, I couldn’t speak right, I couldn’t move right — everything I did was wrong. So I felt beaten down,‘ he said. 

Eventually, Zeffirelli started trying to get Schaech to meet up with him at night.   

‘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. 

‘I didn’t have an agent, or anyone to talk to or protect me except for my acting coach, who was unbelievable, but at the time was on his deathbed,‘ Schaech says. 

At one point while filming, they were staying in an Italian chateau and Schaech says Zeffirelli would knock on his door every night. 

He says he kept the door locked and would even stack furniture in front of it to keep the director out.  But one night, Zeffirelli got a key. 

Schaech says he woke up to the director on top of him, trying to perform oral sex.     

‘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 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 said. 

Like many victims of sexual assault, Schaech said he froze and stopped fighting. 

‘I felt as though I left my body,‘ he said.  

He molested me in my bed. 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. 

Schaech continued: ‘He molested me in my bed. 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 4 hours but it was probably like 30 seconds.‘   

‘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. 

‘There’s a moment when someone is being violated by a predator where it is a clear form of violence that creates trauma in the body. We have a fight or flight response. People say they “leave their bodies” and that’s what I did. 

‘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,‘ Schaech wrote.  

While Zeffirelli never touched him again, Schaech says the trauma of that night has continued to haunt him. 

‘After that, I felt crushed. I felt my whole world was wrong. I didn’t know why I couldn’t handle myself in the moment. I didn’t know why it happened or what to do. It was so traumatic,‘ he said. 

He added: ‘A predator found me and gave me this great opportunity and took advantage of me. I was molested, touched, groped, I was verbally abused. He beat me down to do that. The psychological part was key – and he made sure he set it up.‘

 A predator found me and gave me this great opportunity and took advantage of me. I was molested, touched, groped, I was verbally abused. He beat me down to do that. The psychological part was key – and he made sure he set it up.

He says his inability to cope with what happened has led him to develop alcohol, drug and sex addictions. He also started getting into physical fights more often. 

One thing that has helped though was marrying his current wife, Julie Solomon, and starting a family with her.  The couple have a four-year-old son together. 

‘When we met, I looked at Julie and said, this is all I want, I’m just trying to have a life, a family, and I’m not just going survive anymore. And she’s met every single moment. I told her about the molestation, and she gave me the courage to talk about this,‘ he said. 

Schaech says he was inspired to speak out after his former co-star Rose McGowan helped bring down Harvey Weinstein.   

‘When I saw Rose, my costar [in Doom Generation], post about her experience, it hit home. I told her this happened to me, and she’s been great,‘ he said.

He hopes that telling his story will effect some much-needed change in the industry. 

‘There are really great, smart human beings in this business. They keep proper boundaries. But this culture is breeding individuals who take advantage of people and we have to stop it,‘ he said. 

He added: ‘It’s not OK for a producer to use his power to take advantage of an actress. It’s not OK to take the innocence away from a child, a boy. 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.‘

Zefirelli, who is now 94, didn‘t respond to the allegations personally. But his son Pippo issued a statement saying that the accusations are ‘not credible‘. 

‘My father is in poor health and not able to understand this attack and to respond to the allegations made by Jonathan Schaech. 

‘This would be an attack to a great director, an artist and to a man at the end of his life that he is not able, nor he will be in the future able to respond. 

‘This will be an incredible damage to his image and reputation on the basis of allegations which are not credible and cannot be proved,‘ the statement reads.

Three years after The Sparrow was released, Zeffirelli came out as gay.  

He lives with his two adopted sons, Luciano and Pippo, men who worked with him over the years and who he adopted as adults.

FRANCO ZEFFIRELLI‘S SON REFUTES SEXUAL ABUSE ALLEGATIONS

Zeffirelli is pictured right with his adopted sons Pippo (top) and Luciano (in a blue suit) 

Franco Zeffirelli‘s son Pippo issued this statement to People, after actor Johnathan Schaech accused the director of sexual abuse on Thursday. 

‘It is alleged that 25 years ago an actor, who was then in his early twenties, was the victim of alleged verbal abuse and alleged attempted sexual abuse by my father during the filming of The Sparrow in Sicily, Italy. [He] would have been 70 at the time. 

‘It is also alleged that my father drank alcohol and may have been drunk on set. Mr. Zeffirelli and all our family were living in a villa, whilst actors, production and staff were staying in a hotel in Catania; all these allegations are not credible. 

‘At the time Johnathon suffered from a throat type of obstruction which made his speaking difficult. Directors have different styles and some time they could be much more demanding on inexperienced actors. 

‘My father is in poor health and not able to understand this attack and to respond to the allegations made by Jonathan Schaech. 

‘This would be an attack to a great director, an artist and to a man at the end of his life that he is not able, nor he will be in the future able to respond. 

‘This will be an incredible damage to his image and reputation on the basis of allegations which are not credible and cannot be proved,‘ the statement reads

By