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Almost every day, Franco would say, “I need to be with you.” We filmed all over Italy and at one point we were at a château, and he would come to my door, knock on my door late at night. I would literally put stuff, chairs and things, in front of it. 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. 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. It felt like 4 hours but it was probably like 30 seconds. I didn’t physically stop him, and it took me 25 years to answer the question why not. For the predator who crosses the line they think that it’s OK. I was ashamed of that moment, I was ashamed of being dyslexic, and both those things caused me to shut down and define a big part of me. That shame manifested itself in so many different ways.
I had been innocent and although I thought I had all the answers, I didn’t have any. What I faced that day – I didn’t know how to handle that evil. That night I was not violent but after that I became more violent. I did tell the person [actress Stephanie Romanov] I started dating when I got back from Italy, and years later I told my ex-wife [singer/actress Jana Kramer], but I never had any idea how to process it. I told her this happened to me, and she’s been great.
[Both Romanov and Kramer confirm to PEOPLE that Schaech confided in them about the molestation]. Johnathon Schaech with his wife, Julie Solomon, and their son Camden at the 7th Annual Santa’s Secret Workshop benefiting L. What’s also changed in my life is meeting and marrying my wife Julie [Solomon].
[Solomon confirms to PEOPLE that Schaech shared with her his experience with Zeffirelli]. And I have my boy, my son." data-reactid="71"], post about her experience, it hit home.
I didn’t know it at the time but I’m dyslexic and mastering the words and dialect was difficult for me so I already felt vulnerable.
Franco would fly in and out to see what the progress was — and almost immediately he began trying to seduce me with words. The intimacy of what I do for a living makes me have to become vulnerable to “the process,” and on this movie, that process was so long, and so elongated, it became something completely different for Franco.
Hopeful his story can help make positive change, the Ray Donovan actor, now 48, who rose to fame in , shared this first-person account with PEOPLE’s Elizabeth Leonard.
In a statement, Zeffirelli’s son, Pippo, denied his father, now 94, verbally or sexually abused Schaech, calling the accusations “not credible.” It was an open call and I didn’t even have an agent at that point.
After more than six auditions, they flew me to Cinecitta [film studios outside of Rome], and I won the role.