Olivia Hussey has paid tribute to late Italian director Franco Zeffirelli, saying he “lit up a room” and that he would take a piece of her heart with him.

The film-maker died in Rome on Saturday at the age of 96.

Hussey, who played Juliet in Zeffirelli’s 1968 film version of Romeo And Juliet, told the Press Association in a statement: “Franco Zeffirelli was my friend and my director.

“I was 15 when we met, and we stayed friends until now, forever really.

“We went through a very special experience and time together and I celebrate his long and fruitful life.

Queen Elizabeth II talking with Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting
The Queen talking to Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting (PA)

“I am grateful to have worked with him, and to have known him.

“There was nobody quite like Franco!”

The actress, 68, went on: “He lit up a room when he entered it.

“He was so ‘alive’ in life and in everything he did. He always brought the best out of actors, as we all wanted to live up to the image he had of whatever character we were playing.

“We all wanted to please Franco and his genius.

“He always gave the actors the space to do and feel what they wanted with a role, and only stepped in to direct and tweak something if he felt it was needed.”

She said: “For me personally, I would watch him and instinctively know what he wanted, we had a special bond when working together, ‘one take Hussey’ he would call me.”

“I love you dearest Franco… I always will,” said the star.

“You take a part of my heart with you.”

Zeffirelli was known for Romeo And Juliet and his TV mini-series Jesus Of Nazareth, and also produced operas and plays.