Leah Remini criticises Scientology in new series

Actress Leah Remini says she does not regret being a Scientologist as she can help others now.
Actress Leah Remini says she does not regret being a Scientologist as she can help others now.PHOTO: A+E NETWORKS

Besides writing a book, Hollywood actress Leah Remini has produced a series criticising the Church of Scientology

8Q

Hollywood actress and former Scientologist Leah Remini may be one of the most vocal and prominent critics of the Church of Scientology today. But she does not regret having been a member of the controversial group for almost her entire life.

The 46-year-old made headlines when she abruptly left the organisation in 2013 after 34 years as an active member. Her mother, actor husband Angelo Pagan and their 12-year-old daughter Sofia also left Scientology shortly after.

Speaking to The Straits Times in a telephone interview, Remini says: "I don't regret any of it because I wouldn't be here now. I feel that it was supposed to be my path to go through something like this, so that I can do what I love to do, which is to help people.

"So I don't regret it in a certain way because I'm here now, doing what I'm meant to do."

Since she left the organisation, she has made it her mission to expose the controversial rules that Scientology imposes on its members. They include the act of disconnection, which means a Scientologist has to cut all ties with anyone who is antagonistic towards the group, even if that person is a family member or close friend.

Besides writing the best-selling book, Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood And Scientology (2015), Remini has also produced a documentary series, Leah Remini: Scientology And The Aftermath.

Told over seven episodes, the series shows her interviewing other ex-Scientologists about their often harrowing experiences of being in the group. Tales of physical and mental abuse within the organisation are common, according to the show.

When the series premiered in the United States last November, it was a ratings hit for television network A+E, drawing 2.1 million viewers for the first episode - the most for a new show premiere at the network in two years. A second season has been greenlit for production.

In Singapore, the series premieres on Sunday on StarHub TV.

Remini, who is best known for starring in the long-running sitcom The King Of Queens (1997-2008), says: "My greatest achievement from doing a show like this is helping to change the way people view Scientology. It went from people making fun of Scientology, thinking, 'What are these crazy beliefs?', to seeing that it is hurting people and something to be taken seriously.

"Also, the people who have been abused through Scientology are finally receiving the love and comfort from the real world that they are deserving of."

1 What led you to leave Scientology?

It took me six years to get out. I was trying to ask the organisation about some things I was hearing, that Scientology leader David Miscavige's wife, Shelly, had not been seen for a while. And the organisation was mad. I was interrogated and I wasn't allowed to think for myself.

I don't think people should be punished for asking questions. The more I pursued this, the harder I found it to defend Scientology.

2 Do you still have friends or extended family members in Scientology?

Yes and the policy in Scientology mandates that they're not allowed to speak to me because I left. There have been instances where I see my godchildren on the street and they walk away.

3 After your documentary series aired in the US last year, have more former Scientology members reached out to you?

Yes, we've received so many stories. I think it has to do with the fact that Mike Rinder is on the show. He was a senior executive in the Church of Scientology before he quit and very much a trusted member in and out of the organisation.

As for me, I was a Scientologist who was also a celebrity and celebrityhood is very much celebrated in Scientology.

So people come to us with their stories because they trust us.

4 The Church Of Scientology has openly condemned your show. Have you worried about facing more serious repercussions if you continue criticising them?

No. I'm aware of the Church policy that they go after people who condemn them.

If I was worried about that, I would never have done the show. But what I am worried about are the people who have been brave enough to talk to us about their experiences. They may not be prepared for the things that could happen.

5 Some countries ban religions. Do you think that is necessary in certain cases?

When it's a cult... and it's hurting people, then yes.

I make a clear distinction- Scientology is a cult, not a religion. In Scientology, you're not allowed to think for yourself and they dictate who you can speak to, including your mother. That's not a religion.

6 Do you believe in God?

Yes. I was baptised a Catholic. My father was Catholic and my mother was Jewish.

7 Hollywood actor Tom Cruise is a famous Scientologist. Do you think he will leave the organisation?

It'll have to start with whoever got him into Scientology in the first place, but it'll be hard.

When you're a Scientologist, you live in a bubble. Someone like him will always be surrounded by fellow Scientologists. The Church of Scientology runs his life - he gets great power from them and they feed his ego. They make him believe that he is saving the planet.

(Cruise's first wife, actress Mimi Rogers, reportedly introduced him to Scientology. She left the group after their divorce in 1990.)

8 How would you like to be remembered?

For doing something good. For trying to help.

•Follow Yip Wai Yee on Twitter @STyipwaiyee

•Leah Remini: Scientology And The Aftermath premieres on Crime + Investigation (StarHub TV Channel 403) on Sunday at 9pm.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 10, 2017, with the headline 'Vocal critic of Scientology'. Print Edition | Subscribe