Leah Remini has been very outspoken about her former religion ever since she left the Church of Scientology. She has published an autobiography titled Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology that talks about her separation from the church. And now she is taking her defense one step further by dong a documentary style series airing on A&E called Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath.
It comes to no surprise that the legal department at A&E is making sure they have all their ducks in a row (no pun intended) before they put the show on the air. The network has already received multiple threatening letters from the Church of Scientology, in which they describe Remini as a “has been actress” and a “spoiled, entitled diva”. Remini, meanwhile responded by having her attorney send a letter to the church demanding it retract the letters and pay her $1.5 million in compensation.
The church undoubtedly objects to the eight-part series, which sees the 46-year old King of Queens star turn into an investigative journalist as she documents “shocking stories of abuse, heartbreak, and harassment” alleged by former church members.
The Hollywood Reporter recently spoke to Remini ahead of the show’s premiere Tuesday, addressing everything from church accusations that she is only “in it for the money to an extremely awkward phone conversation she once had with CBS chief Leslie Moonves at Tom Cruise’s behest.
A&E received a lot of aggressive pushback from the Church of Scientology regarding Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath. How close did the network come to pulling it?
I don’t know how close they came to pulling the show. They certainly weren’t letting on to me that they were thinking about that. But I’m sure that this is the first network that’s ever done a series on the subject and I think that’s pretty ballsy of them. They were really dedicated to the process once they saw the footage and once they saw the stories.
This show feels unprecedented.
I agree, it is. They’re great partners and the executive who’s in charge of my show [Devon Hammonds, vp, nonfiction programming] has gotten on a plane twice for me just to come out and make sure it was OK with me and we were telling the right stories. They’re very invested in it emotionally.
How do you counter accusations from Scientology that you are only in this for the money?
First of all, [my demand of $1.5 million from the church] was a response to the horrific and libelous letters that they sent me. They were trying to stop this show from happening. They were trying to disparage my name and my reputation with 20/20 and ABC and the public at large. So that was my response to what they were doing. I actually haven’t sued them, so I’m not going to see one red cent.
And profits from the show itself or the book?
Would I donate the money from the show? Is the church donating money to any charity or giving back the money they coerced out of people under false pretenses? Are they going to give me back my $3 million?
And that’s how much you’ve given them over the years?
If not more.
Is Scientology a cult? Did the church brainwash you?
Yes. Scientology is a brainwashing proposition from the very first book that you read in [church doctrine] Dianetics, where L. Ron Hubbard positions himself as a college-educated person, which he wasn’t; a nuclear physicist, which he wasn’t; and a decorated military man, which he wasn’t. Also important is that he claims that Scientology and Dianetics is a proven science. So when you’re indoctrinated when you’re very young, as I was, and all the information that you receive is from Scientology, and you’re not allowed to look at other things because you’re penalized for doing that, yes, that is the way cults work. They cut you off from information from the outside world and they start to sequester you by saying everybody else is your enemy. That is another way that cults work. It satisfies all the checkmarks for what a cult is and what brainwashing is.
How did you break the spell? What was your process to getting out?
My process was to start asking questions to what I was seeing on the internet. I disagreed with my church that I couldn’t be talking to the people that they deemed to be enemies. So I started talking to these people who were making claims of physical abuse. I started looking on the internet. And story after story were stories of abuse, mental abuse, sexual abuse, physical abuse, fraud. I just couldn’t accept that they were liars, which was what my church was telling me. And so it was a series of things. It wasn’t just one thing. It took me six years to get out and I wanted to make sure that my family was coming with me.
I once read a story that Jennifer Lopez, a close friend of yours, helped and encouraged you to get out. Is that true?
No. She was just supportive of my decision.
What about other celebrities who are still in the church? Have they reached out to you? Criticized you?
Why would they reach out to me? They aren’t allowed to talk to me. That’s the policy of the church. I know Kirstie Alley made a comment about me and I’m sure others will. [In 2013, Alley called Remini a “bigot” on The Howard Stern Show.] But that’s the policy of the church. I understand what their frame of mind is and it’s to oppose anyone who speaks out against the church.
Find out more about Leah’s view on Scientology by watching Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath on A&E Tuesday Nov. 29th at 10/9c.