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10.26.09

Scientology's New Face

In his first interview since walking off Nightline last week, church spokesman Tommy Davis talks to Kim Masters about Monday’s startling public defection by Paul Haggis, addresses drug allegations—and explains his relationship with Tom Cruise. Plus, his former colleague speaks out.

In his first detailed interview since walking off Nightline last week, church spokesman Tommy Davis talks to Kim Masters about Monday's startling public defection by Paul Haggis, addresses drug allegations—and explains his relationship with Tom Cruise. Plus, his former colleague speaks out.

Tommy Davis has been busy lately. In the past week, the spokesman for the Church of Scientology tore off his lapel microphone and stormed out of an interview when Nightline correspondent Martin Bashir tried to question him about whether he believed in the intergalactic warlord Xenu—a central figure in the church’s theology. And over the weekend, Paul Haggis, the Oscar-winning director of Crash, made news when his angry resignation from Scientology—addressed to Tommy Davis—became public.

In his letter, Haggis claimed Davis had assured him the church would publicly denounce the organization’s San Diego chapter for supporting Proposition 8, which outlawed gay marriage in California. That denunciation never came and Haggis said the church’s refusal to take a stand was “cowardly.” Then he took Davis to task for denying in a CNN interview that the church has a policy of “disconnection”—requiring members to cut off contact with family members who run afoul of Scientology or its policies. Haggis said he knew that statement was false because his wife was ordered to disconnect from her parents after they had committed some “absolutely trivial” offense in the eyes of the church.

“If you work with Tom Cruise for a number of years and Anne Archer is your mother, people might look the other way.”

“To see you lie so easily, I am afraid I had to ask myself: What else are you lying about?” Haggis wrote.

In his first extensive interview since the resignation, Davis says Haggis’ letter is based on a series of misunderstandings. The church’s San Diego branch was erroneously named as backing Prop 8, he says. And he argues that his comments on CNN about disconnection have been mischaracterized. He declines to say whether, in light of his explanations, he believes Haggis might become reconciled to the church. Haggis did not respond to a request for comment.

Kim Masters: Travolta’s Scientology Turning Point? For Davis, the 37-year-old son of actress and longtime Scientologist Anne Archer, the Haggis flap isn't the only controversy he's fending off--he's had to answer questions about his own standing in the church, his past use of pot, and his relationship with Tom Cruise. “I guess I’m the most popular boy in school right now,” he says good-naturedly.

Claire Headley, who has known Tommy Davis for many years, grew up in the church, and worked in its internal affairs office until she left the organization five years ago. She says Davis was “a happy-go-lucky” teenager who got into a fair amount of mischief, including some that would violate Scientology codes. That didn’t stop him from eventually becoming Tom Cruise’s “personal, full-time, assigned Scientology handler,” she says, explaining, “He filtered everything, reported on what [Cruise] was doing to [Church of Scientology leader] David Miscavige.” Officially, Davis was assigned to the church’s president’s office in the Celebrity Centre, she continues, but he was essentially with Cruise full-time from the late 1990s until 2005.

Davis was quickly returned to the fold and sent to the church’s offices in Clearwater, Florida, where he was required to clean toilets with a toothbrush for a week.

When Cruise visited Scientology headquarters in Hemet, a desert town about 90 miles from Los Angeles, in 2004 Headley says Cruise and Davis used an office in the Religious Technology Center building that—despite its considerable size—was occupied only by Miscavige and his personal staff. That same year, Miscavige labored to produce a video that was to be played when Cruise received the Freedom Medal of Valor award at an annual gathering in England.

“Tommy Davis was there full-time for that,” she says. “We’re talking 24/7—through the night. Both of them and probably like, 60 other staff, running for them.” (The video was eventually leaked and made quite a sensation on the Internet because of Cruise’s unusual affect.)

Davis denies essentially all of this. He says he worked with Cruise but not full-time. He says he never worked in an office at the Hemet facility. Initially he denies having worked on the video but then acknowledges that he did.

At one time, according to Claire Headley, Davis tried to recruit her into the Scientology management organization called the Sea Org. (Though he did not succeed, she joined some time later.) She recalls that Davis has had some difficult moments within the organization. Years ago, after he had begun to receive Scientology training and counseling, she says, Davis smoked some pot. That put him at odds with the organization’s “executive posting qualifications,” which in theory made him what Scientology calls a “drug revert.”

That status should have made Davis ineligible to work in a high-level position, according to Headley. “But if you work with Tom Cruise for a number of years and Anne Archer is your mother, people might look the other way,” she says.

Davis denies this account. “I am not a drug revert,” he says, adding that it is “absolutely untrue” that the church gave him special treatment because of his connections. “I’m in the position I’m in because of my accomplishments and my ability to do my job,” he says.

A couple of years ago, Headley says, Davis got into a heated on-camera exchange with BBC journalist John Sweeney, who was doing reporting on Scientology. Apparently the church did not want that footage to air and it dispatched its then-spokesman, Mike Rinder, to England to deal with the situation. Rinder could not dissuade the BBC from broadcasting the interview. According to Headley, and her husband, Marc, who worked in Scientology’s film-production studio from 1989 until 2005, both Rinder and Davis “blew” at that point. (In church parlance, that means they went AWOL.) Rinder has not returned and has since gone on the record with the St. Petersburg Times, accusing church leader Miscavige of physical abuse and other misconduct. (Scientology officials denied the accusations, claiming Miscavige never hit a church staffer.)

Headley says informed former Scientologists told her that Davis was quickly returned to the fold and sent to the church’s offices in Clearwater, Florida, where he was required to clean toilets with a toothbrush for a week. Davis acknowledges that he spent about a year in the Florida offices after the BBC interview but says he never “blew” and was never ordered to clean toilets.

Claire Headley rose relatively high with her church studies, becoming what Scientology calls an “OT 5” (“OT” stands for “operating thetan”). She says she doubts that Davis is nearly as versed in Scientology because his work has been too demanding. “When you’re staff and you never sleep, there’s very little time for that sort of thing,” she explains. (Scientology’s training demands for staff seem lax in some instances; indeed, Marc Headley says, “I was there for 15 years and I never even read Dianetics”—a reference to founder L. Ron Hubbard’s bestseller.)

Headley suspects Tommy Davis has never participated in upper-level training in which the story of Xenu would have actually been revealed. She thinks that may be why he walked out of the Nightline interview when asked about it. “In Scientology, no one can talk about it, whether you’ve done it or not,” she says. “If you talk about it when you’re not up to that level, you can be banned from ever doing it.”

Davis refuses to say exactly how far up Scientology’s “bridge to total freedom” he has gone. “I never discuss my personal progress in the church,” he says.

The Headleys say they believe that Davis may be in somewhat over his head. With the departure of Rinder as spokesman and other key Scientology personnel, Marc Headley says Davis has been thrust into the spotlight without necessarily having undergone sufficient training. “There’s a whole series of courses you have to do,” he says. “It’s very unlikely that he did all that... [But] he’s rich so he can afford to buy himself thousand-dollar suits and he rolls up in his 7 Series BMW—and he doesn’t have any reason not to be there.” (Headley says other low-paid Scientology staff members “could barely afford gas for that BMW.”)

Davis says it’s “crap” that the former church members are attacking him. As for Marc Headley, Davis says, “It’s no mystery why he’s vicious about the church and the church spokesman when he’s somebody who sells stories to the media and is currently suing the church.” Marc Headley admits he has written some stories for Life & Style magazine and acknowledges that he is suing the church. For the record, he has never attempted to sell a story to The Daily Beast.

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Kim Masters covers the entertainment business for The Daily Beast. She is also the host of The Business, public radio's weekly program about the business of show business. She is also the author of The Keys to the Kingdom: The Rise of Michael Eisner and the Fall of Everybody Else.