Former Scientology Senior Executive: ‘Will Smith Is Not A Scientologist’

We sat down with ex-Church of Scientology fixer and senior executive Mike Rinder and Scientology expert Tony Ortega, who claim that the rumors about Will Smith are false.

Mario Anzuoni/Reuters

For years, there’s been rampant speculation that Will Smith, the blockbuster star of alien-themed films like Independence Day, Men in Black, and After Earth, was a card-carrying member of the Church of Scientology.

It’s inescapable. When Smith’s teenage children, Jaden and Willow, gave an out-there interview to The Guardian and claimed they could control time, several gossip rags were quick to point to their dad’s alleged “Scientology-supporting” beliefs as a possible reason for his kids’ unique perspective on the world. There have been tabloid reports that Will Smith’s former business partner, James Lassiter, allegedly warned the Fresh Prince about not letting Scientology “get in the way” of his career; Scientology defector Jason Beghe said Smith was “supposedly dabbling in Scientology,” and a former principal at Will and Jada Smith’s school, New Village Academy in Calabasas, California, claimed that the curriculum was “100 percent” Scientology-focused. Hell, The Hollywood Reporter even got an ex-Scientologist to review Smith’s colossal bomb, After Earth, over its alleged Scientology themes.

The link, it seems, originates from Smith’s close friendship with Scientology’s most famous face, Tom Cruise.

“I was introduced to [Scientology] through Tom, and I’m a student of world religion,” Smith told Access Hollywood in 2007. “I was raised in a Baptist household and went to a Catholic school, but the ideas of the Bible are 98 percent the same ideas as Scientology; 98 percent the same ideas as Buddhism or Hinduism.” Smith added, “How you gon’ not know nothing about Scientology and attack [Tom]? It’s dangerous, and it’s ignorant. How am I going to condemn someone for what they believe and I believe God was born from a pregnant virgin?”

Well, according to Scientology’s former fixer/senior executive and the most knowledgeable Scientology-covering journalist, Smith is not a Scientologist.

The Daily Beast sat down with Mike Rinder and Tony Ortega, two of the subjects of Alex Gibney’s eye-opening HBO documentary-exposé, Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, in theaters March 13 (and premiering on HBO March 29). Rinder was a second-generation Scientologist who was shipped off to Sea Org at the age of 6. Later, from 1982 to 2007, he served on the board of directors of Church of Scientology International and was their executive director of the Office of Special Affairs—essentially acting as one of their primary “fixers” responsible for putting out all manner of legal and PR fires. He left Scientology in 2007 after a dispute with its draconian chief, David Miscavige. Ortega is a journalist who’s been covering Scientology since 1995 and nailed several scoops while at The Village Voice. He started The Underground Bunker blog, which focuses on Scientology coverage, and is the executive editor of The Raw Story website.

When asked if Smith was a Scientologist, they both responded in unison: “Will Smith is not a Scientologist.” (Smith's representatives refused to comment.)

Ortega expanded a bit. “There’s not that many celebrities in Scientology, and the young ones were born into it, and the other ones people cite—Cruise, Travolta, and Kirstie Alley—got into it in the ’70s and ’80s. They have not attracted a major star in 25 years. The only young Scientologists on the celebrity scene were all born into it. Beck was born into it. Giovanni Ribisi was born into it.”

For years, Rinder was tasked with putting out many of the PR fires pertaining to acclaimed Scientologist John Travolta, basically acting as the Church of Scientology’s resident Olivia Pope (when I make the comparison, he laughs). When asked why so many celebrities have been drawn to the mysterious “religion” over the years, he pauses. “Scientology works to attract celebrities and has a Celebrity Center right in Hollywood designed to cater to them and give them special treatment—red carpet, secret entrances where you can sneak in and out—and the other part of it is that Scientology presents itself as a self-help religion,” explains Rinder. “You learn and are indoctrinated into Scientology by the idea that you will improve things in your life.”