How Nicole Kidman Almost Got Tom Cruise to Leave Scientology
Twenty years ago, “Eyes Wide Shut” hit theaters. And it was during the making of Kubrick’s racy thriller that Scientology temporarily lost its top ambassador and No. 2: Tom Cruise.
There was a time when, before the couch-jumping, clash with Matt Lauer, and maniacal recruitment video, Tom Cruise abandoned the Church of Scientology (temporarily, of course). His estrangement from the cult-like religion and its Mephistophelean kingfish, David Miscavige, owed to a variety of factors—none more instrumental than the sway of his then-wife, Nicole Kidman, and the making of Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, which turned 20 this year.
The seed was first planted in 1989. It was then that Cruise, after seeing the Aussie thriller Dead Calm, became infatuated with its fiery-haired leading lady, Nicole Kidman—so much so that he convinced producers it was a good idea to have the 21-year-old actress portray a neurosurgeon who falls for his race car driver in the 1990 film Days of Thunder. Only Cruise was married to another actress, Mimi Rogers, who’d introduced him to Scientology. So, following its release, Scientology fixer Marty Rathbun, accompanied by a Scientology attorney, paid Rogers a visit to serve her divorce papers.
“Miscavige’s concern was that Mimi was the daughter of this major ‘squirrel’—someone who leaves the Church of Scientology but continues to do Scientology on their own—and her Dad had started his own church,” explains Tony Ortega, the world’s leading journalist covering Scientology. “The story Marty Rathbun tells is that Miscavige made it clear that they thought the Nicole thing could be a fling to separate him from Mimi.”
He laughs. “The part that didn’t work out was that Miscavige wasn’t planning on having Tom fall so head over heels for Nicole that he was soon talking about marrying her—and she had her own problem.” (Rogers did not respond to requests for comment.)
Kidman was raised a devout Catholic, and even considered joining a convent. But the bigger issue was that her father, Dr. Antony Kidman, was a major figure in the arena of psychology in their native Australia, and Scientology is violently opposed to the twin practices of psychiatry and psychology, blaming them for everything from the Holocaust to 9/11.
“In the eyes of Scientology, not only is psychiatry the evil that has plagued mankind since the beginning of time and are the slave masters trying to enslave all of mankind, but anybody who sympathizes or agrees with them is also in the enemy camp, and anybody who’s been treated by them is in the enemy camp. Nicole always had this cloud hanging over her head,” says Mike Rinder, a former senior executive in the Church of Scientology.
Still, after marrying Cruise, Kidman played the role of the dutiful wife, working her way up the Scientology ladder. In Scientology, once one achieves full control over one's thoughts, thereby reaching the level of “Clear,” they may work their way up “The Bridge to Total Freedom,” or the spiritual ranks of the practice (each level will run you many thousands of dollars). These are called Operating Thetan (OT) levels. OT members are believed to have achieved a state of godliness, able to exercise full control over both their mind and their surrounding environment. Kidman is said to have reached OT II, wherein one’s confronted their past “incarnations” and released the accompanying negative energy.
“She did Scientology courses. She was really dedicated,” offers Ortega. “I talked to her auditor, Bruce Hines, and she got all the way up to OT II in two years. That means she was doing Scientology pretty much full-time for two straight years.”
“At one point, when Nicole was at Gold Base [Scientology’s international headquarters in Northern California] with Tom studying on OT II, she had to go off to shoot something, and I drove her from the base to the Riverside Airport and took her to the plane,” recalls Rinder. “I chatted with her, and became fairly friendly with Nicole just because I was Australian, and she was never gushingly enthusiastic about Scientology.” (Kidman and Cruise would not respond to repeated requests for comment for this story; in a pointed letter from their attorney, the Church of Scientology stated “the Church does not comment regarding individual participation on the Scientology Grade Chart.”)
But by late 1992, Kidman had become fed up with Miscavige, in particular, and left Scientology. Cruise followed shortly thereafter, and by the time filming began on Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut across the pond in November 1996, the two had been separated from the practice for a few years. But Miscavige had his ways of remaining in the picture.
“Miscavige used all of Cruise’s household employees, including his assistant Michael Doven, who spied on him for 10 years on behalf of the Church of Scientology, to give Miscavige daily reports of what Cruise was up to,” says Ortega.
“They were all Scientologists,” adds Rinder, “so everything that went on in Tom’s life was reported to either Shelly or David Miscavige, and when they went to the U.K. for Eyes Wide Shut, they were sequestered.”
The reason why Eyes Wide Shut so “infuriated Miscavige and made him go nuts,” according to Ortega and Rinder, is that he was no longer receiving these daily reports on Cruise; furthermore, it was a chaotic 15-month-long shoot abroad, including 46 straight weeks of filming (a Guinness world record), so it proved a very lengthy “blackout period” for Scientology’s despotic leader. And the great irony is that Kubrick’s own daughter and one-time heir apparent, Vivian, is herself a prominent Scientologist.
“When they went off to shoot Eyes Wide Shut, it drove Miscavige to distraction that Tom wasn’t calling him. He was so pissed about that,” offers Rinder. “At one point, we were in England for an event and Miscavige dispatched me to go see Lee Anne [Cruise’s sister/then-publicist/fellow Scientologist] to try and figure out what was going on with Tom and Nicole, and I went up to London and met with Lee Anne at the Dorchester Hotel for afternoon tea to try and figure out what was going on. She just said, ‘Oh no, they’re just really busy, and they have to do re-takes on every shot.’ This was the standard line that was being used to explain why Tom was no longer in touch with Miscavige, and it was not a very satisfactory answer to Miscavige. That was when he told Marty that his assignment in life was to get Tom Cruise back onboard.”
In the 2015 HBO documentary Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, Rathbun maintains that he was assigned by Miscavige to “facilitate the breakup with Nicole Kidman.”
“I was assigned to get him back in… and I was to facilitate the breakup with Nicole Kidman [through] a lot of auditing,” Rathbun alleged in the doc. “I had to write detailed reports and give them to David Miscavige. Miscavige really wanted to get him back in to being somebody he could use to lure people into Scientology, and increase his own status. ”
“I was hiring investigators to investigate Nicole,” Rathbun continued. “Tom wanted to know exactly who she was talking to, and so he wanted to tap her phone. When I reported that to David Miscavige, I reported it like, ‘He wants to tap her phone,’ and he said, ‘Goddammit, get it done.’ And so I arranged through Scientology’s consigliere to get a private investigator who physically installed a wiretap on her phone. And those tapes would come in and I’d forward them to David Miscavige.” (Rathbun has since rejoined the church’s ranks; in a letter from their attorney, the Church of Scientology said they “categorically deny the allegations” that Miscavige or anyone in the church was involved in Cruise’s breakup, received reports, or administered a wiretap of Kidman.)
Rinder echoes Rathbun: “As soon as Nicole became in any way disaffected with Scientology or unwilling to continue, she became a liability in Miscavige’s mind to Tom Cruise being a good Scientologist and promoting Scientology, so she had to be gotten rid of.”
“She became, in the eyes of Scientologists, a ‘Suppressive Person,’ and a Suppressive Person in Scientology is a person who’s at the best to be utterly and completely disconnected from, and the worst, if you’re a Suppressive Person like me or Leah Remini, to be utterly destroyed. Tom had to disconnect from her,” adds Rinder.
The scheme worked. Cruise filed for divorce from Kidman in February 2001, and shortly thereafter began dating his Vanilla Sky co-star Penelope Cruz. Meanwhile Rathbun, Scientology’s top attack dog and most notoriously methodical auditor, was auditing Cruise around the clock for the next four years—including, he alleged in Going Clear, “a reeducation program” for Cruise and Kidman’s adoptive kids, Isabella and Connor, to “conclude that their mother was a Suppressive Person” (orchestrated by Miscavige, of course).
“Marty was auditing Tom to pump him up, and they were not only working on Tom but working on the kids—Isabella and Connor—to turn them against Nicole,” says Ortega. “And by 2004, they had turned Tom into the most gung-ho Scientologist in the world. And that’s when Miscavige chose to recognize him for it.”
In 2004, Miscavige awarded Cruise the church’s first Freedom Medal of Valor at a gaudy Los Angeles ceremony, recognizing the Hollywood superstar for “bringing greater freedom to mankind.” During the ceremony, the organization estimated that Cruise had proselytized to over a billion people through his various media and public appearances—a dubious estimate, to be sure. The following year, Cruise was unleashed onto the world as the most high-profile Scientology ambassador, culminating in his 2006 marriage to Katie Holmes in a Scientology ceremony, with Miscavige right by his side as the best man.
These days, Cruise’s children, Isabella and Connor, are still practicing Scientologists—in fact, Isabella has recently emerged as a top Scientology recruiter—and are disconnected from their adoptive mother, Nicole.
When asked about the state of their relationship, Kidman issued a rare public statement on the matter in September, telling The Sun, “Motherhood is about the journey. There are going to be incredible peaks and valleys, whether you are an adopting mother or a birth mother. What a child needs is love. They have made choices to be Scientologists. It’s our job as a parent to always offer unconditional love.”