Tom Cruise is really not going to like this.
Leah Remini’s highly anticipated interview on last night’s 20/20 did not disappoint for dirt-dishing on the Church of Scientology, which the King of Queens actress left in 2013. That split is now the focus of her forthcoming book Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology, a tell-all (on bookshelves this Tuesday) that pulls back the curtain on her years spent practicing the controversial religion alongside such Hollywood luminaries as John Travolta, Kirstie Alley, and Cruise.
And on 20/20, she got some support from perhaps the church’s most notable former member: Cruise’s ex-wife, Katie Holmes.
In her first public comments related to Scientology or its members since her 2012 divorce from the Mission: Impossible star, Holmes told Remini, in a written statement to 20/20, “I regret having upset Leah in the past and wish her only the best in the future.”
The distress to which Holmes refers was, according to 20/20’s report, related to Cruise and Holmes’s lavish November 2006 wedding in Italy. An invited guest, Remini says she was asked by the church to bring along her good friends Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony—only to then be repeatedly separated from the couple. That strange, uncomfortable situation was, in Remini’s opinion, a “juvenile” attempt “to extract me… I can only assume because they wanted to make Jennifer a Scientologist. Maybe I was barring that road for them.”
More problematic still, while at the reception—where Cruise apparently, and strangely, reprised his Top Gun rendition of “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” for Holmes—Remini began asking why Scientology leader (and Cruise’s best man) David Miscavige hadn’t attended with his wife Shelly, with whom Remini was friendly. Her questions were repeatedly rebuffed, to the point that she felt “it’s getting weirder because you’re [the church] making it weirder.”
Church officials’ stubborn refusal to address her queries (which she refers to as “such a simple thing”) led her to file a “wide-ranging knowledge report” about what she saw as the issues plaguing the church. “I thought, ‘I now see where the cracks are in our church. And it’s David Miscavige. It’s Tom Cruise. They were bringing Scientology down.’”
Those negative feelings about Cruise had begun a year earlier in 2005, when the actor had made headlines by jumping on Oprah’s couch and slamming Brooke Shields on Today. Remini thought, “What the hell is this guy doing? We need to rein it in. We need to stop all this. And he just needs to be an actor.”
Unsurprisingly, the church didn’t welcome such criticisms, given that Cruise was, and is, the global face of Scientology. “Being critical of Tom Cruise is being critical of Scientology itself,” she says. “You are a person who is anti the aims and goals of Scientology. You are evil.”
As punishment for her transgressions both at and after the Cruise-Holmes nuptials, Remini was subjected to countless “thought modification” interrogations in which she was not only pressed on her behavior, but shown “knowledge reports” filed by other members that claimed she, in fact, was the one who had acted horribly during Cruise and Holmes’s “wedding of the century.”
Still, Remini remained faithful—in large part because the church was all she knew, having first become a parishioner after her divorced mother Vicki embraced the religion when the actress was just seven. Before long, the family had relocated from Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, to Clearwater, Florida, and Remini had become a member of Scientology’s “Sea Organization” (Sea Org), a training division that requires its members to sign a “billion-year contract.” It wasn’t more than a few years, however, before Remini ran afoul of Sea Org regulations, most notably by letting her boyfriend lightly graze her breast on the outside of her shirt.
Nonetheless, according to Remini, a move to Scientology’s East Hollywood “Big Blue” headquarters brought her even further into the fold, and compelled her to rise through the ranks of the church. Such a move required an investment of “hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Remini claims, though she paid willingly, since she truly believed the church’s mission was to “do good things.” Or as her mother Vicki put it on 20/20: “To free mankind. To make a sane world.” It also didn’t hurt that the lessons she’d learned in the church aided her acting career, peaking with her nabbing a starring role on CBS’ long-running sitcom The King of Queens.
Her faith was put to the test once Remini achieved “Operating Thetan 3” level, which gave her access to previously off-limits documents written by founder L. Ron Hubbard about the origins of mankind. Those stories, involving an intergalactic warlord named Xenu and spirits known as “thetans” that are omnipresent in human bodies, made Remini reconsider her view of the church. Or as she put it: “When I read this, I said, ‘This is some crazy shit.’”
Fearful that leaving might destroy her relationship with her mother thanks to a policy known as “disconnection”—in which church members are strongly encouraged to sever all ties with deserters—Remini stayed. It wasn’t until Cruise and Holmes’s divorce in 2012 that she conclusively decided that she’d had enough, and broke from the church.
At the time, Remini went public with not only her issues with the church, but the personal fallout caused by her departure—including, as she told Ellen DeGeneres in 2014, the loss of numerous friends. Because the church prohibits members from talking to those who’ve left (or been ex-communicated), Remini was forced to pick up the pieces of her life without many people with whom she’d been close to for years, if not decades.
Remini’s confessional interview and book are merely the latest blows to the secretive church, which took public hits earlier this year courtesy of Alex Gibney’s documentary Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, which had a brief theatrical run in March 2015 before premiering on HBO later that month. That explosive non-fiction film exposed much of the church’s clandestine inner workings, and the way it sought to silence critics through intimidation and smear campaigns—tactics that 20/20 witnessed firsthand when, this past Tuesday, the show was hand-delivered a packet of scathing anti-Remini materials from church officials.
And yet through it all, Remini credits her church experiences—both good and bad—with making her the tough, resilient person she is today. “I don’t regret spending my life there. Because it really did teach me a lot.”
Though it’s hard to imagine Cruise sending her a Christmas card this holiday season.