Actress Leah Remini opened up about her experiences growing up in and eventually leaving the Church of Scientology in an interview with ABC News’ Dan Harris on Friday’s episode of 20/20.
The actress — who is promoting her memoir, Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology, out next week — is best known for her role in the long-running CBS sitcom King of Queens, and more recently in the TLC reality series Leah Remini: It’s All Relative. Since leaving Scientology behind in 2013, Remini has made headlines for publicly speaking out against the church, which she joined under the direction of her mother, Vicki Marshall, at 9 years old.
Remini’s claims about her experience with Scientology echoed Alex Gibney’s documentary Going Clear, based on Lawrence Wright’s book of the same name. She showed Harris her Scientology textbooks and trophies, walked him through an e-meter reading, and described the church’s so-called “knowledge reports,” in which members report on each other for any behavior that goes against the church or its teachings.
Remini said she filed such reports on family members, friends, and even Tom Cruise, arguably Scientology’s most influential member. She said she reported Cruise for public behavior she deemed unsuitable and damaging to the church, like jumping on Oprah’s couch, arguing with Matt Lauer in an interview, and criticizing Brooke Shields for using antidepressants to treat her postpartum depression. But calling out Cruise backfired: “Being critical of Tom Cruise is being critical of Scientology itself,” she said. “You are evil.”
It was during Cruise’s nuptials to actress Katie Holmes that the seeds of doubt were first planted. At the “wedding of the century,” she noticed the absence of Michele “Shelly” Miscavige, wife of Scientology leader David Miscavige. Remini said that when she asked officials at the wedding where Miscavige was, they repeatedly brushed her off, making Remini all the more curious as to why Miscavige would be missing. (Shelly Miscavige has not been seen in public since 2007, and Remini filed a missing-persons report for Miscavige after she left the church — a move the church dubbed a “publicity stunt.” Police told ABC the case was investigated and closed.)
“I thought, ‘I now see where the cracks are in our church. It’s David Miscavige, it’s Tom Cruise; they were bringing Scientology down,’” she said. At the time, she still believed in the church and felt it was part of her mission as a member to right the course.
Soon after, Remini was sent to a facility in Clearwater, Florida, for several months of “reprogramming.” She alleged that she was shown knowledge reports filed by other Scientology members, including Katie Holmes, criticizing her behavior at Holmes and Cruise’s wedding. Holmes responded broadly to Remini’s comments: ”I regret having upset Leah in the past and wish her only the best in the future,” she said in a statement to ABC.
Remini said she apologized for “ruining the wedding of the century,” and got back in good graces with the church, but her heart wasn’t in it. The further she progressed in the church, the more she doubted some of its core teachings.
“I wasn’t ready to leave the church,” Remini said. “The decision to leave is you are giving up everything you have ever known and everything you have worked for your whole life.” She also said she feared the church’s disconnection practice, in which troublesome former members are labeled as “suppressive” and shunned by family members and friends. “If I leave it, I’m walking away from mother? I’m leaving my mother? I’m never talking to my mother again?” Remini said. (Marshall followed Remini’s exit from the church, as did Remini’s husband, Angelo Pagan.)
Ultimately, motherhood is what drove her to leave, Remini said, with the birth of her daughter, Sofia. “I just didn’t want her to be raised that way, because let’s say in 10 years if I don’t want to be connected to the church anymore, my own daughter would be taught to disconnect from me,” Remini said.
The 20/20 report also featured comments from Scientology officials, saying Remini’s claims were “ridiculous,” “stupid,” and attention-grabbing attempts to stay “relevant.”
“We are very happy that Ms. Remini is no longer in the church,” the church said in a statement.
And so is Remini. “I don’t regret what I’ve been through. I don’t regret spending my life there, because it really did teach me a lot. And because we all survived it. … We all have a gift of a second chance at life.”