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As The Weinstein Co. enters the final stretch of its prerelease marketing efforts for Paul Thomas Anderson‘s The Master, the Church of Scientology — the origins of which are explored in the film — has been mounting a campaign of its own.
Sources confirm to The Hollywood Reporter that the church has been calling, e-mailing and sending letters to Harvey Weinstein‘s studio to voice objections to the film’s depiction of a cult leader, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman and said to be a loose fictionalization of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. Joaquin Phoenix also stars in the film as a drifter who falls under the Hoffman character’s spell.
Representatives from the church have denied the organization’s involvement in the phone calls.
THR also has learned that The Weinstein Co. has paid for heightened security at Monday night’s New York premiere at the Ziegfeld Theater.
Anderson had downplayed the Scientology connection in interviews, though he did acknowledge at the Venice Film Festival — where the film took several top awards but lost the Golden Lion over a technicality — that The Master was “inspired by L. Ron Hubbard and the early days of Dianetics.”
Asked if he had shown the film to high-ranking Scientologist Tom Cruise, who starred in Anderson’s 1999 film Magnolia, the director said, “Yes, I have shown him the film, and yes, we are still friends.”
Cruise’s connections to the church have come under deeper scrutiny in recent months, after his divorce from Katie Holmes and a subsquent article in Vanity Fair that alleges he auditioned women within the church to be his girlfriend.
Despite the pushback from Scientologists, the film has the wind at its back as its Sept. 14 opening day in New York and Los Angeles approaches, having earned gushing accolades at its Venice and Toronto festival screenings.
And The Weinstein Co. always has deftly turned controversy to its advantage, most recently having mounted a headline-grabbing war with the MPAA over the R rating assigned its documentary, Bully.
Some industry watchers have suggested the studio moved up The Master‘s release date one month because the Cruise-Holmes divorce had put Scientology back in the news. But Erik Lomis, president of distribution of The Weinstein Co., insists the motive was far less calculated.
“We feel that the film is great,” Lomis told the Los Angeles Times. “It plays great, and we wanted to get out in front of everyone else.”
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