British Doc Maker Talks Scientology's "Roaming Eye of Sauron"
Louis Theroux's 'My Scientology Movie' is the year's biggest homegrown documentary in the U.K. and is set for a U.S. release in March.
It's been over a year since My Scientology Movie had its world premiere in the U.K., but despite a couple of initial warnings, things haven't dramatically changed for its filmmaker, the British documentarian Louis Theroux.
After the film — an often hilarious doc, in which Theroux attempts to gain access to the Church of Scientology and finds himself on the other end of its own video cameras — screened at the BFI London Film Festival in 2015, Theroux told The Hollywood Reporter that he was aware his life could "get turned upside down."
But now living back in London after two years in L.A., the BBC regular says that claims by Scientology that it was making a retaliatory documentary about him have "not materialized," and he hasn't had any direct contact with its members since. And that is despite the film becoming the year's biggest British doc at the U.K. box office, earning more than $1.3 million since its local release in October.
"It's like they're the roaming eye of Sauron in The Lord of the Rings," he says, claiming that Scientology is so busy fighting fires elsewhere that it has — so far — either missed or avoided him.
There was, however, one strange incident that occurred toward the start of 2016.
"I was contacted by the police who said they had received a warning from the Church in the U.K. claiming that one of its members had seen the film, didn't like it and wanted to harm me in some way," he says, adding that the Church was "apparently worried I'd get hurt."
Nothing ever happened, although Theroux wonders why any Scientologist who wanted to take matters into their own hands wouldn't just go straight to the intended target, and suggests it was simply the Church trying to "unsettle" him.
One of the recent issues the Church has been dealing with closer to home is former member Leah Remini's eye-opening A&E docuseries Leah Remini: Scientology and its Aftermath, which includes various claims of harassment against fellow ex-Scientologists. The Church has been typically outspoken in its response, describing Remini as a "has-been actress" in a 530-word statement and setting up a website dedicated to attacking her.
Although he hasn't seen the series, Theroux says his "heart goes out" to Remini for her bravery in taking on the Church and what she's been forced to endure since.
But Sauron's eye could still turn on Theroux when Magnolia releases My Scientology Movie theatrically in the U.S. on March 3, with the filmmaker hoping to cross back over the Atlantic to help promote it. There could also be renewed interest in the film were it to find itself nominated for the documentary BAFTA in February — and Theroux, a 46-year-old who has been appearing on the BBC since the late 1990s, could also be in contention for the outstanding debut by a British director, writer or producer award.
Scientology did not respond to THR's request for comment about the doc when it first premiered.
Whatever happens, the lengthy process in making My Scientology Movie (which had been planned for over a decade) has given Theroux the desire to break away from the mold he set in the U.K. for making shows where he spends time getting to know the subject, and focus on topics — such as Scientology — where access is extremely limited.
"Something like the alt-right, or Trump, or ISIS," he hints. "And hopefully very soon."