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Leah Remini is telling all about the Church of Scientology.
In an exclusive 20/20 special on Friday night, the former King of Queens star and Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology author sat down with ABC News’ Dan Harris to discuss her 30-year involvement, and later abandonment, of the church.
At the age of 7, Remini joined the Church of Scientology in New York with her mother and sister after her parents’ divorce. “You learn how to apply the techniques of Scientology to yourself and others,” Remini said of what she learned about the religion. “Because Scientologists view children as spiritual beings, you’re not treated as a kid, so you’re given a lot of responsibility. Your ego becomes extremely inflated.”
After plugging into the New York branch, Remini moved with her mother and sister to Clearwater, Fla., and enrolled in Sea Org, the full-time religious order of the church at its headquarters, where she signed a billion year contract to commit herself to the church.
Remini said that “you live in roach-infested dorms with other children” while at Sea Org and “could go from working in a laundry room to working industrial sanders.” Though she was “learning how to learn Scientology” and the food “didn’t taste like food and you had to get it at a certain time,” she considered the church her home.
But during her one-year involvement at Sea Org, Remini and her then-boyfriend partook in physical actions the church deemed inappropriate. “I allowed my boyfriend at the time … to go like this over my shirt,” she said while lighting touching her breast over her shirt. Remini remarked the action was a church violation and she was threatened to be put in the rehabilitation project force. “When you have screwed up royally in the Sea Org, it’s basically to reform you. You have to wear black, you have to run everywhere you go, you have to call everyone sir. It’s pretty severe punishment for an adult, not to mention a child,” Remini said.
Remini was “dismissed” for her inability to maintain the ethical standards related to fraternization, which spurred the family’s relocation to Los Angeles a year into living at the Florida campus.
In the mid-’80s, after the family’s cross-country move, she lived close to the Los Angeles Scientology center in Hollywood and stayed deeply involved in the religion because her mother thought the incident in Florida was a failure of specific people, not the church as a whole.
While living close to the Hollywood building, Remini, her mother and sister got plugged into church classes and auditing on a daily basis. “Moving up the bridge to total freedom: It promotes that you get into higher levels of awareness as a spiritual being,” Remini said. She said that the cost of courses and auditing is “Thousands and thousands. Hundreds of thousands of dollars through your career.”
As a way to avoid bussing tables and make more money while living in Los Angeles, Remini gave acting a shot — and credited Scientology for her success. “There’s tools that are very, very helpful to you and your life, to you as an actor,” she said referring to clear communication, doggedness and persistence as what she drew from it. “So I walked into a room, where some people might cower in front of a casting director — I wasn’t.”
After scoring roles on Living Dolls, Cheers, Saved By the Bell, NYPD Blue, and Fired Up, the actress met her husband Angelo, who also joined the religion for her. “I would have done anything (for Remini),” he said.
As her involvement in the Hollywood branch deepened, Remini was introduced to church leader David Miscavige (“He’s very charismatic. He’s very powerful. He’s likable,” she said) and fellow celebrity member Tom Cruise, who declined to comment for ABC News’ report.
“At first, it’s very effusive, it’s very, very loving. You get the laser in on you and you’re the most important thing that ever happened,” she said of her first impressions of Cruise. She recalled meeting both Cruise and Katie Holmes at the actor’s home one evening. Remini received a call from a church official that said Cruise wanted her to come over and teach him salsa dancing. Two high-ranking Scientology officials were there with the actor at his home and so was Holmes, then his new girlfriend, when Remini arrived.
“He was forcibly kissing Katie. I said, ‘Hey, get a freakin’ room.’ I was written up for that and I had to go into session for it,” Remini said. The actress said that church members regularly write knowledge reports on others, and the individuals then have to answer for it in auditing sessions.
“You can assume if you say something that is critical to the church, you will be written up. Husband-wife, mother-daughter. It’s what the group does to regulate itself,” said Remini, who reflected that she wrote up her husband “all the time.”
The actress started taking notice of Cruise’s public actions and believed there was a disconnect between his behavior and what the church stood for. “I’m saying I don’t think he’s becoming of Scientologists, jumping on couches and attacking Matt Lauer and attacking Brooke Shields. 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” Remini said of her thoughts on Cruise at the time.
“I was immediately dealt with,” Remini said. “[I was told] the only reason you’re saying these things is because you have your own transgressions, so you then become guilty,” she continued. “Being critical of Tom Cruise is being critical of Scientology itself. You are a person who is anti the aims and goals of Scientology. You are evil.”
“I would refer to him even in my own session. I was like, ‘You’re doing this for a freakin’ actor?’ Like it was so beneath what was truly important,” Remini said of Miscavige and allowing Cruise to act the way he did. “He’s just an actor.”
In November 2006, Remini attended the Cruise-Holmes wedding in Italy and her friends, Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony, were invited by the church on Cruise’s behalf. Throughout the wedding festivities, Remini says she was separated from Lopez; they did not travel in the same car to and from the wedding and were not seated together.
“They were trying to extract me … I can only assume because they wanted to make Jennifer a Scientologist. Maybe I was barring that road for them,” Remini said.
Also during the wedding, Remini noticed that Miscavige’s wife, Shelly, was not in attendance. “Shelly was always where David Miscavige was. For such a big event, a wedding of the century, it was like, ‘Where’s Shelly?’” The actress added that church officials would simply get up and leave whenever she asked where Shelly was.
“It’s such a simple thing. It’s a big wedding. The leader of the church is here and his wife isn’t. It’s getting weirder because you’re making it weirder,” Remini recalled. (The church has called Remini’s claims about the wedding “ridiculous and stupid.”)
Upon her return home from the wedding, Remini filed a wide-ranging knowledge report complaining about church members at the wedding and noted that both Miscavige and Cruise “were bringing Scientology down.”
“I was sent to Florida for reprogramming for three or four months,” she said as a result. “From 9 in the morning until 10 at night.” She said that numerous Scientologists filed written reports against her for disrupting the wedding, including a report from Holmes. “I was dismayed at the behavior of Leah Remini during the events leading up to our wedding and our wedding. The behavior as a guest, a friend, was very upsetting,” a line from Holmes’ report reads.
(Though Holmes declined to be interviewed by ABC News for its reports, her representatives provided the following statement on her behalf Friday: “I regret having upset Leah in the past and wish her only the best in the future.”)
“They were trying to get me to recant what I said; to apologize for ruining the wedding of the century,” Remini said of her time at the Florida center. “I wasn’t ready to leave the church. You are giving up everything you have ever known and everything you have worked for your whole life,” she said of why she didn’t leave the church at the time. “And so yes, I said everything they needed me to say. And once I did that, I was free to go home.”
Remini resumed her life as an active Scientologist and grew in the levels of the Church before Holmes and Cruise divorced in 2012. “I said, ‘Where’s my apology?’” following Holmes leaving Cruise and feeling vindicated. She said the divorce reignited her anger, which was contributed to by all of the money she spent on the church — she received trophies for giving $2.5 million to Scientology charities. Her anger spurred her to look online and see what critics of the church said about the religion.
“I was heartbroken for myself and for my family. I didn’t want these things to be true” she said of reading negative accounts online about families being separated. And during that time, she contacted a former leader of the church, Mike Rinder: “Talking to me is like sleeping with the devil,” he said of Remini reaching out.
During the same time period, Remini demanded that church officials deliver a note to Shelly, since she wasn’t getting answers about where the church leader’s wife was. The actress told Harris that two high-ranking officials were sent to her house, where one of them called her a bitch, at which point her husband grabbed him by the collar, a pivotal moment that was a breaking point for Remini and her ties to the church.
The King of Queens star and her family members left the church soon after in the summer of 2013 and filed a missing person’s report on Shelly. Remini she said hadn’t been seen in public since August 2007. “It was sending a message to them that it’s not OK,” Remini said of the church not addressing Shelly’s whereabouts.
Following her separation from Scientology, Remini’s public comments led the church to defend itself against the actress. “Marking myself for whatever the church usually does to people who leave the church or speak out publicly is not a walk in the park. It’s not fun,” she said of the backlash she received.
In the process of abandoning her 30-year commitment to Scientology, Remini lost friends, including actress Kirstie Alley: “When you decide to blanket statement that all scientology is evil, you are my enemy,” Alley said.
“Anybody who criticizes the church is to cry that everybody is a bigot towards their religion and this is religious bigotry and I understand the position they’re in,” Remini said. “I was in the same position, I said similar things about people like me.”
While the church claims Remini is trying to stay relevant by talking about her experience with Scientology two years following her exit, Remini disagrees. “I wish I too could get over 30 years of this quickly. Unfortunately, it takes some time,” she said.
“In the end, 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,” she told Harris. “And because we’ve all survived it, we’re all surviving it and living life and it’s kind of like we have a gift of second chance of life.”
In response to Remini’s comments, Scientology issued the following statement to ABC: “We are very happy Ms. Remini is no longer in the church.”
Troublemaker hits bookstands Nov. 3.
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