Paul Haggis on Scientology Series: "You Don’t Want to Piss Off Leah Remini"
The Oscar-winning director discusses his upcoming appearance on Remini's show and the parallels he sees between Scientologists and Trump supporters.
Leah Remini didn’t always plan for a second season of her show, Scientology and the Aftermath, a deep exposé of the organization she was a part of for most of her life. But after many more people approached her with their stories, after watching the first season, she knew there was more story to tell. The upcoming season premieres this summer, with season one earning an Emmy nod for Remini, as well as A&E's biggest premiere rating in three years.
Season two has many surprises in store, including an interview with perhaps Hollywood's most prominent Scientology defector, Oscar-winning writer-director Paul Haggis. He appears on the show to discuss his break from the church and the constant harassment he received after his very public split from the organization.
Haggis was a big fan of the first season of Remini's show. “She’s incredibly brave,” Haggis tells THR from the Ischia Global Fest. “And it’s a very personal story with her, because of course she grew up in Scientology, unlike me. But you don’t want to piss off Leah Remini. You know, you just don’t want to piss her off. And they pissed her off, and you see it.”
Haggis, who left the organization a few years before Remini, said that she was the only person who didn’t shun him after his departure, and even defended his position to the church.
“And then she finally opened her eyes too," he says. "It’s a long process. You are so inundated with what they want you to look at. I mean it’s ridiculous when you step outside and look at it, but when you are inside you believe you are the one. It’s your group and you are under attack by all these bigots around the world, these bullies, and so you stand up for them."
Haggis maintains that despite the renewed public level criticism of Scientology, no one in the organization is noticing. “A. they aren’t allowed, but B. it’s not like someone is controlling their television set. It’s a culture that is a very slow process of brainwashing,” he says. “No Scientologist will watch Going Clear or her show. Out of a point of pride they won’t.”
He does see parallels between Scientologists and Trump supporters and the constant call of “fake news,” along with Remini who has pointed out that they are both very hostile toward the media.
“Of course a lot of Scientologists are Trump supporters,” he says. “It’s the same kind of strong-arm mentality. It’s very strange, but a lot of them are very much in that kind of thinking.”
Scientology recently came into the news again with many critics questioning the choice of casting Elisabeth Moss in The Handmaid’s Tale, about a made-up religious regime that oppresses women, given her involvement in the organization.
“Yes it’s strange isn’t it,” he says of the casting. “I don’t know Elisabeth. I met her once. But I don’t think if you asked her she’d find it ironic, because I don’t think anyone within the church views the church like that. Because you are taught to believe that it’s about free speech and free thought, etc. It’s not, but that is what you are taught. So they truly believe that they are defending freedom.”
Haggis is so familiar with Scientology’s tactics to speak out against opponents that he is already anticipating their response to his appearance on the upcoming show. “I’m sure they will put out a statement, again, how I’m a liar and what a terrible man I am. How I do no work in Haiti or anything else,” he says, about his ongoing work in Haiti under his nonprofit Artists for Peace and Justice. “They boast all the great work they do in Haiti and how I do it for photo-ops or something. It’s just ludicrous and you don’t have to pay any attention to it.”
His only hope for the show is that people watch it and form their own opinions. “I think if people just open their eyes that’s great,” he says. “I’m not on a crusade to open people’s eyes. It’s up to them.”
In response to Haggis' comments on Remini's series, the Church of Scientology asked THR to link to its website, leahreminiaftermath.com
In addition to appearing on the upcoming show, Haggis is currently finishing a new script. He’s also co-directing an upcoming documentary film with doc helmer Dan Krauss about Ward 5B in San Francisco in the early 1980s in the middle of the AIDS epidemic. While many caretakers refused to treat the then-unknown disease, a small group of doctors and nurses were determined to provide everyone with care, effectively creating the world’s first inpatient AIDS clinic.
Haggis plans on taking the film to festivals next year, and ultimately to a streaming platform.
“You actually get your films seen, which is so hard for independent films these days, just in the ways we’ve changed,” he says. “I’ve spoken to so many friends when my last independent film came out and they go, ‘Oh I can’t wait to see it, when is it on Netflix?’ I go, ‘It’s in the theaters right now, it’s opening this weekend!’ And they go ‘yeah, yeah, when is it on Netflix?’ And those are my friends. We all get lazy.”
July 17, 10 p.m. — Updated with comment from the Church of Scientology