In a 20/20 special that aired Friday night, former King of Queens star and Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology author Leah Remini spoke with ABC News's Dan Harris about her 30-year history with the Church of Scientology.
The church indoctrinates you from an early age, Remini said: “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.”
Remini was 7 when she became involved with the New York branch. Later, her mother moved her and her sister to the church's headquarters in Clearwater, Florida, where she lived in “roach-infested dorms with other children” while members of the Sea Organization, which serves as the full-time religious order of the church, and which made Remini sign a billion-year contract. Both Remini and her sister dropped their normal schooling in the eighth grade and then only studied Scientology, though they subsequently got into trouble. Remini told Harris that she allowed her then-boyfriend to touch her breasts over her shirt, which was a violation of church doctrine, and they threatened to put her in a brutal rehabilitation program as a result, which promoted Remini's mother to remove her and her sister from the Sea Org.
“When you have screwed up royally in the Sea Org, it’s basically to reform you,” she said. “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.”
She credits her initial success with acting to Scientology, which has a prominent branch in Hollywood. After landing roles in Living Dolls, Cheers, Saved by the Bell, NYPD Blue, and Fired Up, she ultimately converted her husband to the church and became deeply involved with the church's Celebrity Centre, and she says her success also changed her status in the church, eventually getting her into the inner social circle of church leader David Miscavige. She also met Tom Cruise.
Of her first impressions of the iconic actor, she said, “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.” Cruise even asked Remini to teach him how to salsa dance.
She said she eventually came to think that Cruise’s public actions were antipodal to the church’s teachings: “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.” She says her comments were not received well. "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."
In November 2006, Remini attended the Cruise-Holmes wedding in Italy, and she was asked to invite her friends Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony, though Remini says church members then tried to keep her and Lopez separated at the wedding, presumably so they could try to make her a Scientologist. At the wedding Remini also 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?’”
After the wedding, Remini filed a “knowledge report” complaining about church members and the wedding, claiming Miscavige and Cruise “were bringing Scientology down.” Consequently, she was “sent to Florida for reprogramming for three or four months, from nine in the morning until ten at night.” She said that numerous Scientologists filed written reports against her for disrupting the wedding, including a knowledge report from Holmes, which includes the assertion, “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.” (Holmes's publicist gave 20/20 a statement in which Holmes, who has since left Cruise and the church, said: “I regret having upset Leah in the past, and wish her only the best in the future.”)
Remini and her family members left the church in the summer of 2013, after a confrontation with two Scientology officials at Remini's house, and they filed a missing person’s report for Shelly, whom Remini says hasn’t been seen in public since August 2007.
“In the end, I don’t regret what I've been through,” she said. “I don't regret spending my life there because it really did teach me a lot … 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.”
The church offered a succinct response to Remini’s 20/20 interview: “We are very happy Ms. Remini is no longer in the church.”