KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
In 2013, the actor Leah Remini left the Church of Scientology after more than 30 years. And today, she's out with a new memoir called "Troublemaker," which might make her the most famous former Scientologist to publicly criticize the religion. The church calls the book, quote, "revisionist history." I spoke to Leah Remini about the book and her life in Scientology. It starts when she was 9, growing up in Brooklyn. Her dad had just left and her mom got a new boyfriend. The boyfriend was a Scientologist. Her mom joined the church too. So did Leah and her sister.
LEAH REMINI: As a kid, it offered, I think, structure. I think that we loved that there was structure to these courses. And then the second part of that was you were told that you're a spiritual being and you're very powerful and you're not a child.
MCEVERS: And early on, you and your family go to work for a group within the church called...
MCEVERS: ...The Sea Org. It's basically the church's clergy. And you write in the book that the conditions there, for you and your sisters, were not good.
REMINI: No. We were living in a rundown motel off of a freeway in Clearwater, Fl. We were - lived in dorms with other children. It was roach infested. Oftentimes we didn't eat if we didn't wake up when meals were being served. But again, you're a child who all of a sudden has this independence. So in one way, it was scary, but it was also - we felt independent.
MCEVERS: After a conflict with Sea Org leaders, Leah Remini and her family left and moved to Los Angeles. They stayed in the church. Remini struggled to break into acting. She eventually landed a lead role on a big sitcom, "The King Of Queens." As a celebrity, she was able to ascend to the upper levels of the church. She spent hours each day in classes and auditing - it's like a counseling session. All of that cost money, lots of money.
In all, how much money did you give the church?
REMINI: Over $2 million.
MCEVERS: And Leah Remini says that was just for courses. She says she gave roughly $3 million more in donations. But at some point she started doubting whether that money was going toward good causes as the Church of Scientology told her. She wanted to see what critics of the church were saying about this. But, she says, she knew she could be questioned for that.
REMINI: You don't really look on the Internet, you don't watch "Nightlines," and "Datelines," and, you know, "20/20s," critical of the church. And if you do, you have to go in and deal with why you were looking at those things.
MCEVERS: Wait, you mean the church calls you in and says, you were watching a TV show, why were you doing that?
REMINI: Yes. When you watch something like that, their argument is you are connecting up with an enemy line by even clicking on it, and so why would you want to look at something that's an enemy to your group? Now, from there, you would be taken off of what you were doing in the church and then you would be put into a security checking, which is a series of questions done on that - have you ever seen that E-meter?
MCEVERS: Yes. I've seen pictures of it, yeah.
REMINI: OK. So it's sort of like a lie detector test. So you're hooked up to that and you're asked a series of questions - do you have evil intentions toward your church? Are you talking to certain enemies to our church? I mean, and you're just interrogated. And so that's what most Scientologists have to deal with if they look on the Internet, if they read a book, if they watch a movie that is critical of the church.
MCEVERS: And even though you were skeptical, I mean, you stayed in. You kept taking classes, paying for classes.
REMINI: Right. The reason for that is - again, this is an extremist organization. There's no half in half out, you have to 100 percent be on board or you're considered an enemy to your group. I wasn't ready to walk out the door and say goodbye to my mother, my sister, my brother-in-law, all my friends. I mean, most of my friends were Scientologists - everybody.
MCEVERS: She wasn't ready to leave the church because of the church's policy of disconnection. The church calls this a voluntary decision, but Leah Remini says Scientology puts a lot of pressure on members to stop all contact with anyone who's critical of the church. Then came the wedding of probably the most famous Scientologist, actor Tom Cruise, to Katie Holmes in 2006. A lot of church members were there. Remini says she was very concerned with how much power Tom Cruise appeared to have been given by the church, especially by its leader, David Miscavige. And, Remini says, she was concerned she hadn't seen or heard from Miscavige's wife, Shelly, in a long time.
REMINI: People were scattering any time I asked about Shelly Miscavige, who I considered a friend. And when I say, where's Shelly, at a very public event, I was basically told I didn't have the rank to ask such a question. And that is not something that sits right with me.
MCEVERS: And so what was the final straw? What did it?
REMINI: It was, you know, 6 years until I actually left - 6 to 7 years I was trying to work within the system. I knew that my questioning would lead to my family being investigated, which is what started to happen. Honestly, I didn't want to be right. You know, I'm a person who has to be right. This is one place that I was hoping to be wrong. I spent my whole life in it. My mother spent her whole life in it. I got my husband into it. So I did not want to be right here. At the end they had us all in different rooms interrogating us all and asking us not to talk to each other about what we were doing in those rooms. And we got together and we said, we need to stick together as a family and we need to stop. And we all decided, as a family, that was enough.
MCEVERS: Has it been hard?
REMINI: Yeah. It was very hard because, you know, I'm looking at my phone to invite my friends to my daughter's birthday party. And I'm like, oh, can't, oh, can't, oh, oh, she can't talk to me, she can't talk to me. And, you know, I saw my goddaughter at my local coffee shop, and I couldn't go and embrace her because her mother can't really talk to me. So it was part of our everyday life. It gave a sense of purpose. And that is taken away. That part was hard, but then I started going to therapy, which is, you know, taboo to that church. And I started reading books and going, oh, my God, there's other things in the world, like, things that actually do - people. I mean, there's good people in the world. It's not that us-against-them mentality. It's just, there's good in the world and that's what's been amazing.
So yes, it was a short-term heartbreak. And finding, you know, your new everyday normal, but filling it with family and friends who are not judging you on your religious beliefs or how much money you donated or how much time you spent at - you know, it's just - there's - it's so much more fulfilling.
MCEVERS: That's Leah Remini. Her new memoir, "Troublemaker," is out today. In a statement to NPR, a Scientology spokesperson says, in part, quote, "it's a shame Ms. Remini seeks to profit by harassing and badmouthing her former religion rather than move on with her life." The church says the policy of disconnection is, quote, "designed to help members remove themselves from abusive and hostile relationships." And about Shelly Miscavige, the church says, Mrs. Miscavige is not now, and has never been, missing. A representative for Tom Cruise did not respond to our request for comment. This is NPR News.
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