After dedicating more than three decades of her life to Scientology, ex-parishioner Leah Remini had one mission in creating her 2016 A&E show: to publicly expose what she alleged were abusive church policies - and inspire others to do the same. (In a statement, the church said all “allegations are false and are tired rumors stemming from the same small group of anti-Scientologists.”) Now Remini talks to EW about the series’ impact and what to expect from season 2, which premieres later this year.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When you left the church in 2013, did you plan to speak out against it?
No. You can leave quietly, and they won’t go after you or your family. If you start to speak out, the church goes after you.... I couldn’t just sit around watching people get bullied.
Season 1 of the show, which alleged extreme church practices, seemed to get people talking about Scientology like never before.
People have been talking about it, for decades.... [They] were just making fun of a belief system, and that’s not what this is about. You’ve never heard me ridicule or make fun of the Xenu story and what Scientologists truly believe.
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At the end of the first season, you alluded to a legal campaign you were mounting. Will season 2 get into that? Yes! In my heart I believed the FBI would be sitting in a war room like they do on TV. They’d be going, “Damn it, that’s it! We’re going to raid the place, we’re going to run in and save all these people and we’re shutting this s- down.” But that is not real life. [Scientology has] tax-exempt status, so you can’t just run in and say, “This is not a religious organization.” They’ve met the religious requirements on paper, so we need more time to effect change. Several law firms have contacted [me and show consultant/costar Mike Rinder], and we’re moving forward.
What else can you tell us about the new season?
I didn’t foresee a season 2. I didn’t want to do another season. But the response from the organization and the response from parishioners - particularly celebrity parishioners - has proven to me that we need to continue to tell these stories.
Do you think legal action is necessary? You don’t think they’ll come to a moral awakening?
Morally they believe they’re doing the right thing. They believe that what L. Ron Hubbard says...is being followed to a tee. I know that because I was a Scientologist for years. There is no thinking for yourself in Scientology; the policy says what it says, and [Hubbard’s word] is drilled into you from the moment you read Dianetics. The only way to expose what’s happening is to continue to tell stories. [Church leader] David Miscavige isn’t going to have a moment.
Has anyone from the church reached out to you to appear in season 2?
No, and I want to be clear about that: I’m not trying to turn people. We don’t need to get people to come out; we’re hearing from people who haven’t spoken before. They’ve been brainwashed into believing they could do nothing. They were told there’d be heavy repercussions if they went to the police or the FBI. [The church has called Remini’s allegations a “rehash of stale, long disproven claims.”]
Because Scientology stretches so far into Hollywood, were you afraid that doing this show would impact your career?
I think it’s just the opposite. I’ve been embraced even more by Hollywood, and I continue to work. [Editor’s note: Remini is currently filming the NBC pilot What About Barb?] As far as acting is concerned, if my career was affected by my speaking out against abuses, then I’m good with it. I don’t need to work in a town that’s complicit with these kinds of abuses.
How can people get involved if they want to?
It could be a simple call to your councilman, writing to the IRS, making noise about it, or encouraging people to come forward. People feel like they should do more, but they don’t realize how much they’ve already done by supporting us and supporting the people who’ve been on our show.
Do you think the current political climate makes all of this even more significant?
Absolutely. If we’re not happy, politics aside, what can we do about it? People are doing what they can, and that’s a great
thing. If you can write a letter, do it! If you can simply call a congressman, do it! In this climate, often people feel they don’t have a voice or power to do something, whether it’s [in response to] a cult, an abusive relationship, or politics. A docuseries like this makes people feel that there’s hope that anyone can do something to effect change. I hope to inspire people to take action. What can you do to make you feel that you’re not nothing?