If you've read Lawrence Wright's bestselling Scientology exposé Going Clear, or watched the HBO documentary based on the book, you won't be surprised by many of the disturbing anecdotes in ex-Scientologist Leah Remini's new book, Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology. Not the account of the time the King of Queens actress recalls being thrown off a motorboat by a senior member of the Sea Org—a religious order within the church that is comprised of "the singularly most dedicated Scientologists." Not the description of a culture in which children are expected to work full days and study Scientology instead of going to school, and where innocent sexual encounters between teens marks them as sexually aberrant. Not the detailed account of what it was like to interact with Scientology's star member, Tom Cruise, or witness his 2006 wedding to Katie Holmes.
Remini's book offers up few new allegations against the church. But it does give us a fascinating look at the friendship Remini has with a celebrity who is not typically associated with Scientology: Jennifer Lopez.
Though Lopez wasn't herself brought up in Scientology, her father is a Scientologist. And for years, she publicly defended the organization against its detractors. She said in a 2007 TV interview that garnered national attention:
… it's funny the way people come at [Scientology]. To me it's so strange. These are some of the best people I've ever met in my life. You know, they're just lovely, genuine people. The way they ask is such a, 'Uh, are you [a Scientologist]?' It's such a negative thing and I just don't see it that way." She continued, "My dad has been a Scientologist for 20 years. He's the best man that I know in my life and so, it's weird to me that people want to paint it in a negative way.
Now, Remini credits Lopez with helping her leave Scientology. And, in some ways, the more interesting (and telling) story contained in Remini's memoir is about Lopez's shift from publicly defending Scientology to being the BFF of an apostate. It's a portrait of a friendship that was tested at many points, and that might have ended over a religious schism, but that ultimately held together despite their differences.
In Troublemaker, Remini describes Lopez and her ex-husband Marc Anthony as close friends. She first discusses her relationship with the couple in the context of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes' wedding:
Tom… then asked if we wanted to invite our friends Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony to the wedding. "Don't you think you guys should?" I asked, confused. "Well, we don't really know them that well," Katie said. Right, I thought, exactly my point. And you want to invite them to the wedding?
According to Remini, this wasn't the first time she had been asked to invite the power couple to events with Cruise and Holmes, but that she'd previously "assumed [Katie] was a fan of J-Lo."
But as the wedding weekend unfolded, in mid-November of 2006, Remini started to suspect that the couple's interest in Lopez had more to do with the church's interest in recruiting her. Remini describes how the church used paparazzi photos—which she says were encouraged by the logistics of each venue—to build a public association between the church and famous wedding attendees:
The church, in a very calculating way, could point to this photo or that photo and say Posh and Becks or Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony are associating themselves with this wedding, and therefore with Scientology. It was a smart way of legitimizing the church to the public and an attempt to recover from the bad PR of recent years.
Remini said that throughout the weekend, church officials tried to separate her from Lopez, asking Remini to come earlier to the ceremony, along with fellow Scientologists, and assigning the friends to sit at separate tables. Remini said she later realized that "me sitting with Jen meant that I was not placed at an assigned table where I could be used effectively by the church to promote Scientology among non-Scientology guests at the wedding." And the church, it seems, wanted Lopez to interact directly with Cruise.
It's worth noting that the church has dismissed the allegations listed in Troublemaker, and sees Remini's complaints as petty. "She needs to move on with her life instead of pathetically exploiting her former religion, her former friends and other celebrities for money and attention to appear relevant again," the church said in a statement to ABC News. Katie Holmes, through her reps, offered a very brief statement to ABC News: “I regret having upset Leah in the past and wish her only the best in the future." Tom Cruise did not comment, though affirmed his loyalty to the church by attending a Scientology gala soon after the book was released. A representative said Jennifer Lopez has not been commenting on the book.
In 2007, Lopez’s attitudes toward Scientology weren't far from the mainstream — at the time, it was possible to see Scientology as a new, upstart religious group, packed with celebrities and mostly inoffensive (if a little strange).
In 2008, Lopez told The Daily Beast that though she is not a Scientologist, she wouldn't be ashamed to identify as one if she converted. "I wouldn't have a problem saying it because I know what it is. I have no problems with it and it really actually bothers me that people have such a negative feeling towards it." Rumors started circulating that a conversion was in the works.
But the next few years were rough for Scientology. The church's image was bruised by the public defection of Hollywood director Paul Haggis (who would later star in Going Clear), and hurt by the revelations in a 2011 book by Rolling Stone journalist Janet Reitman called Inside Scientology, who alleged abusive practices among the church's higher-ups. By 2013, when allegations against the church became widely known, it became harder for onetime allies like Lopez to defend the group.
In 2013, after Remini had decided to leave Scientology for good, she says that she told Lopez about her decision. Though Lopez is not a member of the church, Remini suspected that her Scientologist father would be instructed to cut ties with Jennifer if she maintained relations with Remini. She writes in Troublemaker that she dreaded Lopez's reaction to the news: "Jennifer is a family girl, 100 percent. And although we are close, I assumed she would unequivocally choose her family."
But, according Remini, Lopez stuck by her friend. Remini writes:
As I sat there with my head down and tears welling in my eyes, she said, "That is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard." "I know Jen, but it's the policy of the church." She rolled her eyes and said, "That's my dad, he would never. And you are my friend. I don't want to ever talk about this bullshit again."
Remini also writes that "Jen often reminded me… to remember that good things happened to me while I was in the church, and to take what positive experiences I had and move on with love from there." And Remini says that Lopez did not ultimately cut ties with her because she'd gone away from Scientology.
Viewed in this way, the portrait Remini sketches of her A-list friendship with Lopez—as atypical as it may be—is a kind of exemplar of what real, supportive friendship should look like. It suggests that even at the highest rungs of fame, and in the strangest of situations, having loyal friends makes all the difference.
Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.