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 expose of the organization she was a part of for most of her life. 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 the 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 Ischial 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 Scientologist 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 Elizabeth 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 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.”

 

 

 



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Emmys: Leah Remini's Scientology Series Nabs Reality Nomination


Remini’s ‘Scientology and the Aftermath’ was nominated for best informational series or special during Thursday’s announcement.

Leah Remini has earned a 2017 Emmy nomination for her high-profile Scientology series. The A&E exposé Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath scored a nomination for best informational series or special during Thursday’s announcement of the annual TV awards.

After 34 years of devotion, Remini left the Church of Scientology in a highly publicized departure in 2013. Now, nearly four years after her exit, Remini is continuing to earn recognition for her plight.

The controversial religion’s defector launched the unscripted series, of which she is an executive producer, late last year. Remini, who detailed the threats she received from the church ahead of the series’ launch that still continue today, confessed that everyone on her team told her not to do the show. 

“They want me to be an actress. They want me to do what I love to do,” she said during The Hollywood Reporter‘s Reality TV Roundtable. “Acting is something that I love to do, but this is my passion. They don’t want me to be known as someone who does a show about Scientology, but what am I going to do? Not do it?”

The series ranked as cable’s top unscripted series among total viewers for 2016.

The actress, who will also be reuniting with her King of Queens husband, Kevin James, on the second season of CBS’ Kevin Can Wait, said she simply couldn’t turn away from the potential to help people by shedding a light on the church and the aftermath members face when leaving it.

The series has been renewed for a 10-episode second season, with a premiere date yet to be announced. A&E Network also aired a two-hour special after the finale of the six-episode first season, Merchants of Fear, in May.

“This is about showing the actual practices dictated by this policy of Scientology that demands for people to be destroyed,” Remini told THR. “That’s what we’re talking about. You can believe in whatever you want to believe in. You want to be a scientologist? That’s great, but don’t deny these are the practices of it that are hurting people.”

The Church asked that THR link to its website, which it claims “exposes the fraud behind Leah Remini’s bigoted hate-filled program.”

Also nominated in the category was CNN’s Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown, Bravo’s Inside the Actors Studio, National Geographic’s StarTalk and HBO’s Vice.

The 2017 Emmys will broadcast Sept. 17 on CBS with host Stephen Colbert. For the full list of nominees, head here.



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Leah Remini: "I Never Want to Give the Business of Scientology the Idea that Anybody's Scared of Them" | 'Scientology and the Aftermath' | Reality TV Roundtable


“You want to be a scientologist? That’s great, but don’t deny these are the practices of it that are hurting people.”

“People who know me know I have a very big mouth, and I’ve been that way since I was a kid,” Leah Remini told The Hollywood Reporter while discussing her series, Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath, on THR’s Reality TV Roundtable.

“I never want to give the business, the organization of Scientology the idea that anybody’s scared of them,” she said of the docuseries’ subject. 

“This is about showing the actual practices dictated by this policy of Scientology that demands for people to be destroyed. That’s what we’re talking about. You can believe in whatever you want to believe in. You want to be a scientologist? That’s great,” said Remini, “but don’t deny these are the practices of it that are hurting people.”

“Everybody on my team told me not to,” said Remini of making the reality series. “They want me to be an actress, they want me to do what I love to do. Acting is something that I love to do, but this is my passion. They don’t want me to be known as someone who does a show about Scientology, but what am I going to do? Not do it?”

More roundtables featuring comedy and drama actresses, actors, showrunners and reality creators will continue through July in print and online. Tune in to new episodes of Close Up With The Hollywood Reporter starting May 25 on Sundance TV, and look for clips at THR.com/topic/roundtables with full episodes on THR.com after broadcast.



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Reality TV Roundtable: Exclusive Portraits of Kris Jenner, RuPaul, Leah Remini and More




Five top unscripted talents — also including W. Kamau Bell and SallyAnn Salsano — gathered to discuss the challenges of living your life on camera in the internet age.



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Reality TV Roundtable: Leah Remini, RuPaul on Breaking Points and Facing "Haters"


Five top unscripted makers — also including Kris Jenner, SallyAnn Salsano and W. Kamau Bell — open up about the challenges of living your life on camera (“Stop thinking about what America will think”) and raising a “middle finger up to society.”

Each time SallyAnn Salsano launches a new reality show, of which there have been many, including Jersey Shore and the VH1 breakout Martha & Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party, she doles out the same advice: “Stop thinking about what America will think.” Instead, she tells her subjects, “worry about your five best friends and your parents. You want to be true to them.” That authenticity no doubt has been key to the success of the four unscripted talents — W. Kamau Bell, 44; Leah Remini, 46; RuPaul, 56; and Kris Jenner, 61 — who joined Salsano, 43, in early May for THR‘s annual Reality Roundtable discussion. Over the course of an hour, they spoke candidly about their desires and concerns when it comes to putting themselves and others onscreen.

Why do you think your respective shows are striking a chord, and what does their success say about our culture today?

LEAH REMINI (Scientology and the Aftermath, A&E) The Church of Scientology has been in the news, but more so for fodder and a headline. What we are trying to do is show that this is a real thing that’s tearing families apart. People really had no idea. It was like, “Oh, this is that crazy thing where Tom Cruise is jumping on a couch and everybody believes in aliens?” I think that worked for a very long time to sell headlines. But we’re showing how a person actually can get there, and that’s what’s resonating. Also, we’re standing up to a bully and, in a culture where people are feeling apathetic, we’re representing a group of courageous people who are saying, “No, I’m going to do something about it.”

W. KAMAU BELL (United Shades of America, CNN) My show is about me traveling around the country and talking to people who you wouldn’t expect me to talk to or who you don’t think I should talk to. And right now, the country feels hectic and divided — it’s splitting apart at the seams. People who like the show like to see somebody actually going into those seams to see what’s going on. That, and [my show] follows [Anthony] Bourdain. (Laughs.)

RUPAUL (RuPaul’s Drag Race, VH1) The subtext [for Drag Race] really is the tenacity of the human spirit. These are little boys who are ostracized from society and from their families a lot of times — boys playing with girls’ things, it’s an act of treason in a male-dominated culture — and here they are blooming and thriving, and it’s interesting to watch someone reveal their struggles.

KRIS JENNER (Keeping Up With the Kardashians, E!) I think the reason we became something of a phenomenon is because there are so many of us. Everybody can relate to somebody in my family, whether you’re 7 or you’re 107. And people just got emotionally attached and invested in seeing this family evolve: They’re getting married, getting divorced, having babies.

SALLYANN SALSANO (Martha & Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party, VH1) I’m proud of where our show is right now in that it’s two different people — an older white woman with a white-collar lifestyle [Martha Stewart] and one of the best rappers in the world [Snoop Dogg] — uniting over food and hanging out with friends. I think it says that we’re going in the right direction.

When was the last time you were genuinely nervous to tell a story?

BELL The whole idea is that I’m getting outside of my comfort zone. Every time we tell a story, whether it’s going to Appalachia and talking to poor white people there or going to Dearborn [Michigan] to talk to Muslims about the election or going to the South Side of Chicago to talk to gang members, every single show, before we start to film, I’m like, (sigh) “All right, here we go.” But without that feeling, I’d be like, “This probably isn’t worth doing.”

REMINI I feel scared every time I sit down with somebody, even though I was in the Church of Scientology for 35 years. I was raised in it.

Scared of what exactly?

REMINI I’m scared to hear what they’re going to tell me.

SALSANO Like, it’s worse than you think?

REMINI Yes.

Are you also scared of the repercussions of exposing the church?

REMINI Oh, no, no, no. Don’t misunderstand me. People who know me know that I have a very big mouth, and I have been that way since I was a kid. I would go up against men and go, “What, what are you going to do?” They were like, “I’d knock you out in two seconds.” I’m all, “Try it, try it!” But I never want to give the organization of Scientology the idea that anybody is scared of them. We are not. And the more they react in the way that they do, it makes me think we’re doing the right thing.

JENNER It’s a very brave thing to do.

REMINI But it’s not me, that’s the thing. I wish I could say, “Look how brave I am.” I’m telling their stories. When we leave, they go back to their regular lives, and they are the ones the church goes after. When we air a show, I go, “Just know, within minutes your daughter is going to be saying horrific things about you on the church hate website.” Literally every single person who has done a story about Scientology has a hate website on them.

For the rest of you, how do you prepare yourself or the people on your shows for the possible repercussions that come with having a camera on you?

RUPAUL I wish there was a therapy group that is specifically for new-to-reality stars. I brought this up to the producers recently. We want to produce a video, like when you get on an airplane and they tell you about the emergency exits and the safety belts. We want to do that for the girls on our show because they need to be prepared for the trolls on social media and for family members. I always say, “Don’t have your boyfriend manage your career.”

SALSANO Or your money!

RUPAUL Right. They see the fame, they see that their career is going to be propelled, but they don’t know about all the other stuff that, for a lot of us, took years of wrong turns to figure out.

SALSANO One piece of advice I always give is, “Stop caring what America thinks.” Fame comes to people who just are who they are. One of the things I do on my shows is have dinner with people’s families, especially when you’re dealing with young people, because they can come tell me they’re whoever, but if they’ll sit next to their mom and say it, then you know it’s legit.

Kris, you brought your younger daughters into this world early on. How did you prepare them?

JENNER We decided as a family that if we’re going to do this, we would just show everything. And one of the best decisions I made not only as a producer of the show but as one of the stars of the show was to say, “We’re not going to remove anything.” With that philosophy, I told the kids, “Don’t get on the internet.” Ryan Seacrest, my producing partner, had told [my daughter] Kim about this little thing called Twitter, which she might be interested in. There wasn’t Instagram or Snapchat or any of this other stuff then. Now, it’s so heightened and, you know, haters are gonna hate. You expect it now.

As a mother, how do you tell your daughters to tune that out?

JENNER Kim leads the pack, and she’s the queen of thick skin. She counsels everybody else. So if something happens in the family, she’s the first one you call. “What should I do? How should I handle this?” But it’s my grandchildren who I worry about because I have six of them; the oldest just turned 7, and my youngest is 6 months old, and they don’t have a choice. And I worry, I do, because it is such a bullying environment.

REMINI I’m sure everybody in the public eye hears, “Well, you should be used to it by now.” But I’m like, “What?! Do you think that we in the public eye should be immune to having insults hurled at us all day?” It’s not easy to put your family on TV. I did it for two seasons [on TLC’s Leah Remini: It’s All Relative], and I was like, “I’m out.”

What was the breaking point for you?

REMINI Because my mother’s a pain in the ass, OK? (Laughter.) Imagine working with your mom!

JENNER That’s how my kids feel, trust me.

REMINI And I’m producing, and we’re doing an interview, and my daughter doesn’t want to do it, and she’s like, “What am I getting out of this? Why am I here? I have dance class.”

JENNER “Where’s my check?”

REMINI She just wanted gifts! She wanted to be gifted things. And I was like, “I don’t know if TLC does that. Read your contract.” She had a whole list. “I want this Gucci thing, I want …” I was like, “Slow your roll, please.” And then my mother is giving me a note like, “You shouldn’t wear black all the time,” and “You’re looking a little heavier now.” It’s not an easy thing to work with your family. And then you are constantly being barraged with insults toward you, toward your kids, toward anybody who is around. We’re putting our life out there for entertainment. You don’t need to make a comment about the way I look or the way my daughter looks. Imagine walking down the street and somebody going, “You look like shit.” Or, “I don’t love that jacket, buddy.”

Kamau, how do you balance trying to get the best television show with trying to keep yourself and your family safe?

BELL It is a challenge. My wife is going to be on an episode of my show this season. The premise of the episode is, should I buy a gun to protect my family, which means I have to talk to my wife about it. She’s a modern dancer, she is smarter than me, and she’s fine to be on TV. But not only did we not shoot it at our house, we went to another house, and at the end of the episode, I reveal this is not my house because I don’t want anybody coming to this house thinking they’re going to find me here. And you’re not going to see my kids on this show. My daughter is about to turn 6, and my youngest is 2 and a half, and they haven’t chosen this life. I’ve sat down with the Klan, I’ve sat down with alt-right people, I’ve sat down with activists who think I did things wrong that I do want to engage with and talk to, but then how do I make sure that my family is separate from that?

When is the last time your wife said, “I don’t know, Kamau. I don’t want you to do that or go there”?

BELL She knows this is what I want to do. She always just wants a phone call when it’s over. Luckily I’m working with CNN, and they’ve got a lot of experience doing this with people who are way more important than me that they need to protect. Anderson Cooper is worth more to them than I am. But she trusts I’m going to be safe. And she knows that at the end of the day, I want to come home. I’m not some extreme-sports, adrenaline junkie guy who’s like, “I’ll do whatever it takes.” I will cut it off before she will, most likely.

Leah, how much vetting is done of the people who are going to tell their stories on your show?

REMINI It’s funny you ask that because when we started the show, legal was like, “Do you know this person personally?” I said, “I don’t need to know the person. I just know that they’re telling the truth.” I thought, “How dare you. This is not somebody who is getting paid to be on this show; there are repercussions to them being on the show.” And what the hell fame would they get from saying, “I was coerced by my church to get an abortion”? Or, “I was raped by someone.” … I mean, nobody really wants to tell that story. So there is no vetting. I take their word for it.

Do you keep in touch with these people after the episode airs?

REMINI They have my cellphone number and [use it] all the time. It’s a very emotional struggle for them, and they think about things after they’ve said it, and they text me. I have 50,000 memos on my phone: “Make sure you don’t put this in.” “This one doesn’t want to say that.” And so, when I’m editing, I’m like, “Hang on, I got 50 pages of notes that I got to go through.” But I do that because they were brave enough to come on the show, and I made them a promise that I’m going to take care of them.

SallyAnn, are the Jersey Shore kids still calling you? Do you still feel protective of people you’ve worked with?

SALSANO I do, and sometimes I feel guilty if I don’t talk to them enough.

REMINI You feel responsible.

SALSANO Yeah, and it’s impossible because I do about 10 shows a year, so you have 10 different casts, and you do like to stay in touch with them. My rule is, “Here is my address, here’s my home phone number and here’s my cell. Literally hit me up at any time.”

Do they?

SALSANO Oh, yeah. They call you for advice. Someone could have gotten a DUI, someone could be in a bad situation with a boyfriend, I’ve gotten the call from jail. And I feel responsible. That’s what our job is. If I’m saying, “Trust me with your life,” then when those cameras [stop rolling], I am still a part of their life.

Ru, you once said you made a pact with yourself at 15: “If I was going to live this life, I’m only going to do it on my terms and I’m only going to do it if I’m putting my middle finger up at society the whole time.” Is your middle finger still up?

RUPAUL Yeah because this is all a hoax. When I was a little boy, I wanted to fit in and I could never, but I thought, “You know what, I’m smart enough to figure this out. Let me see what my entry will be.” And I figured it out. I said, “Oh, this is all a joke, it’s all an illusion, it’s all made up.” I was surprised that other people weren’t going, “You know, this is all made up, right?” And I was looking for my tribe of people to do that. You know where I found that tribe?

Where?

RUPAUL On PBS’ Monty Python’s Flying Circus. I thought, “They exist; my people are out there!” (Laughter.) Because it was so irreverent, they made fun of everything and, if I really thought about it, before that it was Bugs Bunny, who was just heckling everything. He’s like, “Don’t take life too seriously.” So I still feel that way, and I have to remind myself every day.

Occidental College had or still has a course called “Reading RuPaul: Camp, Culture, Gender and Subordination and the Politics of Performance.” At the end of a semester, what do you hope the takeaway is?

RUPAUL Well, I don’t know the curriculum, but I would hope that these kids would learn how to navigate their lives. Everybody walks around this life, and it looks like they have the instruction book. Nobody does; everybody is faking it. And kids need to know that. It’s back to the Bugs Bunny philosophy, which is that this life is an incredible experience, so have fun with it. Don’t take it too seriously and try everything. Use all the colors in the crayon box.

What’s on the cutting-room floor because a network or somebody else on your team did not want something to air?

RUPAUL A lot of times, kids come on, and after the show they’ll say, “I was edited unfavorably.” The truth is, we used the best of them. We never want someone to look bad. They say a lot worse things, and we actually soften them.

How do you make that decision? Because outspoken or outrageous characters can make for wonderful TV.

RUPAUL Sure. Sometimes they may go just a little too far, and we know that if that got out, their lives would be hell.

SALSANO Also, people aren’t going to tune in to watch a TV show about people you don’t like. People are tuning in to see people that you like. I always feel like normal people have ups and downs; there are weeks and days that you’re good, and there are weeks and days that you’re bad. And if you’re doing a show like Ru’s, there are some shows where so-and-so was the bad guy this week, but you only can show that when you know that the human spirit on the other side comes out. And when the contestants say, “You edited me unfairly,” I’m like, “Hey, real quick, I’m going to go in the edit bay. Let’s FaceTime. I’ll show you what would’ve happened if we were live.”

RUPAUL Yeah. (Laughter.)

SALSANO I love to show them the footage because they’re like, “Oh, I love you.”

Kamau, are there things you didn’t show?

BELL We shot an episode about Muslims living outside Detroit, and so there was the natural inclination, which I don’t like, to find somebody who is anti-­Muslim. As much as people think I want to give all sides of the argument, I don’t feel the need to give that side of the argument at this point in this country. I just feel like there are so many stories we can tell, we don’t need that side. But we booked somebody, and we sat down, and it was the only interview where I ever walked out on the other person.

RUPAUL Really?

BELL At some point, I said to the showrunner, “Are we done?” And he said, “Yeah,” and I just (hits hands on table) got up and walked out. I took a walk for about an hour, and I called my best friend, and he talked me down. I was so frustrated by the argument and the lack of any sort of openness to a conversation. As much as people think that talking to the Klan is crazy, they were all open to the conversation at least.

Kris, by putting your family out there and saying everything is for the cameras, when bad things happen — and not long ago Kim went through something that was pretty horrific in Paris [she was robbed and held at gunpoint] — your audience expects to see it. How challenging was that for you, not just as a producer but as a mother?

JENNER It was really tough. First of all, we got out of there before the sun came up, so we didn’t have time to think. We talked to the police and got on the plane. But when we landed in New York City, Kanye [West, Kim’s husband] was there to meet us and he had his videographers there because he always does. He thought, “I’m just going to get everything raw,” because they keep a lot of their stuff for personal use anyway. Weeks later, we made the decision to go ahead and have Kim tell her story. So many people felt like they deserved the explanation of what happened because they had, for the last decade, followed every moment of her life. And she felt it would almost be a relief to be able to say it on her terms and explain what happened and what she went through. And the fact that we did have a little bit of Kanye’s footage made it really interesting to see that point of view of how she dealt with it and how she handled it from within. But she couldn’t talk for a minute because it was under investigation.

Were there moments that gave you pause about continuing with this show?

JENNER No. But it really changed all of our lives and the way that we live. Not only do we now have an enormous amount of security — everyone is armed and licensed; it’s legit companies that protect all of us — but also the way that we deal with our lives on social media took a huge turn: what we show, what we don’t show. If we go to Disneyland, we’re not snapping pictures with Dumbo; we’ll wait until we leave and then share something we want to share. But it also gave us great pause about what to share. There is nothing wrong with working hard and getting something wonderful for yourself if you want to or that’s what you’re into, but I think the way that we share it with other people really changed. You think five times about what you’re going to put out there on social media.

Did anyone tell you guys not to do these shows? And if so, why?

REMINI Everybody on my team told me not to. They want me to be an actress. They don’t want me to be known as somebody who does a show about Scientology. I’m like, “What am I going to do? Not do it? This is my passion.”

BELL I get pushback about who I talk to on the show.

As in, “Don’t give these people a platform”?

BELL Yeah. But I think that’s intellectually lazy. I know a lot of activists and people who work in social justice, and they think everybody is as woke as they are. But it’s the people trying to run away from the fact that things are hectic: If I don’t see it, I can pretend it’s not as bad as it is. And I’m like, “I want you to see how bad it is.” That’s how you save your life.

This story first appeared in a June standalone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.



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Leah Remini Joins 'Kevin Can Wait' Season 2 as Series Regular


Remini previously guest-starred in two episodes of the CBS comedy opposite her former TV husband, Kevin James.

Leah Remini is coming back for more

The King of Queens actress has joined Kevin James’ CBS comedy Kevin Can Wait as a series regular for season two, The Hollywood Reporter has learned.

Remini will reprise the role she played in the two-part season one finale — a tough, wise-cracking police officer named Vanessa Cellucci who used to work with James’ character on the force. The role reunited Remini with her former TV husband, James, after the two starred on The King of Queens for nine seasons.

The reunion proved a ratings win for the series, with both parts of the finale ranking as the top scripted series of the night in the adults ages 18-49 demo. Kevin Can Wait, which marks James’ first series since King of Queens, ended the season ranked as broadcast’s top new comedy.

Since King of Queens wrapped in 2007, Remini has starred on the short-lived ABC comedy Family Tools and the TV Land multicam The Exes. She most recently headlined a female-centered remake of What About Bob? called What About Barb? The pilot, however, was not picked up to series by NBC.

In addition to her acting portfolio, Remini has been busy on the small screen with unscripted projects including her TLC docuseries Leah Remini: It’s All Relative and most recently, her acclaimed A&E docuseries Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath. The latter has been renewed for a second season. Remini also released a New York Times bestselling book about her experience in the church, titled Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology.

She is repped by APA.

Like Kevin Can Wait, The King of Queens also aired on CBS and hailed from Sony Pictures Television. James exec produces with Rob Long, Rock Reuben, Jeff Sussman, Andy Fickman and Tony Sheehan.



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'Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath' Gets Two-Hour Special


‘Merchants of Fear’ will explore the complicated relationship between the Church and its vocal critics. The special will also offer a sneak peek at season two.

Leah Remini’s Scientology-centered docuseries is expanding. 

A&E Network is set to air a two-hour special edition of Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath that explores the relationship between the Church and some of its vocal critics.

Merchants of Fear, premiering May 29 at 9 p.m., will specifically invite a series of special guests to candidly describe their personal experiences investigating controversial stories about the Church and how the Church has responded to their work. The two-hour telecast will offer a sneak peek at the upcoming second season of the docuseries.

Season two is set to return with 10 new hourlong episodes.


Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath centers on Remini and other former members of the Church as they take a closer look at the shocking stories of abuse, heartbreak and harassment experienced by those who have not only left the Church but spoken about their exit. 

The series ranked as cable’s top unscripted series among total viewers for 2016.

 

Leah Remini exec produces through her No Seriously Productions, along with Eli Holzman, Aaron Saidman, Devon Hammonds, Amy Savitsky and Elaine Frontain Bryant. The Intellectual Property Corporation produces.



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Leah Remini on Pitching Her A&E Scientology Series: "I Said, 'Don't Be Pussies'"


The Scientology whistleblower sat down with THR editorial director Matthew Belloni at a TV Academy Q&A, admitting the pain of the show can sometimes be too much: “I wish a sitcom could take me away from all of this.”

When Leah Remini first came to producers Eli Holzman and Aaron Saidman with an idea for a nonfiction TV show about the ways Scientology destroys lives and tears apart families, she offered a caveat.

“Leah said, ‘You have to be tough and brave,'” Holzman recounted Monday evening at a packed For Your Consideration screening and panel at the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences moderated by Hollywood Reporter editorial director Matthew Belloni.

At which point Remini — who defected from Scientology in 2013 and has since dedicated her life to shedding a light on its controversial tactics — couldn’t help but interject.

“Do you want to know what I really said?” she asked. “I said, ‘Don’t be pussies. If you’re going to be pussies, you’re not the right producers for this.'”

Holzman had never been presented quite so blunt a challenge before. “Aaron and I huddled and said, ‘Are we pussies?'” he recalled. They quickly decided they were not — and thus Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath was born.

The nine-part series found a home at A&E, which delivered a large and passionate audience. Viewers were drawn to stories of individuals, many of whom were born and raised in the religion, only to find their closest relationships — children, parents, grandparents — cruelly severed and loyalties betrayed once doubts about it crept in.

Remini, who acts as both interviewer and interviewee in the show, was often unmoored by the “levels of pain” her subjects were still experiencing. “This is not something you just get over. My own pain continues as well,” she said. “Sometimes I wish a sitcom could take me away from all of this.”

The evening included a screening of one of the most affecting episodes, focusing on Aaron Smith-Levin, a high-ranking former Sea Org member who was essentially taken from his mother and immersed in Scientology theology with his twin brother at the age of 14.

When that brother began to express doubts, Smith-Levin says, the church colluded to sever all connections between them. The twin brother eventually got out — but tragically died in a car accident before the twins could reunite.

Smith-Levin and his wife, also a former Sea Org member, are now fully excommunicated from the church but continue to live among Scientologists in Clearwater, Fla, where the church has its worldwide headquarters.

(In one of the more bizarrely hilarious twists, a devout neighbor disconnected from the couple and their three young daughters — but requested to remain in touch with their dog, who “wouldn’t understand.”)

Helping us navigate through the Byzantine strictures and nomenclature of the religion is Mike Rinder, a former high-ranking Scientology executive who “blew” (Scientology jargon for defection) and serves as Remini’s co-pilot on the show, much of which is spent on the road. 

Rinder credited Going Clear, Lawrence Wright’s best-selling 2013 exposé that was adapted into an HBO documentary by Oscar-winner Alex Gibney, for shedding light on Scientology — but neither the book nor the doc has resulted in the kind of day-to-day feedback that Remini’s series generates.

“The church used to say, ‘Thank God for the Xenu story,'” Rinder said, referring to the science-fiction-based scripture unveiled in the highest echelons of training. “Because then we were no worse that any other religion. But what this show addresses for the first time, the real point of it all, is that Scientology damages people. The scars are real. And the church has no response to that.”

While Remini was reluctant to produce a second season of the show — the grief would be too much, even for this self-described “Brooklyn girl” — the first season has resulted in what Holzman describes as a “deluge of people emboldened to come forward.” Another cycle of episodes seemed preordained. “We’re sitting on some really damning and actionable material and can’t wait to premiere,” Holzman added.

Remini is similarly on board. “I’ll keep doing this until something changes,” she said.



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Leah Remini and Kevin James Reuniting in 'Kevin Can Wait' Finale


The two starred as husband and wife for nine seasons of ‘The King of Queens.’

In a Newhart-esque turn of events, Kevin James will be reuniting with one of his past TV wives on freshman comedy Kevin Can Wait.

CBS announced Friday that Leah Remini will appear alongside her former King of Queens co-star in the two-part May finale. She’ll play a cop and former colleague, with whom he once again goes undercover as husband and wife when he briefly comes out of retirement. (Only in the world of multicam sitcoms, am I right?)

Remini and James were an on-screen couple for a whopping nine seasons on The King of Queens. Kevin Can Wait, which stars Erinn Hayes as James’ latest sitcom wife, was recently renewed for a second season. The renewal came a little surprise given the solid ratings and the network’s confidence throughout the season, upping its episode count to 24. The season finale will air May 1 and May 8.

As for Remini, the actress has been particularly busy of late. Her A&E expose, Scientology and the Aftermath, recently scored a second season — and she also booked the lead role in NBC pilot What About Barb?

She is repped by APA.



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Leah Remini to Star in NBC's 'What About Bob?' Reboot


Jessica Gunning will also star in ‘What About Barb?’ — the female-driven remake of the Bill Murray-Richard Dreyfuss film.

Leah Remini is returning to broadcast television.

The former King of Queens star has signed on to star in NBC’s female-driven What About Bob? reboot, The Hollywood Reporter has learned.

British actress Jessica Gunning (Fortitude) will star opposite Remini in What About Barb?

Based on the movie, the single-camera comedy revolves around a psychotherapist who tries to cut ties with her most overbearing patient but is unsuccessful and gains an annoying family member in the process.

Remini will play Suzanne, the psychotherapist, with Gunning set to portray Barb.

Writing duo Joe Port and Joe Wiseman (The Odd Couple, New Girl) penned the script and will exec produce. Barb hails from ABC Studios, whose film arm, Touchstone Pictures, produced the 1991 feature and whose Buena Vista Pictures distributed it. The film went on to gross $63 million domestically.


For Remini, the role brings her back to scripted television. She has more recently headlined unscripted fare, including A&E’s Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath and before that, TLC’s Leah Remini: It’s All Relative. She also published the best-selling 2015 memoir Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood Scientology.

Best known for her nine-season run on CBS’ King of Queens, her recent scripted roles include TV Land’s The Exes and the one-and-done ABC family sitcom Family Tools. She is repped by APA, Art2Perform and Hirsch Wallerstein.

Gunning’s credits include season one of Fortitude, Law & Order: U.K. and the upcoming Prime Suspect prequel series. She is repped by Markham, Froggatt and Irwin.

Keep track of the latest news and castings at THR.com/PilotSeason and bookmark THR‘s handy guide.

 



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