Tom Cruise barely had a breather between what had to be one of the worst summers of his life and the smash opening of the Scientology-inspired movie The Master in New York and Los Angeles.
The Master examines what one reviewer has called the "crypto-romantic relationship" between a charismatic cult leader, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, and his "favorite disciple" (Joaquin Phoenix). The movie, which director Paul Thomas Anderson screened in advance for Cruise, comes on the heels of the actor abruptly being dumped by his third wife, Katie Holmes, in July and subjected to a humiliating media feeding frenzy, some of which included speculation about Cruise’s close relationship with Scientology’s powerful and controversial chairman, David Miscavige. Ex-Scientologist Marc Headley, who says he worked closely with Miscavige for 15 years during his long tenure with the church, calls it "the most intense, expensive bromance in history."
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The church’s star member could become a liability, much the same way Phoenix eventually becomes a source of trouble for "the Master." Holmes’ divorce action against Cruise resulted in intense coverage of the church’s controversial inner workings -- including Vanity Fair’s September cover story. (Karin Pouw, a representative for Scientology, wrote to The Hollywood Reporter that the recent attention is merely the work of "anti-Scientologists who were kicked out of the Church by Mr. Miscavige, most over eight years ago, [who] used Mr. Cruise’s divorce to further smear the Church with lies so they could promote themselves." Nevertheless, she writes: “More people have accessed our websites and come in to our Churches over the summer than ever in our history. [The coverage] is having a very positive affect [sic] on people wanting to get accurate information about Scientology for themselves.”
Some people, both in Hollywood and within the circle of former church members, wonder whether Cruise might leave Scientology -- as a smart career move if nothing else. But some insiders insist he’d never defect.
"Why should he?" asks veteran publicist Howard Bragman. "You’ve got to realize the difference between a crisis and a controversy in Hollywood. For most people, this is a controversy. It’s not necessarily going to impact his career."
According to Mike Rinder, who says he was the chief spokesman for Scientology before leaving the organization in 2007, people in Hollywood seem content to look the other way as long as Cruise is making hit movies. "But they act as if his association with Scientology is as harmless as Madonna spending time with the Kabbalah people," he says. "They don’t realize Tom Cruise is hanging out with someone who is the emotional equivalent of Jeffrey Dahmer."
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Representatives of the church have called Rinder, Headley and other ex-church members interviewed for this article a cadre of apostates and have gone so far as to publish a special issue of Scientology magazine Freedom with the headline “A Posse of Lunatics.” The issue’s cover features a caricature of a group of former Scientologists, including Amy Scobee, Jason Beghe, Rinder and Tom DeVocht, sitting around a broken-down car in a field. Stories inside the magazine refer to Beghe as a "Hollywood psycho," DeVocht as the “consummate con man” and Rinder as "a walking ‘hate crime.’ "
Much of Hollywood continues to focus on other aspects of Cruise’s life, namely that he remains a likable guy who made $75 million last year and still is one of the town’s biggest names.
"You’ll never hear anything but positive stuff about anyone who’s ever worked with him because it’s always a positive experience," says a high-ranking source involved with the production of Cruise’s next film, the actioner Jack Reacher, which comes out in December. "Tom’s great in [Reacher], and it’s going to do really well at the box office. And that’s what matters."
But former Scientologist Steve Hall, who says he headed the church’s marketing division for 20 years as a writer and producer of its films, videos and TV spots, thinks box office isn’t all that matters. He says Cruise could have been viewed as an unwitting victim during his early years in the church but no longer.
"There’s a point of no return, and I think Tom has crossed it," says Hall, who worked closely with Miscavige and knew Cruise slightly. "The time for him to leave was a long time ago. The lines between him and Miscavige are so blurred now."
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The consensus from interviews conducted during the past two months with dozens of former Scientology members who freely divulge church secrets was that Cruise’s relationship with Miscavige was symbiotic. Rinder says Cruise was a "really nice guy" when he first joined the church but, over time, took on more and more of Miscavige’s personality traits. "In Scientology, it’s called being in someone’s valence," says Rinder. "Cruise has assumed a lot of Miscavige’s qualities."
Church literature defines the concept of valence in part as "another’s identity assumed by a person unknowingly; a valence is a substitute self taken on after the fact of lost confidence in self or a failed valence or as a solution to a problem."
Karen De La Carriere, who says she was one of Scientology’s most well-known and respected auditors until she left in 2010, notes that Cruise was "practically channeling" Miscavige during his infamous interview with Matt Lauer on Today in 2010.
"The way he lit into Matt Lauer, calling him glib and attacking him -- that was exactly how David Miscavige deals with people," says De La Carriere. "That was the purest example of how Tom is in Miscavige’s valence. It’s a scary thing to watch."
If true, being in Miscavige’s valence might be why Cruise remains so devoted to him despite what former Scientologists say are Miscavige’s frequent betrayals of him.
Former Scientologists told Vanity Fair as well as THR that Miscavige openly mocked Cruise behind his back. Several sources have told THR that they witnessed Miscavige reading personal details from auditing files aloud. (Scientology lawyers sent a letter to Vanity Fair, which they also posted online, denying that such files exist and that Miscavige had read them aloud.)
Former church member Claire Headley says she witnessed Miscavige talking about information Cruise divulged in what were supposed to be confidential auditing and interrogation sessions a number of times during her many years with the church.
Not long before she left, in 2004, Headley was in charge of "examining" Cruise after he underwent what the church calls a "security check" at the main base in Hemet, Calif. Cruise was at a high enough level in the organization that he was required to undergo a "sec check" every six months, says Headley. Sec checks are interrogative counseling sessions, according to Headley, in which Scientologists are asked questions to make sure they are aligned with the ethics of the church.
Scientology protocol is said to call for an examiner to briefly meet with everyone undergoing a sec check after they have completed it. Headley said she "picked up the cans" – a term for the auditing E-meter -- and asked Cruise a few post-sec check questions.
But something unusual happened. "He didn't pass," says Headley. "The needle wasn't floating."
Headley says the needle usually floats on the E-meter after a session when a Scientologist has "released" whatever negative charges he was carrying.
"Tom was all surprised," says Headley. "He was supposed to leave the next day. The fact that he didn't pass became a big deal."
Miscavige, who was on the base at the time, called a meeting that night, says Headley. According to her, about eight people were there, including Miscavige's wife, Shelly. Miscavige began talking about some of the confidential information Cruise had revealed in the sec check -- mostly about relationships in his life, including issues he was having with one of his children. Miscavige also had looked at the videotaped record of the session with Cruise, according to Headley. (In the end, Headley says, Miscavige wrote up a statement that was given to Cruise, and he was able to leave the base next day, as was originally planned.)
Sharing information gathered in audits is, according to past reports, against church policy. In a 2009 Australian case in which a coroner requested church documents relating to an investigation into the suicide of a member, the church cited "confessional privilege" in its refusal to turn them over. A Scientology spokesperson at the time said members’ audit files are "privileged and sacrosanct" and went on to say, "The church has very strict protocol concerning the confidentiality of a parishioner's personal information in pastoral counseling.”
Headley says she witnessed many instances in which Miscavige spoke in a derogatory manner about Cruise or his then-wife Nicole Kidman -- some of it based on information obtained from Cruise's auditing sessions.
She says Miscavige and his "buddy in-crowd" often met in the fully stocked officer's lounge at the base, next to Miscavige's "berthing room," Scientology-speak for his on-base suite. There they often drank liquor and Miscavige talked openly about Cruise, including information that came from his auditing files.
"I was there, I saw it,” asserts Tom DeVocht, who says he worked closely with Miscavige for years until before leaving the church in 2005. “Miscavige doesn’t give a damn about Cruise.”
Pouw strongly denies anything like this ever happened. “Never,” she writes in a statement to THR. “This never happened, and anyone who would make such a malicious, defamatory allegation is lying. It is well known that Mr. Miscavige and Mr. Cruise are close friends.”
“Further,” she writes, “Mr. Miscavige treats all parishioners and friends with respect, dignity, compassion and loyalty. The allegation is highly offensive. Mr. Miscavige is the leader of the religion. The Church of Scientology treats all information imparted by parishioners as confidential and sacrosanct, and no one in the Church engages in the activity your sources describe.”
DeVocht says he believed Miscavige and Cruise were close friends until he was with them both at the premiere of Vanilla Sky in 2001.
“As soon as Tom was out of earshot, Miscavige started putting him down,” says DeVocht. “He made fun of Tom’s new SUV that Tom had made a point of showing us. Dave said his car was better. Tom was with Penelope Cruz at the time, but after the premiere was over, the first thing Miscavige said to me was: ‘Penelope isn’t going to work out. She doesn’t make eye contact with me.’ ”
Pouw writes that, “Neither [Miscavige] nor the Church ‘approve’ or ‘disapprove’ of individual parishioners' relationships.”
Because Scientologists at every level reportedly are discouraged from reading newspaper articles about the church or watching TV news reports, Cruise might not know of the recent allegations that Miscavige disparaged him behind his back. (Pouw denies there is a policy discouraging members from reading negative press.)
But if he ever did find out, watch out: “If the dupe ever links up,” says Rinder, using church jargon -- meaning, if Cruise ever realizes Miscavige might have been disloyal -- “I don’t think he’ll try to take over the church, but I do think he’d turn on Miscavige like a rabid dog.”
Evidence exists that Cruise has been aware of claims against Miscavige in the past. In a letter sent to ABC News’ Nightline on Oct. 22, 2009, Cruise’s attorney Bert Fields called the actor "a man of spirit, intelligence and independence." He said, "Mr. Cruise is aware of the claims made against Mr. Miscavige by former members of the Church of Scientology. He does not believe them."
De La Carriere says there is another reason why Cruise stays loyal to Scientology despite the barrage of bad press he gets for it. “People wonder all the time how anyone can stay in a church that sounds so horrible … but no one ever really explains why,” she says. “Well, why do you think all of us stayed in for 25, 30 or 35 years?”
What non-Scientologists don’t understand, says De La Carriere, is how some of the church’s “technology” sometimes can have an enormous and life-changing effect on adherents. “It’s as if you almost feel like a supernatural being,” she says. “Have you heard of remote viewing? I’m not talking about airy-fairy, woo-hoo nonsense. Every now and then during auditing sessions, you feel as if you have left your body and you’re looking at it from three feet away. Tom is hooked on that. Most people are once they’re lucky enough to get a taste of that euphoria.”