After editing my video with Nicole Remini, I am mystified that she’s not as well known as her younger sister, “King of Queens”star Leah Remini and Scientology’s Suppressive Person No. 1.
I’m guessing that Leah became Suppressive Person No. 1 after writing “Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology” and being all over TV. (Nicole said she’s not exactly ripping through the pages of her sister’s book yet; big sister is easily distracted.) According to Scientology.org: “The Suppressive Person seeks to upset, continuously undermine, spread bad news about and denigrate betterment activities and groups. Thus the Anti-Social Personality is also against what Scientology is about — helping people become more able and improving conditions in society.”
Happily Presbyterian, I was not interested enough in Scientology to read much about it before this interview. While watching the documentary “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief,” I fell asleep.
Sleepiness was not a problem when I interviewed Nicole, a small woman with a big personality that packs a witty wallop — and lips likely envied by Lisa Rinna. A Twin Cities resident, Nicole has an irrepressible essence that must have helped her realize Scientology was not for her at the age of 16, when her mom aided her escape from Sea Org, a branch where you become a member of the Scientology “staff” and sign a billion-year contract. It would be another 20 years before Nicole fully extricated herself from the religion. Leah followed about 10 years later.
Because Nicole didn’t want her family ties cut by Scientology, she said she continued doing the religion’s course work after leaving at age 16. A family that Scientology couldn’t break up is having a happily-ever-after that includes the TLC reality show, “Leah Remini: It’s All Relative,” set partly at the Studio City restaurant run by Leah’s and Nicole’s mom, Vicki Marshall.
Nicole seems even more direct than Leah, so there is no question-ducking. She shares her honest recollections of everyone, including famous Scientologists Tom Cruise and Kristie Alley.
A former L.A. radio personality, Nicole emceed a celebrity dancing competition this year. She is scheduled to perform a routine for “Dancing with the Twin Cities Celebrities”at a gala set for Feb. 20, 2016. She is raising money for Bridging, a Twin Cities non-profit that helps families in need with basic furnishings.
Q: How long were you in Scientology?
A: I was about 7 when we got into Scientology. Mom and Dad had divorced. He cheated. Then she met a guy. Dennis was a Scientologist, so he got my mom into Scientology. I was around 7, Leah was 5. So we’re that generation of Scientologist, where they expect us to raise our children Scientologists. I would say it’s been about 15 years since I really have done Scientology. I would still go on course [as in taking Scientology courses] but I would go to church on Sundays. I did both because I didn’t want to upset my family but I did church for me. [They] were putting us on courses: “OK, you guys have to take the communications course because you fight too much.” So then after school we’d have to go down to the Church of Scientology in Times Square. So we’re little girls getting on a train by ourselves going into the city because mom worked crazy hours. She was gone in the morning. We’d come home from school and be by ourselves, and she and Dennis would come home very late. Dennis was home a little during the day.
Q: Are they still together?
A: No. They decided they wanted a better life for us. Mom and Dennis were pregnant with Shannon, our little sister, and they decided the best thing for Leah and I and this new baby would be to be in the Sea Org. That’s when you join the staff in Scientology. I was about 14 years old when they had us join the Sea Org. They brought us to the New York Org. Of course, they had this cute guy, kind of our age. You are literally under L. Ron Hubbard at that point. They told me I could be a gymnast, they told me they would send me to law school. That I would still be able to live the lifestyle I was anticipating living, but I would be able to be serving the planet and changing lives, as a very young child.
Q: Being a Scientologist hasn’t turned you off from religion, apparently.
A: Even as a little girl, I remember being in Brooklyn, looking out the window and knowing there was more out there; like needing to be more spiritually filled. I just wasn’t getting that from Scientology. In my room in Brooklyn, there were pictures of the pope. I was really drawn to Catholicism. Leah even mentions in the book she thought I would be a nun.
Q: What would you do if one of your kids said they wanted to be a Scientologist?
A: I’d say read your aunt’s book. [Big laughs] Here’s “Going Clear,” here’s your aunt’s book. Now read Dianetics and see how it all works out for you. I want to let them choose, be who they want to be. Even bringing your kids to church every Sunday, there’s no guarantee they’re going to church on Sundays. But I think I would say, “Read your aunt Leah’s book.” Come up with the decision after that.[Long laughter]
Q: What personality traits do you and your sister share?
A: We are both very sassy. We both are fighters for the truth. I think that’s just in our DNA. We’re funny. People say I’m pretty funny so I’ll take it. We’re very much givers with huge hearts. We have compassion for people. It’s funny. I’ll look at our mannerisms, and we are both very much like our father who we didn’t grow up with; our hand gestures, the way we say things. We have true love for family. On Facebook this week I wrote how grateful I am for the love of family and that’s something Leah tries to drive home as well.
Q: That’s one troubling aspect of Scientology for me, the way it tears apart families. The fact Nicole Kidman doesn’t get to see those kids she adopted with Tom Cruise because she didn’t want Scientology running her life.
A: It’s crazy. My own family was being asked questions about me when I wasn’t doing Scientology, with the idea they might have to disconnect from me. And that’s how deep this was starting to go. I have letters upon letters from people thanking us as a family for sticking together because of people who have no relationship with their grandchildren, no relationship with their sons and daughters. Marriages break up over this.
Q: Do you think Tom Cruise is a true believer or does he just like being treated like a god?
A: I think he is a true believer. He really believes he’s doing good for this planet. I don’t think he hates that he gets treated like a god. [Sustained laughter] I think he’s OK with that.
Q: Have you noticed how much he walks like David Miscavige.
A: Oh yeah. Two peas in a pod. That was one of the things Leah questioned. Why does Tom get treated as if he was David Miscavige, as if he were the commander of the church? That’s where things started to get questionable for her.
Q: You think Tom Cruise would like to be the next leader of Scientology?
A: Boy, I can’t answer [but] my first response is to say yeah. I don’t know what’s in Tom’s head. The only times I’ve ever seen Tom at the church he’s always such a goofball; just very goofy, very kind and welcoming guy. The thing about Scientologists is I don’t find them to be mean people. Tom was never not nice to me when I met him. Church staff was never not nice to me when I was with them. They do get out there and do good works. Why? They want people in.
Q: Your sister with her big mouth wanted to know where Shelly Miscavige was when Tom married Katie Holmes.
A: I don’t think there was anything wrong with that and Why is your assistant here and your wife isn’t? Where has your wife been? I don’t think that’s a weird question at the biggest wedding within the church.
Q: Were you at the wedding?
A: No, not all. I’m not important enough [Laugh].
Q: Why aren’t the police curious about what happened to Shelly?
A: The police did go and find her apparently; they did a welfare check. She was in some weird mountainside place. That’s a whole ’nother interview. She wasn’t necessarily allowed to speak to [police] on her own.
Q: Have you ever felt threatened by anybody?
A: When I was a kid and we were in the Sea Org. in Florida, I had guns pulled on me — someone driving on the street, “Hey, Scino, you want to get shot?” — because I was in my little uniform with my little lanyard.
Q: That was not a member of Scientology?
A: Not a member of Scientology. When this all went down, I started to get a lot of phone calls from the Minneapolis Church of Scientology. [Extremely chipper tone of voice] Hey, how are you?! Wondering if you were going to come in any time soon?! Time to get you back on course! I was like, Are you kidding me? My family is on the Suppressive Persons List and they are calling me. Then they started calling my 15-year-old daughter to get her back into the church. It was just very, very strange. When I first moved back to Minnesota. I had to call the cops saying, “I have people parked outside of my house. Can you check it out?” Weird things. But I feel I’ve been so public, I’m on the phone doing my story with “Good Morning America,” and I’m like, if I go missing, at least there is a good trail of where to start looking. Do I know a lot of stuff? Yeah. Could I expose weird things? I don’t think anything more than my sister has exposed in the book about what our life was. I think I’m OK.
Q: When you were talking about how nice Tom Cruise was to you, I was wondering why Scientology doesn’t have better PR people, whose responses aren’t like those of teenagers with comments such as You’re a liar!
A: That’s so funny that you say that, because I wanted to tweet the other day after [Leah’s appearance on] “Good Morning America” that “I thought the church isn’t hiring kids anymore,” because it sure does sound like that’s who your PR team is, a bunch of 15-year-olds [whose comments about Leah’s departure included a juvenile] We’re glad your’re not here anymore!
Q: The dentist who shot Cecil the Lion was able to find a PR firm, so I think Scientology could.
A: [Laughter] You mean to tell me there’s not one Scientologist who has a PR company? I missed [Leah’s] Howard Stern interview, so I looked it up the other day and you know how you have ads before the video plays? It was a Scientology ad. I was like, are you kidding me?
Q: I saw Leah on with Billy Bush telling the story again about how at Tom and Katie’s marriage Siri was on the floor crying as three adults watched. Your sister was making the point that she didn’t want to be critical of anyone’s childrearing because she’s not parent of the year. Yet, Leah knows that a crying baby needs to be picked up to see what’s wrong. Tell Leah to stop being self-effacing!
A: [Laughter] I will. [She did] what a grown-up parent would do. You read in the book how our little sister was cared for: We would go into the nursery, there would be flies everywhere, roaches on the wall. Shannon would be in poopy wet diapers not changed, with kids our age caring for her. What they call “post.” On post to care for a baby. Are you kidding me? And it’s funny because there is Child Dianetics. People used to say to me all the time at Scientology events, Your kids are so well behaved. What do you do with them? My kids would go and SIT while other kids would be running around like lunatics because Scientologists believe Let your kids be who they are even though it’s disruptive and they are being disrespectful and they’re dirty. My kids are well groomed, put together. What do you do? I’d tell them, “I don’t apply child Dianetics,” and nobody thought it was funny.
Q: How is business at the restaurant?
A: Amazing. Amazing. The reality show, “It’s All Relative,” a lot of times we film in the restaurant. I’ll be on the phone with my mom and she’ll go, I have to gooo, and I’m like Why? My fans. They called to tell me my fans are at the restaurant. [Long laugh] She is so funny. She really enjoys it.
Q: Is your mother OK now that she is out of Scientology?
A: She is so good. My family is so good. Leah has more time for the family. She’s more present. The same thing with my mom. We’re just doing things together more as a family than we ever have. That I feel has been a blessing in itself. Leah goes to a Catholic Church. She baptized her daughter a Catholic. Now, we’re on the same page. There is like this peace among us. My mom is so much more at peace. Losing all that time you dedicate to the church, now it’s like what do you do to fill that time? So I think the reality show has been a huge help to my mom. Leah will always say, I will continue to do this reality show as long as they let me for my mom, because it has given my mom something. She travels all over the world so much. I’m happy for my mom.
Q: Are you Catholic?
A: I go to a Lutheran church. I think now we’re more nondenominational. I am a closet Catholic. I listen to the Catholic channel on Sirius radio. I have my grandma’s rosary beads from when I was a baby. When she passed I took all her rosary beads. I love, love, love Catholicism. I think it’s just beautiful but we go to a more nondenominational church. You know the church is based on people and people are broken. You can try and fight your imperfections, but we are still going to have to have self-control.
Q: Have you sought a lot of therapy?
A: I have. I have a lot of man issues …
Q: But you have a husband?
A: I have a husband. We’ve been together nine years; married for six. Blended family, so a lot of imperfection there. But I have a problem with trust. I think it comes down to my father who left; cheated on my mother. My stepfather, who we thought was going to change our lives; he cheated on our mother, got us into Scientology and then left us. Talk about feeling abandoned. My husband and I were just talking about this. He has three daughters, I have a son and daughter, all under one roof. It’s so silly but even if they want to borrow something of mine, I’m like, “It’s mine!” My stepfather threw away everything of ours. My gymnastics awards, our clothes, whatever we didn’t take with us to Florida was gone. Now I feel like I hang on to everything. We didn’t have anything in Scientology when we were in the Sea Org. At 16 when I got out I was working three or four jobs. I was out there by myself. My family was still in Florida. I got out before they did.
Q: Before Leah?
A: Yes. I left with the clothes on my back, in the middle of the night. My mom got me on a plane and sent me to a friend’s house where I was sleeping on a floor with roaches in a one-bedroom apartment. I had to survive, so I never went back to school, which is a weird thing. My kids don’t understand my pressure on them to get through high school, get through college. I didn’t have any of that.
Q: Do you think Leah wanted out of Scientology long before she left it?
A: This was even news to me when she said, “What were my options? Do I leave my mother and my family? Do I lose everyone if I leave?” Made me think she did question leaving a long time ago, but it’s not something she revealed to my mother or to me.
Q: What was your best Christmas as a Scientologist?
A: I would say when we got out of the Sea Org. Then Christmas became normal again. My mom was always big on making sure we had Christmas. I don’t know how she did it.
Q: I don’t know if your sister realizes how many more fans she has now that she has gotten out of Scientology.
A: I think there were a lot of people who didn’t put a whole lot of stock in her and now they are seeing who she is, and I think it’s really humbled her. She has received so much love from people, and I’m over the moon for her. In the book, she’s talking about how she was going to make sure we got off the dining room floor [where they slept]; she was going to make it in Hollywood if it was the last thing she did, for us. That’s the heart of who Leah is.
Q: Does Leah miss Kirstie Alley yet?
A: I don’t think so. She has such a beautiful support team, she doesn’t need any of that. I’ve got to be honest. I’ve been to Kirstie’s house A LOT. The warmest coziest person? No. No love lost, really. Leah has true friends around her now. And she has all of her ex-Scientology friends she couldn’t be friends with and now they are back in our lives. I love it. I see Leah going to dinner parties, I see her going out for tea with friends or having a glass of wine. Yes! She got her life back.
Interviews are edited. To reach C.J. try firstname.lastname@example.org and she see her watch Fox 9’s “Jason Show.”