While they grew close filming nine seasons of The King of Queens, former Scientologist Leah Remini says she never tried to convert her longtime costar and friend Kevin James — much to the chagrin of the church.
“They always tried to get me to, [asking] ‘Why is he not in? Why have you not promoted it to him?’ I was like, ‘Because he’s Catholic. He doesn’t want anything to do with it,’ ” Remini, 47, says in this week’s issue of PEOPLE. “They let it go after a while, but usually you’d be expected to recruit, especially with somebody you work with for nine years.”
The church denies Remini’s claims.
“We have nothing to do with Kevin James and never attempted to ‘recruit’ him to the Church,” a Scientology spokesperson wrote in a statement to PEOPLE. “How does Leah Remini bring this up now after she wrote an entire book and didn’t mention it? Remini does it to get attention. Indeed, the only thing we know about Kevin James is that Remini would repeatedly tell the Church that he was a bully and we tried to counsel her to be more open and communicate so they could get along better. The Church’s full response is at leahreminiaftermath.com.”
In 2013, Remini abruptly left the controversial religion after more than 30 years. Now, in the new issue of PEOPLE, she’s opening up about how she’s moving on with the help of family and friends — and why she’s fighting back against the church she claims wants to silence her.
“I’m finally at peace knowing who I am and who I want to be,” she says. “I just want to be happy — and I want to help people.”
Scientology has come out swinging since she left the church and became one of its most vocal critics. “It is Remini who is the attacker,” the Scientology spokesperson wrote. “Her whole anti-Scientology shtick was scripted and choreographed by her, casting herself in her drama as the ‘victim’ so she could cash in on her false narrative while savaging her friends and those who helped her most of her life.”
Last year, the star launched her Emmy-nominated A&E docu-series Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath. Now in its second season, the show follows Remini as she shares fellow ex-Scientologists’s stories, including allegations of abuse within the church.
Remini says she’s fortunate that when she left Scientology, her husband Angelo Pagán, 59, daughter Sofia, 13, and mother Vicki joined her — because others who leave have had family members and friends who stay within the church and feel forced to “disconnect” from them. (The church says no one is forced to cut off contact, and disconnection is a choice.)
“These people who are speaking to me [for the A&E series], they’re getting bullied by Scientology, their children are disconnecting, their parents are disconnecting, and I just hope that I’ve helped even one person to not give up their lives for an ideology,” Remini says.
- For more on Leah Remini’s battle against Scientology, pick up the new issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday
Adds Remini: “If they’re going to come for me, they’re going to come. I’m not afraid of it. I think it’s disgusting, and the more they do it, the more they expose who they really are … I would like to be the face of resistance to abuse.”
Scientology and the Aftermath isn’t Remini’s only TV project at the moment. Ten years after The King of Queens ended, she will reunite with James on season two of the CBS sitcom Kevin Can Wait, returning Sept. 25.
“I got a call: ‘Do you want to do some more episodes?’ I said, ‘Yeah, of course, anything.’ They said, ‘Okay, so you’re going to be doing all the episodes.’ I was like, ‘What?! For Kevin, anything,’ ” says Remini, who guest-starred on the first season of the comedy and notes James was one of the “real friends” she leaned on when she left Scientology.
“He reached out to me and said, ‘I’m so proud of you; if you need anything, I’m here,’ ” Remini recalls.