On Emmy nominations morning, it’s customary for actors to thank the Television Academy for recognizing their work with an individual nomination. But as she’s done across 10 episodes of her successful anti-Scientology series, Leah Remini is flipping the script when it comes to TV tradition.
“I don’t look at this as something I should acknowledge myself for,” an emotional Remini — now a first-time nominee as an executive producer — tells Entertainment Weekly shortly after her program, Scientology and the Aftermath, received an Emmy nod in the Informational Series category Thursday morning. “My subjects deserve it. They were brave enough to come on Aftermath knowing there were repercussions for their actions. This is why I created the show. The reason people come on our series is for no other reason but to tell their stories of how destructive cults like Scientology are.”
A former 35-year parishioner of the controversial religious organization, Remini — perhaps best known for her leading role on the CBS sitcom King of Queens — publicly broke with the group in July 2013 and subsequently published a book, Troublemaker, in which she highlighted several alleged grievances with the church. She further explored the matter on season 1 of the A&E project, featuring numerous testimonials from ex-Scientologists like Amy Scobee who, after distancing herself from the organization, faced temporary estrangement from her mother due to an alleged church policy called “disconnection,” which requires current members to shun Scientology critics. (The church has denied the policy exists.)
“I was thinking of the first story we told on the show, and how Amy Scobee and her mother, Bonny, told it to me while Bonny was in hospice dying of cancer, and how important it was for her to tell her story and to send the message to whoever would listen, to not let Scientology destroy families,” Remini says, fighting back tears. “I’m going to get on the phone now with Amy and Aaron-Smith Levin and everyone else who contributed to our first season and congratulate them because this is for them.”
While she dedicates the nomination to her subjects, which include prior high-ranking officials of the church (now vocal opponents of Scientology) like Mike Rinder, Marc Headley and Ron Miscavige, the father of Scientology head David Miscavige, Remini also notes the gravity of the Television Academy’s willingness to shine a spotlight on Hollywood’s evolving attitudes toward what she says is a destructive cycle of church-backed actions.
“I always thought my Emmy moment would come on King of Queens. I imagined we’d be there together as a show, because I was so proud of our cast… I always thought they deserved an Emmy along with our writing staff, too,” she explains. “Now I’m older and wiser, and doing such an important project like this, it’s not even for me. I’m honored that I’m able to be a conduit for these brave people and to tell their stories … Hollywood has embraced the contributors and the content of the show for what it is. [People] are not falling for what Scientology is selling anymore.”
She continues: “I don’t think Hollywood and the world at large really knew how destructive Scientology and its policies were. People saw it as a crazy little religious belief system… it was being represented in the press as something innocuous. What we’re documenting is actually Scientology at work. [People are seeing that] this isn’t funny, and it’s something we actually need to look at as harmful. [This show] communicates to a larger audience that they, too, can stand up to a Goliath of a bully.”
When reached for comment on Aftermath‘s Emmy nomination, a representative for Scientology asked that EW link to its website, leahreminiaftermath.com, which the church claims “exposes the fraud behind Leah Remini’s bigoted, hate-filled program.”
Season 2 of Scientology and the Aftermath premieres later this summer, and the 69th Primetime Emmy Awards will air live on CBS from the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles on Sept. 17.