The Meaning of Leah Remini
The Meaning of Leah Remini
By Eugene S. Robinson
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because it takes a lot of tough to know funny.
By Eugene S. Robinson
If actress Leah Remini had stopped after the hit sitcom The King of Queens, she would have been fine. But choosing to take on the 800-pound Scientology gorilla, after a life lived in the church, set her up for the reaping of one hell of a whirlwind. Which seems to suit her just fine. Join us while Remini joins The Carlos Watson Show and dishes on diving into the deep end every time. You can find excerpts below, or listen to the full interview on the show’s podcast feed.
Starting at the Start
Carlos Watson: How did you get started in Hollywood in the first place? You don’t come from a Hollywood family, do you?
Leah Remini: No, not at all. I got started because I was living in Brooklyn and I always wanted to sing or dance or act. I couldn’t sing. I didn’t have a singing voice. Didn’t have money to even explore that, but that didn’t stop me from auditioning for Annie, the Broadway play. I was quickly turned away because like I said, I cannot sing, but that does not stop me from doing so. I do believe that with Mary J. Blige’s help, she can get me to find my pretty voice, but so far I haven’t found it.
But anyway, I just always loved entertaining. I grew up on ’70s sitcoms, and I just loved hearing the laughter of the audience. And I loved the way I felt when I laughed. And I don’t think I knew then that that’s why I was so attracted to comedy.
My mother was like, “Well, if you want to go to dance class, then you got to go to the one on the corner and get yourself there.” So I did. And then as I got older, I started to go into the city to go to a real class.
And then we joined a cult and that stopped my education and also my wanting to act. Then we came to California. Still in the cult, but not as an employee, just as a parishioner. I quickly learned to be able to afford it for myself, for my family, to get us out of poverty that I had to do something without an education. But also it was something that I loved.
I had a friend who had an agent and I was so oblivious to the obstacles that were before me. So they didn’t stop me. I mean, sometimes it’s great to be naive about what could stop you from achieving your goals. I literally just approached her and I was like, “Yo, hook me up with your agent.”
She was like, “OK.”
So I met the agent and she told me that my accent was too thick and that I had to change my attitude a little bit and I had to get into acting class. And at the time, I’m 13, working for Scientologists, paying bills at this time. And so I had to pay for acting class and pay for Scientology.
Watson: Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. Slow down. You’re 13 and you’re working. What are you doing?
Remini: For Scientologists. Because that’s illegal, right? You have to be in school. But if you have parents that are subscribing to a theory that education isn’t important, it’s not like they’re reporting themselves. So with Scientology, Scientology parents find ways around, they say that we’re getting home-schooled or they find a Scientology teacher that is willing to lie on your behalf. The same with the Scientology employees that we had.
So at one point, I was selling car insurance. I was working at a Scientology telemarketing firm. I worked at a Scientology graphic arts company and I was just making money, paying my share of the rent and what I could afford at that young age and trying to pay my debt for leaving the employ of Scientology. So, that’s really how I started; I was working a regular job and then going to acting class at night, going on auditions, getting horrible feedback.
They were like, “You’re horrendous. You need …” And I’m walking in there, telling stories and using curse words and having them laugh. And I’m like, “Oh, I just …” I’m on Head of the Class. I’m on the show. I am on Joanie Loves Chachi. I literally thought just by making people laugh that I was going to book jobs.
“No, you need to learn how to audition and you need to learn how to act.”
I’d get a job here, a job there. And then as time went on, but again, I’m still working, I’m still working and going to acting class and just one job leads to another job, leads to another job.
I got my first series, Living Dolls with Halle Berry. That was on ABC. And I thought that was it. I was like, “Made it.” Trying to figure out how to buy planes. You know kids, they think, you make $5,000, it’s like $5 million a week. And you don’t think about taxes. You don’t think about agency fees. You don’t think any of that. Right? So, that was canceled. And I was like, “Wait, what?”
I didn’t know about ratings. Devastated. Devastated. Swore I’d give up acting, but I just kept going. And then, that’s how you do it. By hard work. And the key word is perseverance and overcoming your disappointments.
The Scientology Struggle
Watson: Thirty-five years [in Scientology]? That long? Wow.
Remini: Yes. And I came out of it thinking that the millions that I had given this organization, that I was contributing to those things that were important to me. When I came out, and literally like blinders off, coming out and seeing the world, I was like, “Wait a minute. I’m coming from a hateful, bigoted, racist environment.” I thought I was coming out into the world that wasn’t that; even though I was in the real world, I wasn’t. And when you think of people who have a belief system, it’s not just cults, an organization such as that, but a cult mentality, or they’re so closed off to information that is different from what they were taught and raised in.
So it’s a prison of belief in your mind. It’s not just about that. When you want to remain ignorant, there is no evolving. And so coming out, it was shocking.
But I came out really heartbroken to see, well, this is still happening.… I’m still doing a podcast about Scientology and the abuses. What Scientology does, it engages in literal psychological warfare against its former members who are speaking out against being raped, being molested. And the serious side is something that I’ve not accomplished 100 percent in other areas not Scientology.
I want to get a degree; I’ve never finished school. I got a high school diploma from a Scientologist. I took my GED, but I took a test on how to take the GED. I don’t know simple things.… Oftentimes my daughter is talking to me, I have no idea what language she’s even speaking. I’m like, “Are you speaking to me in tongues? Or is this some real shit from the school?”
So I have my insecurities, but at the same time there’s so much that I want to accomplish and do that has nothing to do with Scientology, but for victims or people who don’t have the support that I think they need.
People DM me all the time, people get emails to me, people write me fan mail. I still do my fan mail like old-school and I get letters all the time and this has nothing to do with Scientology. I got a letter just this morning, my husband forwarded it to me, from a young girl who was raped and, of course the judicial system as it is, was not there to protect her and to not punish the predator who raped her. But she said, “Through watching your show, I got the strength to pick myself up in moments of extreme depression and considering suicide.”
We get these letters and these tweets all the time that have nothing to do with Scientology and it’s in those moments when people ask me do I feel like giving up? Because yes, I do. I left an abusive relationship and yet I have to see it every day, I’m attacked by it every day. People that are being brave are coming to me, saying, “Scientology is sending PIs to my house, they’re going through my garage, they’re trying to get me fired from my job. They’re calling me a liar. They’re calling me a religious bigot.”
This is all part of the fair-game directive that Scientology does to its victims. And it’s heartbreaking and there are moments I want to give up, but that would be giving up on them. They’re the stronger of the two. They don’t have you to talk to and tell their story, right?
So then I would be walking away from a Goliath of a fight that I think is worth fighting for. But again, I want to take on things that have nothing to do with Scientology that would make me proud to be me, and it would make me proud for my daughter to see.
Hanging Out With Sinbad and Marc Anthony
Remini: I’m friends with Marc Anthony —
Watson: Wait, friends or, like, friendly friends?
Remini: That’s so funny you asked me that because I went to a concert of Marc’s with Sinbad and met Marc. But he [Sinbad] is just one of my favorite people and … I think he’s really underrated. It’s very hard to do what Sinbad does. I mean, he does clean comedy. He’s so quick on his feet.
OK, so I’m at the concert with Sinbad, right? And he’s like, “Let’s go meet Marc,” right? So we go into Marc’s dressing room. And Marc is probably in my top 10 of funniest people you’re ever going to meet, top 10 crying, laughing from this guy. Took me by surprise.
That funny where I have, to this day, I say, “Marc, I need you to do a comedy. Like, I need you to do a comedy. You’re that funny.” And I don’t give those compliments out too easily when it comes to comedy, and he probably won’t.
So anyway, crying, laughing, and then Sinbad’s making fun of him, and Marc is laughing, and you just don’t find this often in big stars where they could bust their balls and they laugh and they don’t take themselves too seriously. And so after the concert, Marc’s like, “You guys come back after the concert, we’re going to eat and stuff.”
And I was out with Marc until 2, 3 in the morning. My husband was texting me, “Yo, get your ass home. What’s up?”
You don’t even understand, I’m going to move in with this guy, I love him so much, but not that way. And I was like, “No, it’s brother-sister energy.” And he was like, “Leah, I’m a man. Get your ass home.” And I said, “I’m just telling you, he doesn’t need, he doesn’t want to …” I could just tell you right now. I mean, I’m almost insulted that he hasn’t even tried to hit on me. I’m insulted, right?
Watson: Whoa, wait. It was, it was just the two of you guys?
Remini: No, me, Marc, Sinbad, the entourage and the Beatles. A lot of people. I’ve been with Marc all alone. I’ve gotten into bed with Marc. I mean, I’ve gotten to bed with … you meet people over time. But I wasn’t like lying in bed with him that night, but so then my husband, Angelo, came next time, right?
’Cause then Marc’s like, “Oh, come over, blah, blah, blah.” Once [we got] to the house, Angelo was like, “Oh, I see, OK. Yeah, there is no there here. He don’t want to have sex with my wife.”
I was like, “I appreciate that you think everybody wants to have sex with your wife, but some people find me offensive and not attractive. I know that’s a shock.” So we had been friends ever since.