Religion No Act for Tom Cruise

Source: Houston Chronicle
Date: April 9, 2000

Actor frequently blends business with his belief in Scientology

by Sharon Waxman

Los Angeles - Actors use their power in Hollywood to various ends. Some demand money. Some want to name a director or veto a co-star. Lately, doing business with Tom Cruise, one of Hollywood's most bankable actors, means a bow in the direction of his religion, the Church of Scientology.

Increasingly public about his long association with Scientology, Cruise a few weeks ago invited film executives involved in distributing his summer movie, War of the Worlds, on a four-hour tour of three different Scientology facilities in Los Angeles.

About 20 managers from United International Pictures, which is distributing the Steven Spielberg-directed film abroad for Paramount Pictures and DreamWorks SKG, took him up on the offer in late January. That required some of the executives to extend their stay for a day, according to several who participated.

Andrew Cripps, president of United International Pictures, said the tour was useful because the news media often asks about Cruise's religious beliefs.

Notwithstanding Mel Gibson's very public declaration of faith with his The Passion of the Christ, Hollywood insiders typically shy away from open discussion of their religious beliefs.

But Lee Anne De Vette, who is Cruise's sister, said he had been inviting colleagues to learn more about his religion in order to combat what he viewed as prejudice against a group that some critics have branded an exploitative cult.

Scientology has not been recognized as a religion in many European nations and remains under federal surveillance in Germany, where it is regarded as a dangerous sect. Adherents say Scientology is a method of counseling and courses that helps individuals break free from negative emotions and lead more rewarding lives.

"It's lack of understanding that breeds bigotry," said De Vette in discussing the United International Pictures session, which followed a similar tour for the company's executives in Brussels last year during the release of Cruise's Collateral.

"We're being asked questions about the religion, and he said, 'Rather than me stand here and explain it,' " he would organize a formal tour.

De Vette is herself a member of the church. She replaced Cruise's long-time publicist, Pat Kingsley, a powerful Hollywood veteran, in 2004.

Founded in 1954 by the science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, Scientology has long had a close connection with celebrity. Contending that artists "are a cut above man" - according to a church Web site, www.celebritycentre.org - Hubbard said, "He who can truly communicate to others is a higher being who builds new worlds."

The church has celebrity centers in several cities where actors and other famous figures come to study and meet. (John Travolta and Kirstie Alley are among the best-known Hollywood adherents.)

In the last several years, Cruise has spoken more freely about Scientology in his many interviews promoting various films. And, increasingly, executives who do business with him have found themselves spending time at church facilities.

Thus, top managers from Paramount, which has backed many of Cruise's films, including the Mission: Impossible series, and from the Creative Artists Agency, which has long represented the star, have graced one of his tables at an annual gala in the group's Hollywood center. Last August, Sherry Lansing, at the time Paramount's chairwoman, and Donald De Line, that studio's production chief, attended the organization's 35th-anniversary celebration.

A spokeswoman for the studio declined to discuss the executives' encounters with Scientology. But Cripps of United International Pictures, who attended both the Brussels and Los Angeles tours, acknowledged that he still was not quite sure what the religion is all about.

"I think religion is a really personal thing," he said. "I admire the work that they do in terms of their programs - that was an eye-opener to me. But what it actually means to be a Scientologist, I don't think I fully understand."