In a very public and painful split, actress Leah Remini left the Church of Scientology last summer. Now, as a contestant on Dancing With the Stars, the King of Queens star says that the church is "waiting for me to fail."
"It's not insinuated, it's told to you," Remini said, moments after Monday night's show. "The church is looking for me to fail so they can say to their parishioners, 'You see what happens when you leave the church?' They want you to believe that you're not going to do well — in life."
Remini, 43, was anything but a failure on Monday's show. She danced a samba that had all three judges gushing and giving her a strong score of 24 out of 30. "You are resplendent," raved judge Bruno Tonioli.
But Remini describes herself as "vulnerable" since the split from the church in July — an organization she doesn't hesitate to call a cult. "When you try to control the way people think, and try to keep them there with the threat of failure or the threat of shunning, [it's] become a cult at that point. Until you step outside of that life, you don't realize how insane it is."
Remini's pro partner, Tony Dovolani, is trying to shore up her confidence by reminding her that this is America, where people should be able to choose what they believe — or not believe — freely and without pressure. "I'm becoming a citizen this year, so I take all the things I study [about America] very much to heart," Dovolani says. "I come from Kosovo, where there was a lot of hate. I know what hate is. But here, we have freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and for anyone to abuse that — and it is abuse — is just unfair."
Remini credits DWTS for helping her regain her equilibrium and for making her both mentally and physically stronger. But she's still adjusting to the fact that the church has not allowed her to communicate with people who haven't left that she's known for decades. "I'm getting there," she says. "I'm still going through the pain of losing friends of 30 years. But on this show, I wake up happy."