Paul Haggis has deep, abiding admiration and gratitude for Leah Remini, especially after the latter followed his lead and publicly renounced the Church of Scientology.
The writer-director best known for 2005's Academy Award-winning drama Crash has penned an open letter in the latest issue of The Hollywood Reporter expressing support for the King of Queens star's decision to leave the religion and calling out Scientology executives for launching what he said was a smear campaign against her.
Calling Remini a friend, though not a close one, Haggis revealed that Leah "was one of two Scientologists who had refused to 'disconnect' from me and certainly the only high-profile one when I decided to quit the organization in August 2009."
So the filmmaker found it all the more disturbing after he saw what he said were attacks on her by her celebrity Scientologist friends who derided her character after she quit the controversial religion earlier this month.
Among those prominent parishioners initially assumed to have done so was Kirstie Alley, who tweeted two weeks ago, "When faced w malicious gossip I take a moment to experience the loss of the person I thought was my friend… Then I say f—k em…:)"
She later added: "The sweetest poison is often served with a smile…beware syrup."
While Alley subsequently denied she was talking about her fellow TV actress, Haggis felt obliged to come to Remini's defense against the haters given how he himself was vilified by fellow Scientologists upon his departure.
"Having witnessed Scientology's smear tactics, I can imagine how this was being orchestrated, but I was still shocked to see how quickly those friends—some of whom had known Leah for 20 or 30 years—jumped on the 'malign Leah' campaign, and with such apparent glee. I assumed Scientology's next step would be to try and plant disparaging stories about her with less-informed journalists and bloggers," Haggis wrote.
He continued: "And if others who had made noisy exits from the Church are to be believed, Scientology would also use their Office of Special Affairs employees to attack Leah indirectly, posting negative comments about her shows and career and abilities under myriad false names, pretending to be disappointed fans or whatever. None of that is new."
The big revelation for Haggis was learning Leah had repeatedly challenged Scientology's leader David Miscavige, which he noted echoed his own split from the Church.
Not only that, but the Oscar winner revealed that the acrimony members directed his way, such as calling him an "apostate," carried over to Remini because of their friendship.
"The next thing I learned made me feel terrible. Leah got in trouble because of me, because when I was 'declared' a 'Suppressive Person' and shunned, she came to my defense—without me ever knowing it," he said.
Haggis went on to express admiration for the thesp for doing so, particularly because her family and close friends are almost all Scientologists.
"The stakes for her were so much higher than for me. Her decision to leave was so much braver," he added.
Haggis concluded by saying he and Leah talked recently about the brouhaha and he thought "she had been terribly hurt and shaken" by what had happened.
He then praised her as "an incredibly strong woman," as well as "kind and generous and loyal," who "barely knew me, and yet she fought for me and my family, a battle she had to know in her gut she was never going to win."
"That takes an enormous amount of integrity and compassion," Haggis said.
A spokesperson for Scientology issued a scathing statement to E! News calling Haggis a "status-obsessed screenwriter" whose "'open letter' is nothing more than a "transparent plug for an upcoming film that has no U.S. distribution."
"His statement that the organization anonymously comments negatively about those who leave the Church is delusional and borders on paranoia," said the organization.
(Originally published on July 31, 2013 @ 8:48 a.m. PT)