LOS ANGELES, March 21 – 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.
– The Selling of a Church: The Courting of Celebrities
Increasingly public about his long association with Scientology, Mr. Cruise a few weeks ago invited film executives involved in distributing his summer movie, “The 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 took part.
Andrew Cripps, president of United International Pictures, said the tour was useful because the news media often asks about Mr. Cruise’s religious beliefs. “Genuinely, there is an interest level among our managers who have to field questions, to understand and learn more about it,” he said. Mr. Cripps said no one was forced to attend, though at least one executive who took the tour – who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared repercussions at work – said the visit was regarded by some as an unwelcome business obligation.
The encounter came after Mr. Cruise had sponsored a “Scientology tent,” offering what his spokeswoman, Lee Anne De Vette, called “assists” – a kind of massage administered by volunteer ministers – along with religious literature, on the “War of the Worlds” set. Also, the star had recently sent out a holiday greeting that included Scientological precepts on a plastic plaque. Notwithstanding Mel Gibson’s very public declaration of faith with his “Passion of the Christ,” Hollywood insiders typically shy away from open discussion of their religious beliefs. But Ms. De Vette, who is Mr. 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 Ms. 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 Mr. 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.
Ms. De Vette added that Mr. Cruise hoped to have the same kind of tour for American-based Hollywood executives. “He would like to do the same thing over here,” she said. “A lot of it, frankly, is time. If we can find the time to do it, he would like to do it.”
Ms. De Vette is herself a member of the church. She replaced Mr. 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.) At the centers, according to the Web site, they are promised “the best in service and care, for those are the people who are sculpting the present into the future.” (And Mr. Travolta in 2000 starred in a widely ridiculed pet project, “Battlefield Earth,” a space-invasion story based on a novel of the same title by Hubbard.)
In the last several years, Mr. 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.
These things — you know, any time — where there’s ignorance about something or people don’t want to know about something, you know, it really gets back to gossip or, you know, just people don’t know something, there you have racism. There you have bigotry. And that’s where those things stem from.
The publishers of Apologetics Index publically challenge Tom Cruise to show where and how these research resources on Scientology are the result of “ignorance,” “gossip,” “racism,” and/or “bigotry.”
Thus, top managers from Paramount, which has backed many of Mr. 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 Mr. 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.”