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Leah Remini Says She Was Ordered to Recruit Kevin James Into Scientology

The former member says she was pressured to pitch her King of Queens co-star.

After nine years on the hit series The King of Queens, co-stars Leah Remini and Kevin James had gone through a lot of things together, but joining the same religion wasn't one of them. Remini was a Scientologist for the entirety of the hit series' run, and she has said that the controversial church's leadership were thrilled with the stardom the show brought her. According to her, they thought it would give them access to more high-profile potential members, including James. But though Remini claims she was pressured into pitching Scientology to her onscreen husband, she refused to try to convert him. Read on to find out more.

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Remini joined Scientology as a child.

Leah Remini in 2005

As she wrote in her book, Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology, Remini was baptized Catholic and became a "second-generation practitioner" of Scientology when her mother joined the organization after she began dating a member. Starting around age eight, Remini and her sister began attending courses at the New York Org. At age 13, she and her sister were recruited into the Sea Org, leaving traditional education behind, moving out of their family home, and signing billion-year pledges of service to Scientology. The teen was put to work leading a cleaning crew for the Scientology-run Sandcastle Hotel but was dismissed from Sea Org for having contact with a member of the opposite sex. She and her family stayed on with Scientology as civilians, however, and Remini would continue being a part of the organization during her rise to fame.

Scientology helped her rise to fame, she said.

Leah Remini, Kevin James, and Jerry Stiller in 2007
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Before Scientology, Remini was a young girl in Brooklyn with a penchant for performing, inspired to audition for the lead role in a Broadway production of Annie. But when she got on stage, she "went blind with panic," she wrote in her memoir. Becoming a Scientologist helped put a stop to that, she has said.

"There's tools that are very, very helpful to you in your life, to you as an actor," she told ABC News in 2015, before she left the religion. "I walked into a room…while some people might walk into a room and cower in front of a director, I wasn't [cowering]."

That confidence served her well. After moving to Los Angeles, she spent the late '80s and early '90s in a strong run of roles on hits including Saved by the Bell, Cheers, and Friends. She also starred in a one-season Who's the Boss? spinoff called Living Dolls alongside Halle Berry.

Remini said her drive was rooted in a higher purpose. "I saw a successful acting career as a salvation," she tweeted in 2022. "It would help me get my family out of poverty and give me a higher standing in Scientology which I truly believed was helping to save mankind." In 1998 at least part of that dream would come true when was cast in the role of Carrie Heffernan, a legal secretary married to a delivery driver played by comedian James on the sitcom The King of Queens. The popular series would go on to run for nine years, earning Remini an estimated $400,000 per episode by 2005, according to Variety.

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Remini said she was pressured to bring Kevin James into the fold.

Remini has said in interviews that, as the series's popularity grew, church leadership tried to compel her to recruit her costar. "They always tried to get me to, [asking] 'Why is he not in? Why have you not promoted it to him?,'" she told People in 2017. She refused, knowing that James was already devoted to another faith. "I was like, 'Because he's Catholic. He doesn't want anything to do with it,'" she said. "They let it go after a while, but usually you'd be expected to recruit, especially with somebody you work with for nine years." (According to the article, representatives for Scientology denied her claims.)

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter in 2016, Remini said that she "never" tried to sell James on her then-religion, though she did say that he never judged her for it either.

"Kevin was always very respectful of my beliefs, and he said just the opposite," she told the outlet. "People would ask him, 'Oh my God, is she trying to get you into that crazy cult?' And he'd say, 'No. She's not like the rest of them.'"

Remini left Scientology in 2013.

Leah Remini in 2014
Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

After more than 30 years as a member and around $5 million in donations to the church, Remini left Scientology in 2013, proclaiming, "No one is going to tell me how I need to think, no one is going to tell me who I can, and cannot, talk to," in an interview with People.

During this difficult time in her life, James stayed by her side. "He reached out to me and said, 'I'm so proud of you; if you need anything, I'm here,'" she told the magazine in 2017.

The actor has since become one of Scientology's most vocal critics, speaking about her negative experiences in interviews, court testimony, her memoir, and an Emmy-winning A&E series, Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath. She has claimed that the organization is abusive and predatory and showcases other former members with similar claims on her show.

In 2015, Remini laid partial blame for her departure on the group's most famous member, Tom Cruise, telling 20/20 that his importance to the church was such that anyone who spoke out against the actor became an enemy of Scientology. After the record-setting success of Top Gun: Maverick in 2022, Remini reiterated her claims, tweeting "Tom Cruise knows exactly what goes on in Scientology. Don't let the movie star charm fool you."

She and James are still friends.

Remini and James have continued to be close, with Remini writing in her memoir that the joy of working with her sitcom co-star "ruined [her] for life" for other leading men. The two reunited on the second season of James's later series Kevin Can Wait in 2017, and she called him "one of my favorite people on this earth" in an April Instagram post.

The former co-stars now share another connection too. Like James, Remini again identifies as Catholic and baptized her daughter in the faith, telling People in 2015, "To me it's what religion is supposed to be: a beautiful thing."

Andrew Miller
Andrew Miller is a pop culture writer living in New York. Read more
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