The subtitle of Tom Cruise’s last “Mission: Impossible” movie, “Fallout,” could also describe the current state of Scientology.
The church, which still maintains a flock of A-list adherents including Cruise, John Travolta and Kirstie Alley, is at a crossroads. Hollywood members, who for decades brought in mega-star wattage as well as mega-bucks, are aging, and yet there’s no new lifeblood coming through the ranks. When was the last time you heard of a famous Scientologist under 36 years old?
That’s the age of “The Handmaid’s Tale” star Elisabeth Moss, who grew up in the faith. As did Gen X actors Juliette Lewis, Giovanni Ribisi and Danny Masterson, and musician Beck. But, “The second generation celebrities tend to . . . have less to prove” and therefore aren’t as active, according to Tony Ortega, author of “Battlefield Scientology: Exposing L. Ron Hubbard’s Dangerous Religion.”
Meanwhile, young stars aren’t signing up on their own like they once did — Cruise, now 56, was 27 when he joined; Travolta, now 64, was only 21 — and that’s a problem.
“You’d have to be a complete moron to be an up-and-coming celebrity who gets involved in Scientology without Googling it and finding out that getting involved will cost you a lot of money and potentially destroy your family,” Mike Rinder, formerly a church executive and now an outspoken defector, told The Post. (Actress and former member Leah Remini has said she donated $ 5 million during her 35 years in Scientology.)
So the organization is said to now be turning its sights overseas.
“There are places where they are having success,” said Rinder. “One is Taiwan. The others are Eastern Europe and Russia.”
(A church spokesperson told The Post that “Scientology has been practiced in Russia, other Eastern European countries as well as in Asia for decades.”)
Geoff Levin, a 50-year-long member who left the fold in 2017 and worked directly with L. Ron Hubbard, said that there is a particular international focus on wealthy businesspeople and influencers. According to a recent promotional mailer, earlier this month the group enlisted the Mexican TV star and pop singer Michael Ronda, 22, to perform at a Celebrity Centre graduation ceremony for members who have completed certain courses.
There’s also 31-year-old Indian actress and beauty queen Sheena Chohan, who a Scientology mailer touted as a “Celebrity Centre Ambassador.”
According to Levin, “The method for recruiting overseas is that somebody from the US or England will go to countries where they already have business ties and introduce Scientology to their connections.”
So much of the recruitment effort is about image — and the church is also said to be on a building spree, even as membership numbers among the general population “have been declining for the last 20 years or so,” according to Levin.
(The spokesperson said that “Scientology is growing around the world,” adding: “Since 2016, we have opened 16 new churches” and “launched . . . our own TV network.”)
“They are buying lots of property, lots of buildings. They’re converting cash into real estate,” added Rinder. “One reason is to be able to tell people they are expanding. But they don’t tell you that the buildings are empty. They like to tell [people] that they have bought 27 new buildings that are magnificent. For example, I know somebody who recently went to the Bogota Ideal Scientology Organization and it was virtually empty.”
In the 1970s, Scientology created its first Celebrity Centre International in Hollywood, catering to the rich and famous. Now situated in a lavishly renovated, French Renaissance-style 1920s hotel, where Bette Davis and Clark Gable once frolicked, the facility features a private entrance, plush VIP accommodations and an ornate restaurant, the Renaissance, serving fancy Continental fare. There are also “servants on demand for the Cruises of the world,” Rinder said.
“Prior to the last 10 years, when PR for Scientology turned really sour, [showbiz] people would have meetings at the restaurant with their agents,” said Levin. “Now I can’t imagine anyone doing that — unless you were the agent of Tom Cruise and you had to do it.”
Along those lines, former followers of Scientology claim that some of Hollywood’s high-profile members have toned down their proselytizing about the organization.
In the past, the late Hollywood acting coach Milton Katselas recommended Scientology to students. Actors who studied under him included Gene Hackman, George Clooney and Jeffrey Tambor (only the latter followed his advice, and he has since left Scientology).
“During the filming of ‘War of the Worlds’ [released in 2005], Cruise put a yellow tent on the lot. It’s called a volunteer ministers’ tent. Scientologists set them up and try to bring people in. [Cruise] attempted to get Spielberg, J.J. Abrams and Ron Howard involved. It didn’t work,” Rinder said.
Although John Travolta recently told Us Weekly that “Our church is that number one thing that keeps [my family] grounded,” former members-turned-detractors are even more outspoken. Director Paul Haggis has savagely bad-mouthed Scientology, while Remini hosts the TV show “Scientology and the Aftermath,” which is devoted to debunking everything to do with the group.
“They have created their own nightmare with their reliance on celebrities,” said Rinder, referring to the church’s longtime strategy of using stars to normalize founder Hubbard’s far-out teachings. “You have Leah and Paul turning around [in their beliefs] for all the world to see.”
And while Cruise has famously defended his religion in the past, the actor now “insists that people do not ask about it,” Rinder added.
It may be a matter of burying his head in the sand rather than facing the proposition of a church that’s on the skids.
Said Rinder: “No person who is inculcated in Scientology wants to see it is a failing proposition.”