Since around 2007, superstar and West Philly native Will Smith has been dogged by rumors that he is a practicing member of the Church of Scientology, owing their proliferation in part to his penchant for sci-fi films and free-form parenting style. Now, though, one former Scientology executive says those rumors were never anything more than that.
Speaking exclusively to the Daily Beast, Mike Rinder denied the rumor that the Independence Day and Men In Black star is a Scientologist in any way. Rinder, a former "fixer" for the Church of Scientology, is featured in the upcoming HBO documentary Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, which pries deep into the notoriously secretive religion.
"Will Smith is not a Scientologist," Rinder replied when asked by Daily Beast scribe Marlow Stern about Smith's connection to Scientology.
Smith, 46, has long been suspected of following the Church of Scientology. In fact, Smith's now-closed New Village Leadership Academy reportedly used a curriculum created by L. Ron Hubbard, founder of Scientology. However, critics mostly point to a 2007 Access Hollywood interview in which Smith explains how actor Tom Cruise introduced him to the religion in the early 2000s.
"I was introduced to [Scientology] through Tom, and I'm a student of world religion," he said in 2007. "I was raised in a Baptist household and went to a Catholic school, but the ideas of the Bible are 98 percent the same ideas as Buddhism or Hinduism."
"How you gonna know nothing about Scientology and attack [Tom]?" Smith added. "It's dangerous, and it's ignorant. How am I going to condemn someone for what they believe, and I believe God was born from a pregnant virgin?"
Journalist Tony Ortega, also featured in HBO's Going Clear, confirmed Rinder's assessment that Smith is not a Scientologist to the Daily Beast, saying that the religion has "not attracted a major star in 25 years."
"There's not that many celebrities in Scientology," he said. "And the young ones were born into it, and the other ones people cite — Cruise, Travolta, and Kirstie Alley — got into it in the '70s and '80s."
"They have not attracted a major star in 25 years. The only young Scientologists on the celebrity scene were all born into it," Ortega added. "Beck was born into it. Giovanni Ribisi was born into it."
However, that Smith apparently rejected Scientology as his own personal religion did not slow attempts at recruitment of celebrities in general. As Rinder points out, that recruitment is integral to the organization, which pitches itself as a tool for self-help.
"Scientology works to attract celebrities and has a Celebrity Center right in Hollywood designed to cater to them and give them special treatment — red carpet, secret entrances where you can sneak in and out — and the other part of it is that Scientology presents itself as a self-help religion," Rinder told the Daily Beast. "You learn and are indoctrinated into Scientology by the idea that you will improve things in your life."
Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief premieres on HBO on Sunday, March 29 at 8 p.m.