Veteran television actor Jason Beghe tells the Village Voice that the Church of Scientology will be feeling blindsided by the YouTube video of him that hit the Internet on March 14.
Long-held frustrations with the church motivated Beghe to leave Scientology seven months ago, after he had spent about 12 years in the organization as one of its most celebrated success stories. Over the course of about a year, he negotiated his “disassociation” with the church, trying to give every indication to church officials that he was parting on good terms.
In reality, he says, he was already planning to go public with damning allegations about L. Ron Hubbard’s controversial religion.
Beghe most recently appeared in the CBS series Cane, and he’s been a regular television presence since the mid-1980s, showing up in series like Everwood, JAG and Numb3rs. Overnight, however, he’s becoming much better known for being the first Scientology celebrity to come out against the church. Hubbard’s minions covet celebrities like no other religion, and although some, like Nicole Kidman, have only temporary affiliations with it, none with Beghe’s experience has ever been so public in denouncing it.
Speaking on the phone from his home in Malibu, Beghe, 48, says the 3-minute video is part of a much longer session. After leaving the church, Beghe had reached out to a Norwegian man, Andreas Heldal-Lund, who runs Operation Clambake (xenu.net), probably the most comprehensive anti-Scientology website on the Internet. Heldal-Lund convinced him to meet him along with another of the church’s most well known critics, Mark Bunker, known as “wise beard man” to the “Anonymous” movement that in recent months has organized worldwide protests against Scientology.
“They came to my place out here, and we spent the day together. They set up a camera and I blabbed. And I barely scratched the surface,” Beghe says.
Originally from New York, Beghe turned a modeling career into television acting with relative ease. “I’m one of those guys who works. I never had a problem getting a job,” he says. “I never became a huge star, but I never stopped working.” While taking an acting class from Scientologist Milton Katselas in 1994, Beghe says he decided he wanted to learn more about the religion.
So he decided to hit up another student in the class, Bodie Elfman, then boyfriend (now husband) of Jenna. Elfman, he says, gave him a copy of What is Scientology, a lavishly illustrated hardback that introduced him to the idea that L. Ron Hubbard had come up with a “technology” of the mind that supposedly enables the devout to achieve superhuman capabilities. The purification rundown, a detoxification ritual, caught his eye, Beghe says. “This clear thing sounded good, too,” he adds.
Hubbard’s followers believe that if church members go through an increasingly complex (and increasingly expensive) process known as “The Bridge,” they may unlock the capacities of the mind so completely that they become a clear, and have total recall, have the ability to leave their bodies, and are impervious to disease.
After reading the book Elfman gave him, Beghe says he was ready to go whole hog. “Give me some Scientology, man,” he remembers thinking.
And it didn’t take him long to get hooked. In his first training session, doing something that, in typically arcane Hubbard argot, was called ‘OT TR Zero,” he had to learn to “confront.” Which, oddly enough, meant sitting motionless with his eyes closed.
“You sit three feet from someone with eyes closed, relaxed. You sit there and confront someone, unflinching, until you have a ‘major, stable win,” he says. Translation: after trying to hold perfectly still for twenty minutes, he had an epiphany.
“I kind of left my body, and realized, in a new sense, who I was. And it was like, ‘Oh, shit.’”
He explains that as a child, he realized that he was someone who had a deep curiosity about spirituality. He remembers that he would turn to another person, look into their eyes, and feel that he was able to learn something essential about them. But when he looked into the mirror, he didn’t get the same feeling. “Who am I?” became his mantra, he says, probably far younger than it does for, say, most college freshmen. It led him to have a sense of adventure about things spiritual.
Now, suddenly, he seemed to have an answer. “I’m not Jason Beghe. That’s just a body, like a car. And I’m the person driving it. I felt like for the first time I felt like I knew who I was.”
But now that he’s left the church, does he still ascribe that feeling to something L. Ron Hubbard had discovered, or some other psychological phenomenon? Only seven months out, he admits that it’s not really a question he’s been asked before.
“There seems to be a level of hypnosis or brainwashing or whatever you want to call it, and this training is a way of getting people hypnotized. And there’s a lot of patter that you’re constantly hearing that helps you get in that state,” he says.
But at the time, he was hooked. He remembers thinking, “Let me do this clear thing,” figuring that it might cost as much as $10,000. Instead, he was asked for $50,000 to start his progress on the Bridge. “I probably had $60,000 to my name. But I plunked it down.”
Over the next year, Beghe says he rocketed through Scientology’s expensive levels like no one else. Along the way, he got plenty of special treatment. “Celebrity Centre. My own private sauna. Everybody kissing my ass, which I was uncomfortable with. But nice people. Couldn’t be nicer,” he says.
His move to clear was so rapid, Beghe was told that diminutive Scientology leader David Miscavige considered him a “poster boy” for the religion.
“I was Miscavige’s favorite boy, so they were doing all kinds of things to keep me happy,” he says. “I moved up the Bridge faster than anyone in history. I went at it 24/7 for about a year. I went clear. Got to OT V. I was a trained auditor.” (OT stands for “operating thetan,” and the highest level in the church is said to be OT VIII.)
“I’m farther up the Bridge than Travolta, and he’s been in there a thousand years. He’s not a trained auditor.” To Beghe, some of the celebrities “seemed like dilettantes,” enjoying the perks but not really working hard at being Scientologists.
“I was on a spiritual journey. I wasn’t trying to make money, or influence people. I just wanted to try it.”
His wife also trained as a Scientologist and, like Beghe, reached OT V. Over his twelve years in the church, Beghe estimates that he gave Scientology about a million dollars.
Only about three years after joining, however, he says he started to have major problems. He had reached OT IV and was doing some special auditing, something referred to as “L Rundowns” or “L’s.” Beghe says the rundowns cost $150,000 to $160,000, but the payoff was immense: successfully completing the series would give someone serious juju. “You’re supposed to have the power to like take over a country,” he says.
Beghe says that others also getting the training would be asked what they wanted from the experience, and some would say “ten times my income.”
“I didn’t like that question. I was just experimenting.”
Beghe went through daylong sessions in which he was peppered with questions about his ethics and behavior while holding onto an “e-meter,” a device that tests have shown simply measures skin galvanism, but that Scientologists believe reveal deep secrets in the mind. Beghe had used the e-meter many times before. But these sessions were a disaster for him. For six hours at a time, he’d be hit with questions (Is there an upset? Did you commit a crime? Did someone almost find out something you did?). “But I had nothing to say. I wasn’t hiding anything.” His auditors weren’t satisfied. They were waiting for a “floating needle” on the e-meter to show he was in the right state of mind, but it kept spiking.
“I was sitting there for hours, at $1,000 an hour. It went for weeks,” he says. And it cost that much, he says, because L’s required a “class 12 auditor.”
“A class 12 auditor has more training than a brain surgeon. They’re the cream of the crop. They’re the only ones who can deliver the L’s. And they were making the biggest fucking mistakes,” he says.
Beghe says the proof that Scientology was no longer working for him came when he was almost killed in a car accident.
After the L’s, he points out, that shouldn’t happen. “A clear isn’t supposed to have a car accident. You’re supposed to be practically immortal.”
To the Scientologists, the accident was an indication that someone was “suppressing” Beghe. So they pulled him in for more interrogation.
“What about this gay person you’re friends with,” Beghe says one official asked him, implying that somehow the gay friend was causing Beghe’s clear state to be sabotaged. When Beghe objected, he says the official responded, “Well, he’s gay.”
His training, meanwhile, continued to go badly. The next step, OT V, he says, was terrible. “OT V should take 3 to 5 weeks, and it took me three to five years.”
Not only were his auditing sessions grinding on him, Beghe says he was also expected to keep quiet about his troubles, and still make many appearances at Scientology events to keep up the fiction that he was doing well.
“My hat [role] was celebrity and model Scientologist…I couldn’t walk around looking hangdog. I had to go to a lot of events. ‘Hey, Jason!’ I didn’t even know these people, and they were always up my ass.”
Courting celebrities is one of the things that Scientology is noted for, but Beghe says it goes beyond simply a PR tool. Hubbard had made it clear that one way to clear the contents of one’s “ethics file”—the record of misdeeds a parishioner admits to in auditing—was to recruit a celebrity to the fold. Bring in a star, and all crimes are forgiven. So the care and feeding of celebrity members is paramount on everyone’s mind.
Beghe claimst that the religion’s top star, Tom Cruise, was actually mostly separated from the church for several years. Other celebrities, he points out, go through similar periods of no longer auditing or moving up the Bridge, but are still considered members. Bringing Cruise back into a more active role, Beghe says, was a major Miscavige project.
“He was out for like ten years. There are people who just aren’t doing anything Some are out but don’t talk about it. Why? The church is scary. These are bad motherfuckers.”
Once his disappointment was so great he began talking about leaving altogether, Beghe says the church sent people to talk him out of it.
“Big fucking cheeses. At the end, one was David Petit, head of Celebrity Centre International. I’ve known him for a long time,” he says. “He told me: ‘If you want, I’ll make you the president of any Celebrity Centre, anywhere in the world.’
“That’s a sign of the respect they had for me. Petit doesn’t get to make offers like that unless David [Miscavige] knows.”
Now that he and his wife are finally out, Beghe says he wants the world know how unethical and underhanded Scientology turned out to be.
“Not one auditing session—which are supposed to be private—is not recorded on film,” he says, and claims that secret cameras are used at every session at the Celebrity Centre in Los Angeles, recording sessions that for Scientologists are supposed to be something like confessionals in the Catholic church.
“Will Smith is supposedly dabbling in Scientology. Let Will Smith know that his shit was fucking recorded. And tell him to look them in the eye and see if he believes it when they deny it.”
Even worse, he says, is that behind the backs of celebrities, Scientology officials gossip about what transpires in those supposedly private sessions. “Everything’s supposed to be confidential. But all they do is chat about it,” he says.
At a church center in Hemet, California where the church has movie studios, Beghe helped make videos. “I did movies for them. I remember asking, who do we cast in this thing? How about this dude?” referring to another scientologist actor. “No, he’s been cheating on his wife,” Beghe says he was told.
“It’s just a gossip factory. And I’m not talking about auditors. All over the place. The celebrities don’t know that their private troubles are gossiped about by Scientology employees.”
Beghe says he was also motivated by what non-celebrities are going through in Hubbard’s church.
“Being a celebrity, I got the greatest fucking auditors, case supervisors, all the best trained people. And they fucked me up this bad—and they admitted they did—but what about the poor schmoe at Orange County org? They don’t know what they’re doing. It certainly doesn’t deliver what’s promised.”
Is he worried about what going public will do to his career?
“I’m probably not going to be doing any movies for United Artists any time soon,” he cracked, referring to the Cruise-owned studio. But otherwise, he’s not sure how the publicity will affect his career. After Cane’s cancellation, he’s waiting for word on another deal that he can’t talk about yet. But for now, he’s fielding calls from television talk shows.
“I don’t want to get bitter, and I don’t want to hurt anybody,” he says. But he’s determined to help others by telling them what he’s learned.
“Scientology seduces you into thinking that it’s a process through which you can truly become yourself. But ultimately, what it turns you into is a Scientologist—a brainwashed version of yourself.”