Tom Cruise and the world of 'E-meter'-wielding Scientologists

When Ian Halperin went undercover to investigate the lives of struggling actors in Hollywood, he soon found himself in a world of 'E-meter'-wielding Scientologists...

I'd arrived in Hollywood in search of something. But unlike most new arrivals, what I was looking for wasn't celluloid celebrity, but content for my next book – an investigation into the plight of aspiring actors. Most actors struggle for years before landing their first role – and fewer than one per cent end up making a living from the profession. Yet still they come in their droves. I wanted to find out why, what keeps them going and how they make a living in the meantime.

I spent weeks interviewing aspiring actors, hearing one horror story after another about how difficult it is to get cast until I hit on the idea of going undercover and experiencing the life of a Hollywood wannabe for myself.

To this end, I created a suitable persona: a hungry, young, gay actor. My alter-ego was gay because homosexuality in Tinseltown's superficially straight world of lead male roles created an additional challenge to explore, one faced by many of the wannabes I was to encounter. But also, I thought, it seemed appropriate in my role as a wannabe screen star, to flex my own acting skills (I'm straight).

The last thing I had been expecting on my journey was a crash course in Scientology. Although I knew the religion was big in Hollywood, I hadn't fully appreciated what a symbiotic relationship it had with acting. Yet, walking down the street one afternoon, I saw a poster advertising a free acting seminar on how to achieve Hollywood success: "How to Get an Agent. How to Get Work", it shouted. In the name of research, I had to follow up – and was surprised to discover the seminar was being hosted by the Church of Scientology.

On the day, there were six of us in attendance – all actors in various stages of unemployment and all of us pretty bored as the instructor explained the benefits of using Scientology to further our acting careers. Bored, that is, until the woman mentioned several well-known members of the Church whose success – she seemed to be suggesting – might not be unconnected to their membership of the Church. Tom Cruise, John Travolta, Jenna Elfman and Kirstie Alley were among the names she mentioned, explaining how supportive these actors were of the Church and how we might enjoy success if we followed the same path. If it was that easy, I thought, why wouldn't every actor in Hollywood just sign up for Scientology to help them get auditions?

The flip-side, I later heard people claim, is that Hollywood is said to be terrified about the rise of Scientology. "Cruise and Travolta have never won an Oscar," a veteran Hollywood reporter told me. "Can you imagine the speech one of them might make to a billion viewers if they did win?" Could the Church really have that much power?

The instructor passed out information on the history of the Church and its founder, the former science-fiction writer L Ron Hubbard, and at the end, we got to ask questions. Everyone seemed keen on joining except one woman, who asked if there was any chance this process would be used to brainwash us. The instructor said it was important not to lose sight of the importance of attaining spirituality in LA, and that Scientology was the best way to do that. I asked whether there were any fees to sign up – but she was noncommittal at that point.

Like most other religions, I figured, raising funds is a motivator – and by signing up young, unemployed actors the hope is surely that one of their careers will take off and they'll have the next Cruise or Travolta on their hands, which could translate into mega-bucks: both stars donate millions each year to Scientology. Actors are perfect targets for Scientology recruiters, I thought to myself. In a profession dominated by uncertainty, they are vulnerable to someone offering certainty and hope.

A couple of days later I went back to the Church and told a Scientology instructor I was gay. A former Scientologist I'd interviewed had told me that the Church was homophobic and tried to "de-programme" its gay members of their homosexuality. He'd looked to the Church to turn him straight in the 1970s, he told me, but became bitter when the treatment he'd heard about failed to materialise. [Homophobia in Scientology was denied by John Travolta in an interview with The Times last year: "Scientology is not homophobic in any way," he said, "anyone's accepted."]

Still, I wondered whether the Church would try to de-programme me and asked if they could help with my "problem" – that my sexuality was affecting my confidence, and therefore my ability as an actor. "Is there any way to get over that?" I asked. "Possibly," the instructor said, and suggested a series of courses called auditing. Would I like to give it a try? After putting me through a series of personality-test questions, I was hooked up to an "E-meter". I had come across this bizarre-sounding device during my research and was somewhat apprehensive. The E-meter was introduced by Hubbard in the 1950s and is used to measure electrical changes in the skin while subjects discuss intimate moments from their past – a simplified lie-detector, as I understood it.

Some have suggested that the personal questions given to "preclears" – new members not yet "clear" of their issues – could provide embarrassing and incriminating information which they later fear the Church could use against them if they try to leave or reveal its secrets – even though the Church's official line on the E-meter is that it is "a religious artefact and can be used only by Scientology ministers or ministers-in-training".

My biggest concern was being hooked up to this device and possibly revealing my true intentions towards Scientology. "Think about something, anything in your life, and focus on it," said the instructor. My mother had died just a few weeks earlier so it was the obvious thing to focus on. The needle jumped to the right, about an inch. The handler could barely contain her excitement; I told her I was focusing on how my homosexuality was screwing up my acting career.

My results come back in the form of a computerised graph: apparently I have a few issues . "You are under severe emotional turmoil but you do have potential," she said tantalisingly. "Scientology can definitely help you with that. It will turn your life around."

I attended several more Scientology seminars. At points, I started buying into a lot of it. Especially the parts about spirituality and self-growth. Many of the people I met at the Church were nice. But I stopped going because I suspected I would have to spend thousands of dollars to complete the auditing sessions, so I decided to call it quits.

After months of blagging my way through auditions and interviewing countless people trying to make it, I sensed a genuine desperation among hopeful young actors to succeed in the movie business. Scientology is just one of many measures some use to try to jump-start their careers. Others I met had resorted to prostitution, sleeping with producers and providing drugs to agents and managers, while many happily paid exorbitant sign-up fees to unscrupulous agents and publicists or doled out for expensive headshots.

"It's all an illusion," a teenage actor named Nikita told me. "When you come here you have high hopes. By the time you leave you're broke, depressed and have to start your life right over from scratch."

I felt even worse for the actors I followed when I set out to audition for a lark and ironically landed a couple of minor roles, including one in the blockbuster of that year, The Aviator. It didn't seem quite fair. But then, in Hollywood, things rarely are.

'Hollywood Undercover', by Ian Halperin, is published by Mainstream at £7.99

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
    Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

    Edinburgh Fringe 2014

    The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried