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How much will a Paul Haggis book hurt Scientology’s image? [Updated]

January 6, 2011 |  3:54 pm

Haggis

Director Paul Haggis has already been the worst kind of publicity for the Church of Scientology, penning this letter in August 2009 in which he resigned from the group over its support of Proposition 8.

Now he could become more than just a thorn in the church's side. According to this Gawker report, the Oscar winner is shopping a book with New Yorker writer Lawrence Wright about his experience with Scientology –- an experience that he says included, among other things, his wife cutting off contact with her parents at the order of church officials.

[Updated at 10:25 a.m. Friday: A representative for Haggis said that although the book will be done with Haggis' full collaboration and will be focused exclusively on him and his odyssey, Wright will be its sole author.]

According to an agent's listing for the book, "The Heretic of Hollywood," as it will be called, will give voice to much of what the director has felt but hasn't yet said in the time since he left the church.

"Haggis was one of the church's Hollywood trophies, along with Tom Cruise and John Travolta, whose paths cross with Haggis's. His resignation from the church in August of 2009 was a crushing disappointment to the organization. This is the first time Haggis has spoken about his experience," reads the synopsis.

For those interested in the intersection of religion and celebrity, the book could have a particular resonance. "The most profound reckoning to date with this powerful and secretive organization, 'The Heretic of Hollywood'  is also a moving human story of the lure of extreme faith and the price of leaving it," the synopsis states.

There’s no publisher yet, but a tell-all book about a famous ex-Scientologist would obviously have a huge impact. As a 35-year member of the church, the director has more than his share of credibility, since, as his letter demonstrates, he genuinely did (and perhaps still does) believe in certain of its credos.

Maybe more important, while Haggis’ films have recently been a mixed bag -- his 2010 release “The Next Three Days” failed to land with audiences -- as a Hollywood personality there are few who shoot straighter. We experienced that firsthand when we interviewed the filmmaker a few months ago for that film; he was a beacon of straightforwardness to star Russell Crowe's squirminess.

There will be those who read about the book proposal and say Haggis is trying to cash in -- though given the church's alleged propensity for smearing former members, many will likely see in his actions a truth-to-power element as well.

-- Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: Paul Haggis. Credit: Nathan Denette / Associated Press

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