Paul Haggis on 'New Yorker' Scientology story: 'I stand by it'

USA Today/February 23, 2011

Los Angeles - It's been one week since the New Yorker profile of director Paul Haggis' defection from Scientology hit the Internet. On Tuesday night the famous director, co-hosting an Oscar week Vanity Fair party with pal Pierce Brosnan for Artists for Peace and Justice, called the debut of the material "scary."

Paul Haggis says the publication of a New Yorker article about his defection from Scientology after 35 years in the church was difficult, but necessary. "A wise man said never be afraid to hurt someone for a just cause."

"I had a lot of friends that I knew who were upset," said Haggis, surrounded by celebrities at the Eveleigh in West Hollywood, including Moby, Jeremy Piven, Seth Green, Idris Elba and The Social Network's Armie Hammer. "It was hard. Because those are really good friends."

The 24,577-word piece discusses Scientology at length, Haggis' 35 years inside the religion and his distaste for its stance on homosexuality (in the article he reveals that two of his daughters are gay).

"Two of my daughters called me after the article (came out), because they said a couple of things (in the article) were hard to hear," said Haggis. The article questions basic tenets of Scientology, describes the religion's leadership and dives into Haggis' personal history as an emotionally distant father.

"I told them: 'Yeah, it was really hard to read those things, but it was the truth. And never be afraid to speak the truth.' So I tried to teach my kids that — so I should learn that myself."

Haggis revealed that the searing interview was never meant to happen.

"I didn't mean to do it," he said. "It was an accident. (Writer) Larry Wright calls me, and I'm editing my movie, and they said they want to do a profile of me in TheNew Yorker. And I go 'Oh, me? A profile? The New Yorker? Oh, OK.' I don't even think it's about Scientology. So he interviews me for a day and at the end of the day he says, 'So, Scientology.' And I go, 'Oh that's what this is about.' "

Haggis agreed to a short question-and-answer session. "So I talk to him for a half an hour, I say a few things that worked for me, a few things that didn't work for me or upset me. And he said, 'I'll see you tomorrow.' I said, 'Tomorrow?' " Haggis' voice feigns surprise. "How long are you going to take on this? And he said, 'I don't know, seven, eight, 10 months.' And he did."

Despite the shockwaves the article sent, Haggis believes he was portrayed accurately. "I stand by it. He's a wonderful guy. He did a good job. A wise man said never be afraid to hurt someone for a just cause. I knew it was going to hurt a lot of friends, but," he holds his hands up, "you gotta do what you gotta do."

Today, through Artists for Peace and Justice, Haggis is focused on building free high schools for Haitian children who live in slums. Recently, they opened seventh grade for 400 children.

"It's going well," he says. "I'm going back in a couple of weeks. You don't want to be a disaster tourist. You want to actually go and do something. I love it there. I love the kids. I love my friends there. I lost some during the quake, which was hard, but it's a great country. The people are so beautiful."

His next project will be a matter of the heart. "I've got a spec strip I've been writing for over a year (called) Third Person," he says. "It's three very damaged relationships, damaged love stories that I'm trying to put together now. But every time I finish the script I think it's not good enough, and I start rewriting it."

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