Thinly-veiled Scientology movie suddenly canned

Sep 21, 2010
Jack Bremer

Did Tom Cruise and others have influence on decision to abandon filming on Scientology ‘satire’?

Have Hollywood's powerful Scientologists killed Paul Thomas Anderson's thinly veiled movie about the controversial Church's founder, L. Ron Hubbard? Conspiracy theories are swirling in Los Angeles following the revelation that Anderson's 1950s-based film The Master, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, has been postponed indefinitely.

Anderson's film is not officially about Hubbard and the Church of Scientology. But the similarities could hardly be more striking and the Hollywood trade papers and websites describe it variously as a satire and a parable.

Written by Anderson, who made the Oscar-winning There Will Be Blood, the script follows the rise of a religion called The Cause through the story of its charismatic leader and his apprentice.

Hoffman was due to play the Church's founder while Jeremy Renner, who made his name in The Hurt Locker, was to play the apprentice. Most important to this story, Reese Witherspoon was reported to have been offered the role of the Master's wife, Mary Sue.

The lead actors had already begun rehearsals and filming was due to start in August - but nothing happened.

Now Renner has told Total Film that the movie has been "postponed indefinitely at this point". He went on: "It really kind of stalled because when we were rehearsing - Phil, Paul and myself - we kept coming up against a wall that we couldn't overcome. Or at least Paul couldn't overcome."

According to the Playlist website, Hoffman, currently promoting Jack Goes Boating, has told journalists asking about The Master: "I don't have any new information. I really mean that, I'm not being obtuse."

The film's backers, River Road, have confirmed they are no longer financing the project.

So why has everything gone quiet? It is very possible that Anderson, who is known for his exacting standards, simply couldn't make the film gel and that in rehearsal, it fell apart. It can happen.

But the conspiracy theorists have other ideas - mainly revolving around the leading talent agency CAA (Creative Artists Agency) which was packaging The Master and which represents Reese Witherspoon.

CAA also represents Hollywood's best known Scientologist, Tom Cruise - who, despite a string of so-so films, still has clout in Hollywood - and Will Smith who, while not a Scientologist, has given charitable donations in the past to groups associated with the Church, and has been known to attend Scientology events.

By coincidence, Reese Witherspoon is currently due to star opposite Tom Cruise in Paper Wings, and in a new Will Smith-produced film, This Means War.

Compared to the weight Cruise and Smith carry in Hollywood, Paul Thomas Anderson's rather awkward project stood little chance - so the theory goes.

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