Keeping the faith
Jenna Elfman’s missionary zeal contrasts with the bubbly character of Dharma, writes Colin Vickery
ONE sure way of making comedy actor Jenna Elfman angry is to criticise scientology.
The 37-year-old, known for her Golden Globe Award-winning turn as ditzy flower child Dharma Montgomery in hit sitcom Dharma and Greg, has been a scientologist since 1991.
Other celebrity members include John Travolta, Tom Cruise and Australia’s Kate Ceberano.
Elfman shocked Hollywood in a 2005 issue of scientology’s Celebrity magazine saying: ‘‘The more successful I became, the more suppression I bumped into, especially in the entertainment industry, which is home to rabid suppression’’.
Fans were bewildered by her claims that it was her shared ‘‘duty to clear the planet’’.
‘‘I intend to make scientology as accessible to as many people as I can. That is my goal,’’ she said with missionary zeal.
She took aim again last week during a visit to Australia to launch Foxtel’s 111 Hits channel, when she compared the treatment of scientologists to religious persecution (the church was founded in the 1950s by science-fiction writer Ron Hubbard and has been criticised for its belief in alien cosmologies and stance against modern psychiatry).
‘‘It’s a new religion. Historically every new religion has been (dismissed),’’ she said. ‘‘People were hanged, fed to the lions for their beliefs, so this is just a modern-day evolution of what happens when something new comes into our culture.’’
It’s a long way from bubbly Dharma Montgomery, and you can’t help but think her outspoken views may have stalled her Hollywood career. A guest spot as a cheerleading coach on the fourth season premiere of My Name is Earl is her only recent credit.
Elfman says she was introduced to scientology through husband Bodhi Elfman, and the birth of her child, Story Elias, last year only strengthened her convictions.
Surely she must realise that constantly promoting scientology is affecting her career? For instance, as soon as Tom Cruise began openly expounding scientology (who can forget his misguided attack on actor Brooke Shields), his box-office appeal plummeted.
‘‘I would hope people wouldn’t look at a Jewish person differently — we went through that already,’’ Elfman says, rejecting the notion that TV and movie producers have shied away from her because of her outspoken beliefs.
IN THE past two years, Elfman has concentrated on human rights causes through scientology- affiliated groups Youth for Human Rights International and Artists for Human Rights.
She is also an activist for the rehabilitation of criminals, has supervised courses for prisoners in life skills and literacy, and travelled to Washington to lobby for criminal reform.
‘‘I’ve had a hand in helping criminals reform their lives and it is so rewarding to me,’’ she says.
But doesn’t comedy help people as well? Surely we need a laugh more than ever as concerns about the economy, climate change and the war and terrorism overwhelm society?
‘‘Definitely. If people have a rough day and if I can bring some relief to them through Dharma & Greg, help them get up the next morning, that makes me happy,’’ she says.
Speaking out: Jenna Elfman is not shy about her scientology beliefs.