Keep­ing the faith

Jenna Elf­man’s mis­sion­ary zeal con­trasts with the bub­bly char­ac­ter of Dharma, writes Colin Vick­ery

Herald Sun - Switched On - - Front Page -

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.

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