In 1991, as his marriage to Gettas was crumbling, Haggis went to a Fourth of July party at the home of Scientologist friends. Deborah Rennard, who played J.R.’s alluring secretary on “Dallas,” was at the party. Rennard had grown up in a Scientology household and joined the church herself at the age of seventeen. In her early twenties, she studied acting at the Beverly Hills Playhouse and fell in love with Milton Katselas. They had recently broken up, after a six-year romance.
“When I first met Paul, he said he was having a ‘crisis of faith,’ ” Rennard told me. “He said he’d raced up to the top of the Bridge on faith, but he hadn’t gotten what he expected.” Haggis admitted to her, “I don’t believe I’m a spiritual being. I actually am what you see.” They became a couple, and married in June, 1997, immediately after Haggis’s divorce from Gettas became final. A son, James, was born the following year.
Rennard, concerned about her husband’s spiritual doubts, suggested that he do some more study. She was having breakthroughs that sometimes led her to discover past lives. “There were images, feelings, and thoughts that I suddenly realized, That’s not here. I’m not in my body, I’m in another place,” she told me. For instance, she might be examining what the church calls a “contra-survival” action—“like the time I clobbered Paul or threw something at him. And I’d look for an earlier similar. Suddenly, I’d realize I was doing something negative, and I’d be in England in the eighteen-hundreds. I’d see myself harming this person. It was a fleeting glimpse at what I was doing then.” Examining these moments helped the emotional charge dissipate. “Paul would say, ‘Don’t you think you’re making this up?’ ” She wondered if that mattered. “If it changed me for the better, who cares?” she says. “When you are working on a scene as an actor, something similar happens. You get connected to a feeling from who knows where.”
Haggis and Rennard shared a house in Santa Monica, which soon became a hub for progressive political fund-raisers. Haggis lent his name to nearly any cause that espoused peace and justice: the Earth Communications Office, the Hollywood Education and Literacy Project, the Center for the Advancement of Non-Violence. Despite his growing disillusionment with Scientology, he also raised a significant amount of money for it, and made sizable donations himself, appearing frequently on an honor roll of top contributors. The Church of Scientology had recently gained tax-exempt status as a religious institution, making donations, as well as the cost of auditing, tax-deductible. (Church members had lodged more than two thousand lawsuits against the Internal Revenue Service, ensnaring the agency in litigation. As part of the settlement, the church agreed to drop its legal campaign.)
Over the years, Haggis estimates, he spent more than a hundred thousand dollars on courses and auditing, and three hundred thousand dollars on various Scientology initiatives. Rennard says that she spent about a hundred and fifty thousand dollars on coursework. Haggis recalls that the demands for donations never seemed to stop. “They used friends and any kind of pressure they could apply,” he says. “I gave them money just to keep them from calling and hounding me.”