Inside Leah Remini And Kevin James' Real-Life Relationship

Actors Leah Remini and Kevin James became household names and sitcom legends thanks to their unimpeachable performances in the hit series "The King of Queens." The show made its small screen debut on CBS in 1998 and ran for a whopping nine seasons. Since then, Remini and James continue to stay busy. (And thanks to the seemingly endless stream of reruns, "The King of Queens" continues to stay on our TV screens.)

After "The King of Queens" wrapped once and for all, Remini became a cohost on "The Talk" and starred alongside her best friend, Jennifer Lopez, in the comedy "Second Act." Following her departure from the Church of Scientology, Remini also launched her own docuseries, "Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath," where she speaks with fellow former members of the church. The series has gone on to earn multiple Emmy nods and two wins. As for James, the Long Island native went on to star in several hit films, including the "Paul Blart: Mall Cop" franchise, "You Don't Mess with the Zohan," the "Hotel Transylvania" films, "Zookeeper," and "Here Comes the Boom." And years after his Emmy-nominated performance on "The King of Queens," James returned to episodic television with the sitcom "Kevin Can Wait." Remini also signed on to join the show's cast during its sophomore season.

Since then, Remini and James have yet to announce any new projects together. Behind the scenes, however, these two stars share a friendship that has endured for decades.

Leah Remini and Kevin James had instant chemistry

Prior to "The King of Queens," Leah Remini was already finding some success in television, having booked guest roles in "Friends," "Cheers," "Saved by the Bell," and "Diagnosis Murder." She also joined the cast of the short-lived NBC comedy "Fired Up." The network axed the show after just two seasons and Remini was devastated. Around this time, Les Moonves, then the president of CBS, reached out to her agent and suggested she audition for "The King of Queens."

Series star Kevin James, who also wrote and executive produced the sitcom, had already met with several potential Carrie Heffernans before but no one seemed right. And then, Remini showed up. However, as he remembers it, his future co-star supposedly did not seem too enthusiastic about auditioning for the role. "I remember you coming in and being a little like, ugh, but having to do it, " James told Remini during the show's online reunion for charity (and as a tribute to the late Jerry Stiller) in 2021.

That was also when he decided to deliver his best pitch. "You immediately started making fun of me, going, 'I'm sorry, were you busy collecting unemployment? I'm sorry, did we interrupt all that to offer you a job?'" Remini recalled during the reunion. This playful banter won Remini over right away. As she said on "Oprah: Where Are They Now?", she knew in that moment that she wanted to work with James. 

They argued like a real-life couple behind the scenes

"The King of Queens" may have been a comedy but it wasn't always fun and jokes behind the scenes. As Leah Remini and Kevin James played wife and husband Carrie and Doug Heffernan on screen, they also bickered like a married couple on the set. Fortunately, their spats never were too serious, and their friendship always remained intact.

Remini knew that she and James were bound to have some disagreements given how much time they spent together, but at the end of the day, their strong foundation won. "That's because we loved each other. You know, if you don't care about somebody, you don't even bother to fight with them," Remini once explained while appearing on "Oprah: Where Are They Now?" Remini even recalled a time when she and James would argue over trivial stuff right before doing intimate scenes. As a result, Remini and James would kiss on camera but avoid eye contact.

In a 2007 chat with TV Guide, Remini waxed nostalgic about their behind-the-scenes quarreling. "There have been shows where Kevin and I weren't talking, which actually makes me laugh out loud when I see them," she said. "When you work with somebody for nine years, you're bound to get on each other's nerves. But we still love each other."

Kevin James attended Leah Remini's wedding

Kevin James and Leah Remini may have played a married couple on "The King of Queens" for nearly a decade, but in real life, Remini is loved up with singer/actor Angelo Pagán. The two met in a Cuban restaurant in Los Angeles in 1996. When Remini The two connected immediately and began dating soon after they first crossed paths. After Pagán proposed to Remini on Christmas Eve 2002, the couple tied the knot in July 2003 at the Four Seasons Hotel in Las Vegas. And of course, James attended the ceremony. "It was outdoors at night and still 110°," the actor recalled to People. He later quipped, "The best part was toweling off."

Not long after the couple got married, Remini also learned that she was pregnant with their first child. At that time, however, the show had already decided that the character of Carrie Heffernan could not ever be pregnant because it might affect the show's syndication prospects. As a result, James and the rest of the team had to figure out a way to accommodate Remini's growing baby bump on the show. (In the end, they came up with a storyline where Carrie stays home and eats a lot after she loses her job.) Remini and Pagán later welcomed their daughter, Sofia, in 2004. As for Carrie, she eventually lands a new job toward the end of Season 6.

Kevin James' decision to end The King of Queens devastated Leah Remini

With the success of "The King of Queens," it's easy to think that the sitcom could have kept going for at least a few seasons more. Many fans certainly didn't want to see the show go when it did, but Kevin James had already made up his mind. As he continued working on the series, the actor also started venturing into films more frequently, landing roles in box office hits such as "50 First Dates," "Hitch," and "I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry." By this time, James also knew that he wanted to focus on movies, and he couldn't do that if he was still busy with "The King of Queens."

Something had to give, and that was when Leah Remini knew that their beloved sitcom had to end. "Kevin loved the show, but his film career was taking off and he didn't want it to end up being the show that trickled off," she told BuzzFeed. And while she supported his decision, Remini also admitted she was utterly devastated, so much so that she had a hard time watching the show herself. "I can't really watch the reruns because I still feel that show in my bones," Remini explained.

Remini never hid the fact that she wasn't ready to say goodbye. Before the series finale aired in 2007, she admitted to TV Guide that the heartbreak had already set in. "It's a cliché, but you just don't know what you have until it's gone," she said.

Leah Remini said she refused to ask Kevin James to join Scientology

By the time Leah Remini started working with Kevin James on "The King of Queens," she had known Scientology for most of her life. The veteran actor joined the church way back in 1979. The organization boasts a number of high-profile members, such as Tom Cruise, John Travolta, Elisabeth Moss, Erika Christensen, Giovanni Ribisi, and now-disgraced actor Danny Masterson. Remini alleged that the church also wanted James, only she refused to make it happen.

During her time on "The King of Queens," Remini claimed that the Church of Scientology spoke to her about having her co-star become a member. "They always tried to get me to, [asking] 'Why is he not in? Why have you not promoted it to him?'" she told People in 2017. "I was like, 'Because he's Catholic. He doesn't want anything to do with it.'" In a 2016 interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Remini also made it clear that she never even brought up the subject to James.

The Church of Scientology denied Remini's claim regarding her co-star. In a statement to People, the organization said, "We have nothing to do with Kevin James and never attempted to 'recruit' him to the Church." The church also claimed that "The King of Queens" star disclosed that she was having problems with the actor. "Remini would repeatedly tell the Church that he was a bully," their statement further claimed.

Kevin James was supportive when Leah Remini left Scientology

In 2013, Leah Remini and her husband, Angelo Pagán, made the decision to part ways with the Church of Scientology. Reports have claimed that the fallout between the TV star and the church began when Remini questioned the organization's practice of excommunicating members. She also allegedly angered Scientology leader David Miscavige after she asked him about the absence of his wife, Shelly Miscavige, at the 2006 wedding of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes. Since then, Remini has also come forward with other accusations against the church, later suing David Miscavige and the organization for defamation, harassment, and unlawful conduct.

Despite everything she has experienced since leaving Scientology, Remini has refused to back down. And while she couldn't communicate with friends who were still members of the church any longer, she was surrounded by people who had her back. Kevin James was one of them. In her book, "Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology," Remini recalled James reaching out to her after hearing what happened. "How's your family? Are you guys all intact?" the actor asked. "He said he was proud of me, that we were brave, and told me whatever I needed he was there," Remini further wrote.

Kevin James brought Leah Remini to his new sitcom years later

About a decade after he stepped away from "The King of Queens" — and the sitcom world entirely — Kevin James was ready to hop back in the ring. In 2016, "Kevin Can Wait" premiered on CBS. In the scripted comedy, the actor plays a former police officer who is trying to adjust to being at home more following his retirement. The show's first season revolves around James' family dynamic, including his loving relationship with his wife Donna, played by Erinn Hayes.

And while the show was conceived without Leah Remini in mind, James couldn't help but think about bringing her in eventually. "I've always wanted to work with Leah again, but it was never to do the 'King of Queens' again," the actor told Entertainment Weekly. "It's just so great to have someone who literally can finish your sentences." When Remini joined the show, she was introduced as Vanessa Cellucci, a friend of Kevin's who eventually becomes his business partner.

When the show returned for Season 2, Remini also signed on as a regular cast member as Hayes exited (the show killed off her character). This led many to believe that Kevin and Vanessa would eventually hook up in the story, although that never happened. "We're work partners and occasionally I freelance with her and do stuff with that," James clarified in the aforementioned EW interview.

Leah Remini and Kevin James bring out the funny in each other

From the moment Leah Remini and Kevin James started working together on "The King of Queens," it was clear that there was something special going on between them. They may have never been a couple in real life, but the stars had the best onscreen chemistry. And while James has never had any trouble making viewers laugh, some also believe that no one brings it out of him quite like Remini.

Their "Kevin Can Wait" co-star Chris Roach realized this when he watched the two stars reunite on set. "I always heard, 'Oh Kevin and Leah ... the chemistry!' I was like 'Ok, alright.' Then when you see it, you're like 'Oh, okay!'" the actor told Us Weekly. "I don't know what it is. He's very funny as it is, but when you add her to the mix [and] they start playing off each other, it's really incredible."

Unfortunately, however, Remini and James' chemistry wasn't enough to keep "Kevin Can Wait" going for several more seasons. CBS decided to cancel the show after just two seasons, citing ratings decline. The sitcom had been a strong performer for the network when it premiered but once it returned for Season 2 with the casting change (Erinn Hayes was out and Leah Remini was in), a lot of viewers didn't stick around.

The King of Queens co-stars' families are close

Actors Leah Remini and Kevin James have developed a strong bond over the years, and this also extends to their families. For starters, Remini is friends with James' wife, Steffiana de la Cruz. On Instagram, the best-selling author posted a photo she and de la Cruz snapped as they watched James' show in 2018. In the caption, Remini wrote, "@officialkevinjames beautiful wife, Steffiana de la Cruz is as beautiful inside as she is out." De la Cruz sure seems to be a Doug and Carrie fan, too: In 2017, Remini posted a photo she took with James on Instagram and wrote, "This picture was taken by Kevin James' beautiful wife Steffiana who said 'as a wife I am so happy to see my husband reuniting with his wife.'" 

Both de la Cruz and Remini's husband, Angelo Pagán, have also made appearances in "The King of Queens." In the hit sitcom, James' real-life wife appeared as Carrie's (Remini) nail technician Sue. As for Pagán, he appeared on the show as several characters, including Doug's (James) co-worker Rico and the dreamy Dr. Garcia. Later on, de la Cruz and Pagán also joined their spouses on screen in "Kevin Can Wait." In one episode, Pagán appeared as the elusive Anthony who needed to be served with divorce papers. Meanwhile, de la Cruz appeared on the show twice and played different characters.

Leah Remini once said Kevin James 'ruined' her

Throughout her career, Leah Remini has dealt with a lot of onscreen love interests. For instance, in the TV Land comedy "The Exes," she almost hooks up with "Clueless" star Donald Faison. Meanwhile, in the comedy "Handsome: A Netflix Mystery Movie," Remini plays the accordion-playing wife of co-star Eddie Pepitone.

Looking back at all her scripted romances though, she still believes that no one could compare to her "The King of Queens" co-star Kevin James. In her book, "Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology," Remini wrote, "He was my first leading man; and despite doing other shows with other leading men, I've never found anyone who could compare favorably to him." She also recalled James being gracious enough to let her deliver the jokes on the show. Remini's experience working alongside him was so positive that she feared no other scene partner could hold a candle. "I had Kevin, who has ruined me for life," she wrote. Remini also praised her longtime co-star for making her feel safe on set. 

In a 2017 chat with the New York Daily News, Remini reflected on how rare it is to have such a strong connection with a coworker. "I've worked with other leading men after Kevin, but there's something very special that you just can't kind of explain when something works with somebody," she said. Talk about a match made in Kevin, er, heaven.