Six years ago, Allison Mack sat on a purple rug filming a segment for her YouTube channel. Bubbly and earnest, she answered fans’ questions with delight.
The “most awesomest” gift she’s ever received? A colorful scarf knitted by a friend. “But really it’s a hug made out of yarn,” Ms. Mack said.
As charming and innocuous as she appeared, Ms. Mack was entranced by an organization that promoted itself as a mentorship program but was on the brink of devolving into a so-called sex cult. Ms. Mack herself would later be accused of recruiting women as “slaves” for the group, Nxivm, branding them and demanding “collateral” of explicit photos and videos.
In April, the 36-year-old actress pleaded guilty to racketeering and racketeering conspiracy and faces up to 20 years in prison. She may be called to take the witness stand in the coming weeks in the trial of Nxivm’s leader, Keith Raniere.
Four other women have also pleaded guilty, and trial testimony has begun to reveal details about Nxivm’s dark inner workings.
Beyond the lurid details of the case is a story of a bright, beloved young woman in Hollywood who longed for enlightenment, but instead became enthralled by the teachings of a twisted leader.
“I joined Nxivm first to find purpose,” she said between sobs during last month’s plea hearing in Brooklyn federal court. “I was lost and I wanted to find a place, a community in which I would feel comfortable.”
She said she was “truly very sorry,” and took responsibility for her actions.
Ms. Mack declined to be interviewed while the trial is proceeding, but interviews with former Nxivm members and those who knew her before she joined the organization outlined her journey from Teen Choice Award winner to convicted member of an apparent sex cult.
Ms. Mack was 18 when she was cast as Clark Kent’s sidekick, Chloe Sullivan, on “Smallville,” an addictive TV series about young Superman, which ran for 10 seasons.
By then she had been acting for more than a decade, appearing in dozens of television movies and shows, plus a role in the direct-to-video, “Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves.”
“She was just this great kid who seemed happy, mature for her age and very responsible,” said her childhood manager, Diane Hardin.
As she moved into her teens, Ms. Mack was poised but lacked sophistication, needing help with her makeup and style, recalled her former agent, Judy Savage.
“If you saw her, she was kind of an ordinary-looking girl — wasn’t gorgeous or sexy — but could make herself into anything onscreen, and you would be really surprised at her work,” she said.
After high school, Ms. Mack moved from her family’s home in Los Alamitos, Calif., to North Hollywood and had a group of industry friends. She was particularly close to Christine Lakin of “Step by Step,” who recalled a girl who was “hilarious and up for anything.”
But Ms. Lakin and others said that Ms. Mack, the middle of three children, also had a touch of naïveté.
“The only thing I can think of is she so badly wanted to connect to something that she didn’t see the rational side of things,” Ms. Lakin said. “The person that I knew way back when was very curious about the world and relationships. I think she was just constantly searching for something that was missing in her life.”
On “Smallville,” Chloe was the clever-but-grating best friend next to the ethereal dream girl, Lana Lang, played by Kristin Kreuk. Fans were cruel when contrasting the two young women’s looks, and it was not lost on Ms. Mack, who was sensitive to criticism.
Despite the public pitting the two against each other, Ms. Mack and Ms. Kreuk bonded quickly. It was Ms. Kreuk who brought Ms. Mack to her first meeting of Jness, a women’s group under the umbrella of Nxivm (pronounced Nex-ee-um), in 2006.
The weekend seminar was held in a Vancouver hotel where Ms. Mack seemed to bask in the attention from Nancy Salzman, who co-founded Nxivm with Mr. Raniere. Ms. Salzman was teaching a workshop and spoke about how men are genetically polyamorous, said Susan Dones, the owner of a Nxivm center who was there that day, though she had begun to question Mr. Raniere’s motives.
By the end of the seminar, Ms. Mack had grown close to Ms. Salzman and her daughter, Lauren, and was excited when Sara Bronfman, an heir to the Seagram’s liquor fortune, offered her a ride on her private jet to meet Mr. Raniere in Albany.
Ms. Dones, who left the group in 2009, recalled thinking, “Oh my god, they’ve gotten their claws into her.”
Nxivm courses were said to help eliminate psychological and emotional barriers, and Ms. Mack saw them as a way to enhance her relationships and acting abilities, said Barbara Bouchey, a former girlfriend of Mr. Raniere’s who served on Nxivm’s executive board before leaving in 2009.
She was also eager to help and soon hosted, along with Ms. Kreuk, a Nxivm a cappella concert, said Frank Parlato, a former publicist for the organization. Mr. Parlato, who now runs several websites devoted to exposing Nxivm’s underbelly, was struck by Ms. Mack’s near-religious fervor for the organization.
Ms. Mack tended to throw herself wholeheartedly into experiences, a habit she said she developed at a young age when she watched her mother battle and beat cancer.
“I am insatiable. Greedy, in a way. I live with voracity and intensity … voracitensity,” she wrote on her now defunct website.
By 2007, she was insisting that anyone she hired enroll in Nxivm classes, wanting to make sure her team had the same ethical foundation. She also turned increasingly inward, obsessing over defects in her character, said a woman who worked for Ms. Mack for eight years who asked not to be named for fear of being contacted by current Nxivm members.
“One of the insidious things that the cult does is it breaks everyone down where you’re only focused on your flaws,” said the employee, who left Nxivm around 2013.
Ms. Mack also began to lose friends.
Among them was Frank Martorana, a confidant for years.
“She just went from being an amazing, wonderful friend to being someone who was brainwashed, and I didn’t know how to get her back,” Mr. Martorana said.
The friendship deteriorated when Ms. Mack invited him to a Nxivm recruiting event at a Los Angeles mansion overlooking the ocean.
“It was honestly the most pressure I’ve ever felt in my life,” Mr. Martorana said. “I could see how she could get lost in that current.”
After “Smallville” ended in 2011, Ms. Mack moved to Brooklyn where she packed her apartment with paintings and books and listened to jazz. She yearned to reinvent herself.
She bought a home in Clifton Park, N.Y., a suburban upstate town where many Nxivm members had flocked, including Mr. Raniere, who was referred to as “Vanguard.” Members took walks around the neighborhood and met up for late-night volleyball matches. Ms. Mack joined their a cappella group, Simply Human.
Her social media pages became collages of nature photos and inspirational quotes, and she reached out to high-profile potential members on Twitter, including the actress Emma Watson and the singer Kelly Clarkson.
Around 2013, Ms. Kreuk left Nxivm and maintained only “minimum contact” with those still involved, according to a statement she posted last year on Twitter. Her manager did not respond to requests for comment.
But Ms. Mack ventured even deeper into the organization’s philosophies. In 2014, she was helping to start a media website for Nxivm that promised to strip news of its spin.
A year later, prosecutors said, a secret society formed within Nxivm called D.O.S. — an acronym for a Latin phrase meaning “Lord/Master of the Obedient Female Companions” — where women were “slaves” overseen by “masters” and ordered to have sexual relations with Mr. Raniere.
Ms. Mack is said by prosecutors to have targeted vulnerable women under the guise of female empowerment, starving them until they fit Mr. Raniere’s sexual ideal and threatening them with the release of collected “collateral.”
Although Ms. Mack married Nicki Clyne, a fellow Nxivm member and actress who appeared in “Battlestar Galactica,” in 2017, she appeared to be infatuated and romantically involved with Mr. Raniere, former members of the organization said.
But Mr. Raniere, who is on trial on charges including sex trafficking and coercing an underage girl to engage in sexually explicit conduct, now stands alone.
When Ms. Mack appeared in court in April to plead guilty, she wore a camel-colored mock turtleneck and tired eyes.
Her small voice wobbled as she spoke. She apologized. She wept.
“I believed that Keith Raniere’s intentions were to help people, and that my adherence to his system of beliefs would help empower others and help them,” she said. “I was wrong.”
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