Steven Mnuchin and Louise Linton.
Steven Mnuchin and Louise Linton.
Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Mrs. Mnuchin, Hollywood Player? Louise Linton Plots Film Career Amid Capitol Hill Scrutiny

by Kim Masters
April 03, 2019, 12:00pm PDT

The U.S. Treasury Secretary's spouse is trying to remake her image as an entitled Washington wife and focus on her aspirations as an actress and producer. But Congress still has questions about her husband's remaining ties to entertainment and her role in his controversial assets: "I will not be deterred, and I will not bend to others' whims."

In the mid-2000s, a convicted drug dealer named Will Wright contacted a group of producers who were trying their luck with independent films. Then in his late 20s, Wright had no film or TV credits to his name, and, as he did not manage to stay on the sunny side of the law, he has had none since.

But he had $5 million that he wanted to use to finance a horror movie. When that film, The Echo, was about to go into production, say multiple sources — including the film's director — Wright made an offer: The budget could be augmented by about $50,000 if there was a role for actress Louise Linton, now the wife of U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

Director Yam Laranas says he urgently wanted more money to shoot exteriors in New York, so he reluctantly cast Linton in the small part of a friend of the college-aged protagonist. "She looked like someone who'd been away from college for probably a few years," he says of Linton, now 38. Laranas says he doesn't know who was supplying the money.

A source close to Linton says Wright was a friend of her first husband, Beverly Hills criminal defense attorney Ronald Richards, and that such associations were among the reasons Linton ended that marriage. (Wed in 2006, the two divorced in 2009, though she has said they remain friendly.) This person did not address the question of who paid for Linton to secure a role. Richards did not respond to a request for comment.

The Echo never had a theatrical release. Three years after it wrapped, Wright was arrested in Mexico and sentenced to 13-plus years in prison for his role as head of a drug-smuggling and money-laundering ring that imported cocaine and marijuana, shipping the goods from L.A. to New York packed in luxury cars. (His attorney, Jeffrey Lichtman, recently represented Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzmán.)

Contacted by letter at the Woodbourne Correctional Facility in New York, Wright did not respond to questions about Linton's casting in The Echo, though he wrote, "I would be shocked if a hundred people have paid to view" the film, which is available on demand.

***

Louise Linton to some degree has become a household name — though not, as she long had hoped, for her acting. Instead it has been as the wife of the Treasury secretary that she became more infamous than famous thanks to early missteps after Trump became president. Most notable, perhaps, was her August 2017 social media post tagged with the names of designers she was wearing when she and her husband traveled to Fort Knox. "Mnuchin's Wife Goes Full Marie Antoinette," Vanity Fair declared.

The following month, Linton, in elbow-length black gloves, posed with her husband at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, holding a sheet of freshly printed dollar bills. The photo went viral.

Now Linton has been drawn into a completely different controversy as several members of the House of Representatives and a Democratic senator are demanding Mnuchin answer questions regarding possible conflicts of interest due to his business interests in Hollywood as well as ethically mandated divestitures of those assets after he joined the Trump administration. Linton's role is under scrutiny, as she owns or held positions in some of Mnuchin's entertainment businesses and continues to pursue opportunities in film.

At a March 14 Senate hearing, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) asked Mnuchin specifically about his interest in Stormchaser Partners, a production company Linton co-founded with her husband in 2015. "What we have wondered is if there has been an exchange of an asset for a loan rather than a divestment," Wyden said then. He noted that the Office of Government Ethics has yet to certify Mnuchin's ethics disclosure form despite a review that has lasted more than eight months.

Linton's role as Mnuchin's wife — and sometime business partner — has exposed her to the type of attention that she does not relish. "As a result of my husband's position, there is newfound media attention to my every move," Linton tells THR in a statement. (She declined an interview.) "I did not imagine this level of scrutiny, but I understand it is now part of my life. What is frustrating is to have others question my motivation, my ethics and my history. What I will say is this, I am proud of my life, my career, my work and my husband."

Linton could hardly have anticipated that she would be the subject of such questions in Washington, D.C., when she came to Los Angeles at 19, an ambitious young woman from Scotland hoping to make it big as an actress. She also was bent on self-improvement — taking law classes, obtaining a pilot's license and, along the way, sometimes padding her résumé or outright embellishing it. She never landed a big role in a big movie, but she became friendly with influential men, including Jack Nicholson and Russell Crowe.

She and Mnuchin have said they met at a wedding, but a source close to Linton confirms that they met in 2013 at a party thrown by media investor Michael Lambert, who for many years was notorious for his wild gatherings. (Lambert was part of an investor group that, in the 1990s, turned ownership of one TV station in Russia into a national network; that business was sold to oligarch Vladimir Potanin in 2006. Lambert also invested in Village Roadshow Pictures, which co-financed Warner Bros. films alongside Mnuchin and his partners in RatPac-Dune Entertainment.)

When Linton and Mnuchin met, the future Treasury secretary was an important film financier and the still-married father of three. His film investment company, Dune Entertainment, was teaming up in a major deal with RatPac Entertainment, a company founded by filmmaker Brett Ratner and Australian billionaire James Packer. The RatPac-Dune partnership struck a $450 million agreement to co-finance the Warners movie slate. Through RatPac-Dune, Mnuchin invested in such Warner Bros. films as Steven Spielberg's Ready Player One, It and Annabelle: Creation.

An associate says Linton and Mnuchin did not start dating for several months after their first encounter. (Mnuchin divorced his second wife, Heather, in 2014.) The two celebrated their engagement in November 2015 with a caviar-and-champagne party in a ballroom at the Beverly Hills Hotel. A few months later, in April 2016, Trump invited Mnuchin — a Goldman Sachs veteran whom he had known for 15 years — to be national finance chairman of his campaign. Months later, Linton's relationship had landed her in Washington and in the turmoil of the Trump administration.

Linton is spending more time in L.A. these days, focusing once again on her aspirations in the movie business. She's working to complete a dark comedy called Me, You, Madness, which she wrote, directed and produced. At this point, the film does not have a distributor.

Linton attended Sundance in January in search of projects and partnerships for her company. She didn't post any pictures from the festival's many parties and told THR at the time that she spent her evenings in her Park City condo. "I'm not much of a party girl," Linton said. "I don't think I'm that recognizable. I was really focused on the work."

***

Like many in Hollywood, Linton has an affinity for amassing credits. She has been known to introduce herself as an actress-producer-lawyer. She studied law at the University of West Los Angeles Law School, a for-profit school that is not accredited by the American Bar Association. (Graduates can practice in California if they pass the bar exam, but a source close to Linton, who is not a member of the bar, says she never intended to work as a lawyer but took the classes simply to learn.)

Some articles about Linton posit that she grew up in a Gothic castle in Scotland. In fact, her family bought an 18th century mansion known as Melville Castle in 1993 and operates it as a hotel and event venue. At times Linton has stated perhaps more precisely that she spent time living in the castle as a teenager; she was in her teens by the time her developer father acquired the property.

The castle is something that she has often mentioned to friends and that has become part of her lore. In a flattering 2011 interview in the Scottish magazine The Herald, Linton was asked whether people mistook her for a princess. "There was a rumor to that effect going around my law school, which I quickly nipped in the bud," she replied.

On a short-lived 2003 VH1 reality show, Hopelessly Rich, in which Linton played a version of herself considering a relationship with a man who claimed to be a descendant of William Randolph Hearst, she tells the suitor she'd like a 6-carat diamond ring and informs him, "I have my own castle, too." The show was pulled after real Hearst descendants decried him as an impostor. (Patty Hearst's sister Victoria blew the whistle.)

Associates in Hollywood say Linton projected an aura of wealth even before she married Mnuchin, whose net worth is estimated by Forbes at about $300 million. "She's got gold, jewelry, little dogs and she says 'darling' a lot," says one acquaintance. In one interview, she said she and her former husband were sharing custody of a Chihuahua named De Beers, for the diamond company.

Linton developed an interest in acting as a child. After attending prestigious schools in Scotland, she studied journalism at Pepperdine University in Malibu, graduating at age 24 in 2005.

"I have been very lucky from the moment I went to my first audition, which was for CSI: New York, and I got it," Linton told the Scottish Daily Record in 2010. In that 2007 episode, Linton plays a tutor who — dressed as Marie Antoinette — escorts a 15-year-old heiress to a costume charity event. "I manage to stay alive, although, at one point, I do get very close to the guillotine," she told the Scottish paper. In fact, Linton's character puts her head into a mock guillotine and is dead by the two-and-a-half-minute mark. An associate says she was misquoted. (The heiress was played by a then-unknown Shailene Woodley.)

Ben Press, a former agent who represented Linton for a few years in the late 2000s, says her acting career "in many ways was very much by the numbers as it should be … having her get to know the casting community." Press says Linton went to auditions, "got good feedback and grew as an actress." He adds: "She had an entrepreneurial spirit. She was always looking to build a burgeoning producing career."

For several years, Linton appeared in a string of low-budget films, none of which got wide distribution. She founded Stormchaser Films in 2012 (a separate entity from Stormchaser Partners) and announced ambitious plans in a 2014 press release: The shingle would make two movies a year, financing 30 percent of those projects with the balance coming from other investors.

Linton said the focus would be on horror and thrillers as they presented less risk than other genres and were more marketable overseas. "All of those with a financial stake are expected to see a 120 percent return on their investments," the press released predicted. "I'd be very happy for our portfolio of films to yield double our investment," Linton said.

As her role models in business, Linton named Relativity Media founder Ryan Kavanaugh and Imagine Entertainment co-founder Brian Grazer. By then, Mnuchin's bank, OneWest, where he served as chairman, was loaning Relativity substantial amounts of money. As of October 2014, Mnuchin had become the company's co-chairman even as he served as chairman of OneWest. He and Kavanaugh bought a Falcon 50 jet and went to Cannes together. But in July 2015, Relativity filed for bankruptcy. Kavanaugh was said to blame Mnuchin for pushing his company over the brink by abruptly pulling millions from one or more of its accounts. (Mnuchin had resigned from Relativity a few weeks before the bankruptcy.)

In its 2014 announcement, Stormchaser Films said its inaugural production would be released that year. Intruder, a thriller in which Linton played her first leading role, would premiere in October 2014 and deliver "the minimalism of Paranormal Activity and the cinematic elegance of classic Hitchcock films." But both the schedule and aspirations proved to be elusive.

The film made it to the screen in 2016 thanks to producer Cassian Elwes, who is normally associated with such prestige projects as Lee Daniels' The Butler and Mudbound. Elwes says he met Linton through her producing partner, Tina Sutakanat, who had worked as an assistant to Arthur Sarkissian, producer of Ratner's Rush Hour movies, but had no film credits herself. Elwes says footage from the still-unfinished Intruder, which had a budget of $200,000, convinced him to finance its completion. "I thought it was fun, and I met Louise, and I thought she was terrific in the movie," he says. "On Intruder, she did everything. She produced the movie."

Intruder ultimately had a modest premiere at a Los Angeles theater in June 2016, paid for by Linton's Stormchaser Partners. (A THR critic dismissed the film as "dreary" and knocked director Travis Zariwny for "leeringly photographing his leading lady's naked body in the shower.") After that, Linton had minor roles in what Elwes calls an "experimental" remake of Cabin Fever and another low-budget genre movie, The Midnight Man. "She was very professional, showed up on time and did her part," Elwes says. All three films were distributed by IFC Midnight, a high-volume horror label that operates mostly in the VOD space.

As a producer, Linton continued to work to develop material. Rick Misisco, a retired musician who was a close friend of late Swimfan screenwriter Charles Bohl, says she started talking to Bohl about projects in 2015. Bohl, who died in 2018 of a heart attack at 59, had faced some lean years and hoped that Linton, with her connection to Mnuchin, represented a chance to get a film made. "He went to Louise's house — some monstrosity in Bel Air," Misisco says. "I remember him being floored with that."

Misisco says Linton told Bohl that she might be able to get multi-Oscar winner Nicholson to appear in one of her films. "She just led the guy on," Misisco says of his friend. "Name-dropping all along. She was using him like he was using her."

Eventually, Misisco says, Bohl reproached Linton for overplaying her connection to Nicholson. In a July 2016 email to Bohl, Linton protested that she had made no promises. "As I mentioned, Jack is not accessible by text or email and only has a home phone," she wrote. "He now has a live-in girlfriend, so it's not like I can just pop over there for dinner as I used to. Things have evolved in both our lives."

Asked about Linton's relationship with Nicholson, the actor's longtime rep, Sandy Bresler, told THR in an email: "I know nothing about this subject and Mr. Nicholson is not available to ask and not granting any interviews of any kind." In her email to Bohl, Linton had said Bresler had been her agent "for years … around the time I was closer with Jack." Bresler did not respond to a request for comment on Linton's claim.

***

Even before Linton and Mnuchin married in June 2017 (with Vice President Mike Pence officiating), questions were starting to percolate among Washington Democrats about their Hollywood business associations.

Ratner and Packer — Mnuchin's partners in RatPac-Dune — long have been fodder for the tabloids. In November 2017, Warners severed ties with Ratner in the wake of sexual-misconduct allegations (he denies them); Ratner and Packer also played major roles in the recent sex scandal that led to the exit of Warner Bros. chairman Kevin Tsujihara.

In May 2017, as Mnuchin was divesting business interests in accordance with the ethics requirements of his job at Treasury, Linton was named CEO of his film-finance vehicle, Dune Entertainment. Then Mnuchin's fiancee, Linton announced her new title on Facebook, saying she was "very excited" about the July release of Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk, which RatPac-Dune was helping to finance.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) promptly expressed concern that naming Linton CEO of Dune "undermined" Mnuchin's planned divestment. Treasury responded that Linton was not being paid, had no financial interest in Dune and would step down when Mnuchin finished selling his assets. By the time Dunkirk premiered in July 2017, Linton's role at Dune had ended. Mnuchin disclosed in June 2017 that he had sold his RatPac-Dune stake the previous month, though he did not reveal the buyer. A Treasury spokesman says Dune Entertainment since has been liquidated.

But there were other dealings that interested congressional Democrats. In April 2017, Ukraine-born billionaire Len Blavatnik bought out Packer's interest in RatPac. In January, Treasury lifted sanctions on aluminum giant Rusal and other companies linked to oligarch Oleg Deripaska. Blavatnik is a major investor in Rusal and has been in business with Deripaska.

Later in January, Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) cited Mnuchin's relationship with Blavatnik and said it was "very troubling" that the Treasury secretary did not seek ethics guidance or recuse himself from the sanctions deliberations. In response to press inquiries, a Treasury spokesman said Mnuchin had "no business relationship" with the billionaire, though knows him socially.

Still of interest to Democrats on the Hill: the fate of the Treasury secretary's RatPac-Dune stake. Treasury has said that Mnuchin did not sell it to Linton or to Blavatnik, though he was not obligated to disclose a buyer.

The Center for Public Integrity's Carrie Levine notes that Mnuchin's disclosure shows his brother Alan's trust owes him between $25 million and $50 million; it is unclear where that debt originated. A Treasury spokesman says it is connected to estate planning but declined to rule out Mnuchin's brother as the purchaser of his RatPac-Dune stake (which Mnuchin valued in a preliminary disclosure form at between $5 million and $25 million). "We understand the interest in Blavatnik, we understand the interest in Louise, but we're not going to go down a laundry list," the spokesman says.

Through his company, the New York-based investment bank AGM Partners, Alan Mnuchin handled the January sale of the RatPac-Dune library to Warners for about $290 million and has a history of dealings with Blavatnik.

Wyden and other Democrats still have more questions about Mnuchin's other business in Hollywood. From 2015 to 2017, Mnuchin was chairman of a Delaware LLC called Stormchaser Partners. In her statement to THR, Linton says she and her husband started the company "to produce a limited number of independent films together." (The relationship between Stormchaser Partners and Linton's production shingle Stormchaser Films is unclear, but a Treasury spokesman says Mnuchin never invested in the latter.)

Linton says Mnuchin sold his interest in Stormchaser Partners to her before he joined the administration, and a Treasury spokesman confirms that. But since ethics law treats spousal assets the same as assets owned directly by a government official, the Center for Public Integrity's Levine says Mnuchin would be expected to recuse himself when dealing with any matter that would have a "direct and predictable effect" on Linton's financial interests. It is unclear whether Mnuchin has recused himself on such issues.

Levine also notes that while various disclosures indicate that Mnuchin sold his interest in Stormchaser Partners to Linton for between $1 million and $2 million, disclosures that Levine obtained through a records request reveal that Linton's Stormchaser Partners owes Mnuchin an amount in the same range. "He said he divested these assets, so why does he still have this debt?" Levine asks. "How clean of a divestment is this?"

Though the Office of Government Ethics has yet to certify his disclosure form, Mnuchin has said a career Treasury ethics official signed off on it. (The only other Cabinet-level official whose personal financial disclosure forms have not yet been certified is Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who was found to be not in compliance with his ethics agreement.)

In her statement to THR, Linton says she and her husband "followed ethical guidelines as provided by the U.S. Treasury."

***

Perhaps Linton's most disastrous role from a PR standpoint was as an author. In July 2016 — already in the spotlight thanks to her association with Mnuchin, who was then the Trump campaign's national finance chairman — she faced global controversy after she self-published In Congo's Shadow: One Girl's Perilous Journey to the Heart of Africa. She intended the book about her gap year to be "the inspiring memoir of an intrepid teenager," but her fears that "smirking [Hutu militia men] with deadened eyes would brutalize me before casting me aside like a rag doll" prompted critics to fire off denunciations that went viral with the hashtag #LintonLies. Linton withdrew the book.

A tip-off that still more trouble lay ahead in Washington seemed to come in June 2017 when Town & Country did a photo spread on the jewelry Linton wore to her wedding. Commenting on one diamond-encrusted bracelet, she said: "When I look at Deco jewelry I see the New York skyline — the Chrysler Building. I can hear the dulcet tones of Helen Kane singing in a smoke-filled speakeasy where [F. Scott] Fitzgerald and Zelda are cuddled in a corner." It was not the sort of commentary that sits well in staid D.C.

Two months later came the outcry over her social media post, bristling with hashtags (#hermesscarf, #valentinorockstudheels …) representing the designers she was wearing when she and her husband traveled to Fort Knox. A month after that, her new husband made news for seeking a government jet for the pair on their honeymoon in Scotland, France and Italy — a request that prompted an inquiry from Treasury's Inspector General. Then came the photo of Mnuchin posing with Linton and the sheet of dollar bills.

Linton went on an apology tour of sorts. Referencing her elbow-length gloves in the "money" photo, she told Washingtonian magazine in an April 2018 interview, "I didn't take the bloody gloves off because it was cold! It was a little bit of a chilly day. Whatever. I liked that outfit, OK? Don't be mean to me because I wore a pair of gloves." Linton allowed that she knew she was a "bozo" for the "silly" Instagram post about her designer duds.

But Linton, for a time, kept a lower profile. Then, after an absence of nearly a year, she returned to Instagram in December 2018 with a bio reading, "Actress, writer, director, producer, animal advocate, volunteer."

Long involved with animal-protection causes, Linton made her first post about an abused circus elephant. But even her involvement with that cause made news. The New York Times reported that in January 2018 Linton attended an exclusive dinner in London for the conservation charity Space for Giants, which she had supported. Also on the list of about 50 guests: Blavatnik's associate, the oligarch Deripaska. A Treasury spokesman said Linton was unaware the oligarch was present and did not interact with him.

At this point Linton clearly wants to leave controversy behind, focusing on establishing herself in Hollywood and positioning her company as unhindered by the politics that define the administration in which her husband serves. She stresses that the staff at Stormchaser Films is all female, and she tells THR in a statement, "We celebrate diversity and are committed to creating an inclusive environment for all our employees, both in the office and on our film sets. … We proudly support the Creative Coalition, Women in Film and many other nonprofit organizations that reflect our values."

Though she has faced scrutiny she never wanted, Linton continues: "I will not be deterred, and I will not bend to others' whims, and through it all, I remain deeply grateful for the ability to work with so many talented creatives and do what I love and make films that tell stories that touch and reflect our shared humanity."

Tatiana Siegel and Alex Ritman contributed to this report.

This story first appeared in the April 3 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.