6:45am PT by Chris Gardner
On Set With Louise Linton: Inside Her "Homicidal Sociopath" Character, Three-Way Sex Scene in New Film
Louise Linton is clutching a knife.
It's long and so sharp that she's calling it a "real kuh-nife," a pronunciation that sticks the landing thanks to her unmistakable Scottish accent. The tip is pointed toward her yellow Alexandre Vauthier stilettos, which are planted on the concrete floor of Popsicle Studios, a warehouse space three miles south of L.A.'s 10 Freeway, next to a scrap metal shop and around the corner from discount grocery chain Food-4-Less.
It's just after 2 p.m. and Linton delivers a commanding "Action!" to the dozen crewmembers gathered inside on this humid Monday in July, when Popsicle's ceiling is lit up by pink, purple and white neon, shining down on eight luxury cars. She struts out from behind a Maserati and makes her way toward a icy blue Lamborghini to hunt down actor Ed Westwick, her co-star and "co-pilot" on the independent feature Me, You, Madness.
Linton, wife of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, wrote the script, is producing through her company, Stormchaser Films, and makes her directorial debut on the campy, '80s-inspired serial killer romp. She's aware that the image she's most closely associated with is the one from 2017 — that infamous snapshot of her alongside her Washington, D.C.-based husband clutching a fresh sheet of George Washingtons at the U.S. Mint — but she’s ready to change the narrative.
"This movie is really designed to be a feast for the eyes and to make people laugh. I took the opportunity to play on my reputation — which is completely off-base — by making my character a self-absorbed, narcissistic, homicidal sociopath," she tells The Hollywood Reporter. "She's completely and utterly uninhibited, and I like that, because in my life, I do feel inhibited because of politics. What I really wish people would understand is that I'm not a politician. I am a filmmaker. I have nothing to do with politics. I'm not a Democrat and I'm not a Republican, and I'm not interested, really, in politics."
Her character, Catherine Black, is interested in killing Westwick's Tyler Jones, and that's the storyline for this particular shoot. They're nearing the end of a physical cat-and-mouse game which, on this day, is playing itself out in this makeshift garage. The actors' faces are battered and bloody with movie makeup on the second-to-last day of filming on a project that experienced a major setback when the Woolsey Fire ripped through its first Malibu location, delaying production for months. Linton is almost giddy that the finish line is finally in sight, and she's also forthcoming about the tough lessons she's learned along the way about how to command a set, call the shots and turn in a convincing performance — all the while dripping in diamonds and couture.
"That's a lovely shot — just lovely," Linton announces to her DP after they get a shot of Westwick investigating Catherine's surprise collection of sports memorabilia. "Do a static slow zoom so we know for sure that these are Kobe Bryant's sneakers. So that we really drive it home."
"Marvelous! Excellent! Super!" she exclaims, before offering a deadpan chaser. "Making movies is quite tedious, especially in these shoes."
Westwick has walked the distance with Linton, and says he's been impressed. "Louise is doing a great job as a first-time director. It has been a very different experience for me in terms of my involvement. It's been such a collaboration, and I've been asked for my input on things. It feels like a real team effort."
Moments later, the team has broken for lunch, giving Linton a chance to sit down in a white leather office chair for an interview about all things Me, You, Madness. No subject was off limits — even the three-way sex scene. ("Very tastefully done, but you know, no nudity.")
It’s your final day of production, how are you feeling? What’s left?
Actually, we do have one more day of just aerials. This is our second-to-last day, so, you can call it our martini day if you will. This was a scene that I wrote after I saw the final assembly and I saw there was an opportunity to put in one more scene that would actually give more thrust and crescendo to the end of the movie and add a ton of production value. So, I think that the movie definitely has a look of a much, much bigger-budget movie than what we really had. And I was inspired to write the scene because I saw this space. Thematically, stylistically and aesthetically it goes with the rest of the film. So much of the movie is an homage to the '80s; the characters love the '80s, a lot of the colors are very '80s; and I've used a lot of neon signage and neon throughout the film because I love it.
Are you a car person?
I mean, I appreciate them, I don't drive any of these fantastic motors, I'm pretty sure I'd be slayed if I drove a really fancy car. "There she goes, Louise Linton with her fancy gloves and fancy car," you know.
It’s a lot of pressure not only to star in a movie and have that movie on your shoulders, but even more so be it one you wrote and call every shot on. What has the experience been like?
I found the acting portion to be absolutely fine. I sort of slipped into this character very comfortably. However, I found directing while being on camera extremely challenging. From time to time, I really have to rely on someone else who's behind the monitor. It’s a lot running back and forth. We shot this movie in three segments. We started in November, and then we were shut down by the Woolsey fires. [At the time] we didn't know if our location was burned to the ground or not. In our evacuation, we left expensive equipment in the house. It was a very stressful month where we didn't know if we'd lost space for the rest of the film. We waited until March, because that's when finally everything in Malibu was open again and there was a bit of foliage growing back so there'd be some level of continuity. So that gave me a great opportunity between November and March to look at the footage that we got and learn some lessons and see some mistakes and errors I've made. One of those mistakes was not being behind the monitor enough and trusting too much that the team was really getting it the way I wanted. When you're directing, you do have a very specific look and pacing, and if you're not behind the monitor and you're not reviewing, yeah, you end up really regretting it.
Would you do it again?
I don't think that I would like to star in anything that I direct again. I would do it if I had enough prep time and possibly a co-director or a director's assistant. But, it's a unique challenge because you're trying to remember your lines at the same time remembering your shot list. If you're not hands-on in every aspect, then things happen and you're in post like, “Wait a minute, how did that happen? How am I going to fix that bloody mess?” It’s been a really steep learning curve as a director.
You slipped into this character very easily you said because you wrote it, but tell me who she is?
Catherine — with a "C" as my homage to Catherine Tramell, played by Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct — is completely and utterly uninhibited. I like that, because in my life, I do feel inhibited because of politics, I guess, and what I really wish people would understand is that I'm not a politician. I am a filmmaker. I have nothing to do with politics. I'm not a Democrat and I'm not a Republican. I'm a filmmaker and I'm not interested, really, in politics. I don't really want it to be associated with the stuff that's going on politically. However, Catherine is uninhibited in the most beautifully freeing way, in a way I've never seen a character in film. This film is a very aesthetic film, it's very stylistic, it is about money, it's about cars, it's about sex — she's sexually uninhibited.
Are there sex scenes?
Yes, yeah. Very tastefully done, no nudity. And, yeah, there's a threesome …
With your character?
Oh, yeah. With my girlfriend, who is played by Shuya Chang, and Ed Westwick.
So, before you try to kill him you have sex with him?
Definitely. He says, "Why didn't you just kill me? Why have sex with me? Was that just some twisted preamble?" And she's like, "No, I think you're very sexy." I mean, why put that twice — she's like, "No, I think you're sexy. Oh, yeah, dead sexy." We break the fourth wall a lot. And it's got a lot of fight sequence elements like Mr. and Mrs. Smith. And stylistically, it's got a bit of Tron. We have a massive, throbbing soundtrack with so many of the real songs from the '80s that are really anthems of that decade.
Can you name any of the songs?
We have "I'm So Excited" by The Pointer Sisters. In some ways, the movie's an action movie, and in some ways it's really just an outlandish, farcical comedy. In some ways, it's a rom-com because there is a lot of romance in it. At other times it's musical because we all have our musical moments when Shuya Chang's character arrives. She enters the house and has sort of like her own music video moment if you will. We’ve also got "Let's Hear It for the Boys" by Deniece Williams. This movie is really designed to be a feast for the eyes and to make people laugh. I took the opportunity to play on my reputation — which is completely off-base — by making my character a self-absorbed, narcissistic, homicidal socio-path. And it's kind of funny.
But it ends with a message about love?
Through falling in love with Tyler, we see a complete 180 in transformation of the character from her attire, to her manner, to her attitude. Suddenly, it's about love and family and there is a big message in there. At the end of the film, there's some really sweet [scenes] and we see what happens in their future.
Yeah. I think it will make people feel warm and happy and [provide] that warmth and joy you get at the end of every John Hughes movie. It's somewhere between that painful sentiment where you feel so nostalgic but also it's bitter-sweet because the movie's ending. It’s so cute. It's cuteness.
Where do you see the film going? The festival circuit?
Tell me your hopes for the future of this film?
Our intention is to submit to pretty much all [festivals]. If there's any accolades this movie could get, my dream is that it would be audience choice because I hope that they laugh a lot. It's a wacky comedy. And then, I'd hope, obviously, that it would be picked up by a distributor. I have no idea of what to expect or who exactly is going to distribute it. I know the first thing that I'm going to do is to show it to people in the business who I respect very much and who are friends of mine. I have friends that runs studios and friends who are willing to take a look and give me their opinion. One of the great challenges I'm facing is trying to keep the movie below two hours. Apparently, if you go over two hours, the distributors run for the hills.
What message do you hope this movie sends out about Storm Chaser and what your mission is as a company?
I would love for us to be like a mostly female Blumhouse. I love the way Jason Blum has set up his company. I love that he keeps budgets within a certain range and that he produces multiple pictures per year. I personally am in love with this genre and I've just written my next script, which is in a similar genre.
Called Celebrity, right?
I think I'm changing the name to Slay. It’s all about slaying and I hope that it's also very stylistic but very different from this film. I see it being much more Gotham, Sin City, very '90s soundtrack, hopefully, Beastie Boys, Nine Inch Nails, I definitely don't want to star in that one. I want to find the perfect actress to play the role. It's a really kick-ass role.
And you can just direct?
Yes, I'd like to really focus on the next one being behind the camera and in that way, I don't have to wear high heels ever again.
You mentioned John Hughes. What directors are you inspired by?
I adore Tim Burton, Wes Anderson. I love directors who really put a thumbprint on their film so when you watch the film, you know. One of my favorites is [Quentin] Tarantino. I'm doing a Tarantino marathon at the moment, partly to inform my next film, which is a revenge film. Tarantino does revenge so well and he empowers women and does martial arts fight sequences so well. My next film, I want car chases, helicopters, the whole shebang — a real action movie. I also love Christopher Nolan, Sofia Coppola, Kathryn Bigelow. Back to your question, what does Stormchaser want to do? We have multiple projects, over a dozen. We have a book called Confessions of a Master Jewel Thief, which is a true story of America's greatest-ever jewelry thief. I'm very excited about it, I've been tracking that book for 11 years. We have another TV show in development called Herbs. We have a documentary that we just completed, which is about the oldest living drag queen in America, Walter Cole. It’s a serious, emotional documentary. And then, we have a beautiful drama about a pioneer woman that I would love to play. It’s set in the 1880s about a young woman whose entire family dies of typhoid. She attempts to survive the brutally cold winter and travel to a military post 80 miles away. There’s no dialogue, she gets chased by wolves, she encounters a female cougar, there's buffalo stampedes. It's a role that I can really get my teeth into. I want the company to be seen as having a strong sense of itself. We have a great time working together. We don't take ourselves seriously. We're like this fabulous little family, we love working together. I love my job, love the people I work with. I wake in the morning, and it's not work, it's like these are my best friends. And we have a great time.
A version of this story first appeared in the July 31 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.