Swaddled in a white terry cloth robe and perched on a director’s chair in the marble-floored powder room of her massive Bel Air mansion (a stone’s throw from Salma Hayek’s), Louise Linton is being administered to by a makeup artist and a hairdresser when the image of her husband, Steve Mnuchin, flashes on the flat-screen TV. On Capitol Hill, Donald Trump’s Treasury secretary is facing a grueling battery of questions about his staunch refusal to cough up the president’s tax returns. Here in Bel Air, Mrs. Mnuchin seems unfazed. She’d much rather talk about her latest film, the one she wrote in two weeks, directed…and stars in.
The 38-year-old actress and producer has appeared in movies and TV shows from CSI to a Lifetime special about Kate Middleton. But she failed to make a dent in America’s collective consciousness until 2017, when she posted a heavily hashtagged Instagram image of herself laden with luxury label callouts (#tomfordsunnies, #hermesscarf, #valentinorockstudheels) and disembarking a government jet.
Had she not been the wife of an administration Cabinet member, the post might have vanished into the ether. Instead her tone-deaf response to a comment provoked an immediate viral backlash. Months later Linton spurred a fresh round of outrage when she was photographed wearing elbow-length leather opera gloves and a matching leather ensemble to a ceremony at the U.S. Mint, where she proudly clutched a freshly printed stack of currency bearing her husband’s signature. The leather getup and seemingly imperious expression she wore inspired 101 million social media posts likening her to Cruella de Vil, the Disney villain with a passion for Dalmatian fur.
Linton insists the stereotype is far from accurate. Born to a wealthy Scottish family, she moved to Los Angeles when she was 18 with the dream of becoming a Hollywood starlet. A not-quite-Cinderella story of riches to riches played out as she earned a journalism degree at Pepperdine University, married and divorced a Beverly Hills criminal defense attorney, and launched her all-woman production company, Stormchaser Films. Her latest project is a campy horror flick about a bisexual hedge-fund CEO who kills men for fun and sport. She is the film’s writer, director, and star.
So who, exactly, is Louise Linton? A Scottish socialite? Hollywood dilettante? Maligned wife of a reviled Cabinet official? It turns out she is all these things and a few more. In person she is far more laid-back and funnier than her public persona. Also surprisingly likable. Her closet, while nearly the size of a studio apartment, is mostly filled with youthful, egalitarian brands: Cotton Citizen, Alice + Olivia, H&M; her floor-to-ceiling shoe shelves display Louboutin red-bottom soles next to $150 heels from Schutz.
Linton and I spoke on three occasions in June. After the first meeting she dispensed with her publicist and talked freely about everything from D.C.’s treacherous ways to her complicated feelings about the Trumps to her fondness for bad ’80s pop music.
She was alternately bubbly, naive, canny, funny, and self-centered, given to earnest soliloquies and melodramatic flourishes. She is unsurprisingly furious about her press coverage and desperate to set the terms of her public persona. At one point, as a heavy downpour enveloped L.A., she rushed upstairs to find a swimsuit and then leaped into the pool in full makeup. Louise Linton knows a photo op when she sees one, and she always likes to make a splash.
Your husband has spent much of the morning dueling with Maxine Waters in Congress. Did you watch any of it?
No. Just a few clips on the news. It’s funny, in the beginning every time Steven was on TV I’d be like [gasps], I’d be videoing it. But now it’s like…Oh, there he is again. I usually change the channel. (Laughs.)
So I guess my first question is: Why are you doing this interview? Most people who have received the kind of press you have would lay low for a couple of years.
I did lay low! I was deeply depressed for a while. But it sucks being perceived as a person that you’re not; it sucks being hated. Most people know me for the gloves or the plane or that awful Instagram post. …Look, I made some rookie mistakes. I understand why people are angry about me getting off that government plane tagging fashion brands. It was a stupid thing to do. I get why everyone rolled their eyes at the opera gloves. But this caricature of me is the opposite of the girl I actually am. I run a business; I have several movies coming out. I can’t hide out for another five years.
What possessed you to wear opera gloves to the Mint?
It was the Bureau of Engraving, darling! (Laughs.) You’ve heard of “cold cash” right? They call it that because it’s kept freezing cold there. I was warned ahead of time so I came prepared. But I certainly didn’t expect to be in any photographs. My mistake was when Steven said, “Hey, honey, this is cool; step in this picture. I didn’t say, “Wait a minute, let me take my gloves off, Steven. I look like a crazy person. I look like Darth Vader!” (Laughs.) …I have the high honor of being the only person who has been compared to Marie Antoinette, Darth Vader, and Cruella de Vil at once.
Your Instagram post sealed your image as an out-of-touch elitist. How soon after you posted it did you realize it was a mistake?
Oh, I regretted it immediately after I posted. But once it’s out there, it’s out. I have apologized ad nauseam: I’ve apologized online. I’ve apologized verbally. I have apologized in every single media interview I’ve done since! I don’t know who else I can apologize to.
Did you ever apologize to that woman you slagged on Instagram?
Believe me I tried! I tried to DM her a personal apology but she had already blocked me. Look, that was bad. I’ve really absorbed the criticism and learned a lot of humility and have grown from all of it. Shit happens; mistakes happen. People grow and move on. That whole Instagram thing happened because I got some bad advice. My advisers at the time were telling me to be glamorous and fashionable. I was looking at actresses I admired, and they all tagged their clothes. I should have realized that what’s good for movie stars doesn’t work for a Cabinet secretary’s wife.
I have the high honor of being the only person who has been compared to Marie Antoinette, Darth Vader, and Cruella de Vil at once.
You’ve spent much of your life wanting to be a movie star, but you’re now famous because of your husband and his politics.
It all happened so fast: I went from regular girl, an actress trying to make it in Hollywood, to a Cabinet spouse in one of the most polarizing administrations ever. It was overwhelming. I love my husband and I wanted to support him, but the transition to Washington has been my hardest experience. I felt very lonely and isolated; I didn’t have any friends there. I never got much guidance. You know that movie The Princess Diaries, where a mentor held her hand saying, “Walk this way. Talk this way. Do this; don’t do that”? Well, I didn’t have anyone like that. No one hands you a guidebook when you get off the plane in D.C. The only people waiting for you are the press.
Couldn’t you seek counsel from Melania Trump or Karen Pence? A PR outfit you could hire?
Nope. Melania and Mrs. Pence were also new in town. And as far as I know, there really isn’t a PR firm for people who suddenly become Cabinet spouses, ya know? The partners of ambassadors and congressional spouses get to go to a training camp! Cabinet spouses get nothing. Being married to someone so high up in government, it surprised me that there was no one there to step in, as I’m sure they do, for the first lady or for Meghan Markle or Kate Middleton! I’m sure the palace gave them meticulous advice about how to adjust to public life.
Has your husband been helpful?
Yes. Very. It made him sad to see to see how much shit I absorbed. He’d much prefer for me to play a much more discreet role, but he also knows that I had a life before him. When I’m down he tells me, “This is just the times we live in. You can’t take it seriously.” The media also say a lot of mean things about him, and somehow he doesn’t take it personally. He’s too focused on dealing with the economy or the Chinese to worry about Instagram.
Did you get lectured by the White House after your early missteps?
No. I think the White House realized how stupid and awful I felt.
What most surprised you about your new life in D.C.?
I don’t think I understood that the new expectations on me were dramatically different from my life before. ’Cause let’s face it—I don’t exactly fit the traditional bill of “Treasury secretary wife.” I’m an actor and a producer! I’m also a different age bracket than most of the other wives. L.A. is uninhibited: You’re encouraged to express yourself; wear what you want, do what you want, and to speak from a very emotionally honest place. D.C. is different. In Washington you have to be much more careful about what you say and do. Especially about what you wear! (Laughs.)
According to the papers you’re not a popular sight at Treasury.
It’s crazy the shit people say. Someone claimed that I walk into the Treasury and yell, “Where is my hubbyyy? Oh, he’s on an important phone call? Get him off!” Bullshit! I would never do that. You can’t just boopity-boop saunter into the Treasury. You need an appointment! There’s security at the gate! It’s so deluded and delusional.
You note that there’s no handbook for people in your position. If you had to write one, what would it say?
Run, don’t walk, straight to the Office of Government Ethics and ask them to take you through their lists of guidelines and rules. There’s thousands of obscure dos and dont’s you need to be aware of. And find someone who understands all the rules for foreign travel. In the beginning I went on trips with Steven, though I always paid for my seat. I no longer go on any government trips at all because the optics are awful.
Tone down your wardrobe. The public has rigorous expectations of you the minute you become the spouse of a Cabinet member. Don’t think that you can go to Washington and dress as an individual. If you want to avoid criticism, you need to be a twin-set-sweater-and-pearls type of girl.
(Laughs.) You don’t really strike me as a twin-set-and-pearls kind of girl.
Well, no! But I do dress much more conservatively now. I try my best to fit in. In L.A. I’m really casual. My usual uniform is this—just a T-shirt and sweats. The level of formality I have to keep up in D.C. can be tiresome.
What’s the best thing about being a Cabinet wife?
You get some wonderful privileges, like flying on an Osprey helicopter. I attended the commissioning of an aircraft carrier. Seeing the White House is really cool and getting to see the money printed (in a scary movie voice) on that fateful glove day! (Laughs.) That’s really cool.
In the middle of all that craziness you got married last June. Was that a good experience for you?
It certainly had its novelties. (Laughs.) If you can put politics aside, getting married by the vice president is…it’s cool. (Laughs.) Having the president attend your wedding, also cool. Going to your wedding in a motorcade is wild. There was this moment when Justice Anthony Kennedy came to offer his congratulations that I thought, “Wow, this is surreal!”
How many people did you invite?
Two hundred maybe? Contrary to popular opinion, I’m not a bridezilla. I’m not a frilly-type girl who cares much about flower napkins. Steven was more concerned about those things than I was.
How did the two of you meet?
At a wedding reception in L.A. I went with some friends of mine and he went with his brother, and we were introduced. I invited him to my animal rescue fund-raiser a month later, and he showed up. But we didn’t start dating for seven months.
He was married at the time, right?
Separated for a long time, over a year. But people report what they want to report.
How long before you realized he was the one?
Our very first date—the first date was it for both of us. We just had this intellectual, enjoyable banter, easily talking about our lives and who we are. We even made a bucket list together right there at the Tower Bar! And so many things on his list were on mine.
Many of these articles portray you as a kind of gold digger. But you come from a wealthy family, right?
Well…right. My family is very comfortable; I’m very comfortable. But that’s what people love to say, isn’t it? I’ve dated different people from many different backgrounds, and their pocketbook has never interested me. The guy I dated right before Steven hardly had a penny to his name, and he was younger than me by two or three years!
Sounds hot. (Laughs.) Do you travel with a ton of security these days?
Only when my husband’s around. Every time he goes out he has to travel in this endless motorcade. A bunch of Secret Service guys trail him when he comes to L.A. But when he leaves, they all go with him, leaving me utterly alone. (Laughs.) There are even these little yellow kits equipped to handle emergencies and explosions that come along when Steve’s in town, and then, poof, they disappear as soon as he leaves. No one’s really all that concerned about saving me! (Laughs.)
Does the Secret Service follow him everywhere?
Just about! They especially like coming to SoulCycle. They take all the bikes around Steve and just pedal away! One day when we were there Perez Hilton was also there. He later wrote a dumb item blasting us for taking so much security on the taxpayer dime. I wanted to call him and say, “You know we don’t make our own security decisions, Perez? These decisions are made for us!”
What’s your social life like in D.C.? Did you host a lot of dinner parties?
No, we are notoriously the only couple that doesn’t do D.C. society dinner parties. I do very small ones with good friends like Mike and Susan Pompeo. I tell him, Mike, if you come over wearing a tie, I’m going to send you home. We’re doing bad jeans and bad sweater night, OK, and we’re cooking together, and we’re hanging out casual style. He’s such great fun. We did one dinner party once to celebrate our birthdays.
I can’t imagine him being fun.
Mike Pompeo! What’s so fun about him?
He went to Burning Man one year.
Mike Pompeo did?!
No, no, my husband!
Did you go with him?
No, that was years ago! I have pictures that I won’t show you. But Pompeo is fun! He’s warm; he’s gregarious; he’s a great storyteller. He’s a lovely man. I love his wife, Susan.
Who else do you hang out with?
Well, Jared and Ivanka Trump. We’ve hung out with the Wilbur Rosses.
What’s it like to hang out with Jared and Ivanka?
There is a vast distinction between perception and reality when it comes to them. The reality is that they are a dedicated married couple. Ivanka is like a movie star. She is so unbelievably charismatic, beautiful, intelligent, and strong. And Jared is incredibly kind, polite, and kind. I see them with their children when we’re hanging out and having a glass of wine and dinner. But I see them as people, not politicians. Why is it that we perceive people who are in politics as caricatures?
Maybe because those people are making life-and-death decisions that impact many millions of people. Not to be melodramatic, but the future of this country rests on these people. It’s hard to excuse their dreadful policies because they have a great sense of humor.
(Pauses.) Right. Well, I’m not making decisions that impact the country.
But you have incredible access to the people who do make those decisions. Are you ever tempted to use it? I know you’re a supporter of gay rights. Does it bother you that the Trump administration supports a measure that allows landlords and businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ people?
Look, all of my besties are gay. I did the Pride Run last year and again this year. Stormchasers was a sponsor! So…I’m caught between a rock and a hard place with these questions. Either I can express my beliefs and be at odds with my husband and his boss and get in trouble that way, or I can decline to comment and be in hot water with everyone else. Sucks either way. I very much respect my husband and the president of the United States, but I am an individual with my own beliefs and views. You should measure me by my actions, the friends I keep and the charities I support, not by the politics of my husband. It’s like walking a tightrope of dental floss in high heels and trying not to fall left or right. I’m just trying to walk the line in a way that isn’t going to piss anybody off.
Either I can express my beliefs and be at odds with my husband and his boss and get in trouble that way, or I can decline to comment and be in hot water with everyone else. Sucks either way.
Democrats in Congress are threatening your husband with prison if he does not hand over Trump’s tax returns. Is that something you worry about?
Umm. It’s worrisome. Of course it is.
Are you ever tempted to tell him to just give ’em the fucking tax returns?”
(Laughs.) No. I respect that my husband makes decisions he feels are sensible and intelligent. In the same way, he doesn’t boss me around or tell me what to do with my business or my life. It’s not my place to give him political advice.
Now that you’ve become so public are you able to leave the house and walk around?
Totally! I Uber everywhere—no motorcade for me. It’s such a beautiful city. I love the history, the architecture, the museums. Nobody recognizes me in my sweats.
Have you been kicked out of a restaurant yet?
Not yet. For the most part people are decent and warm to me.
From what I’ve read, D.C. society has not been as kind.
No. (Big laugh.) The old-time Washington people are not exactly fans of this administration. One of my first cocktail parties was at the Supreme Court, this great opportunity I was really excited about for all us new people to meet and mingle with the old people: high-society folk. Storied Washingtonians. The Establishment.
(Laughs.) Yes, the swamp. But I remember it being a lovely affair. Everyone was so exceedingly polite. Then I went to the ladies’ room and from my stall I overhear these two well-known women complaining, “God, I can’t stand these awful Trump folk—they’re so dreadful!” So I open the door, join them at the mirror, turn on the faucet, and say, “Lovely evening, isn’t it?” Their faces went completely ashen!
You seem to share the president’s contempt for the media. Do you think you are targeted more because of your ties to this administration?
I think that certainly has a lot to do with it. But I think we’re living in a general age of outrage, cynicism, and hate for hate’s sake. It’s not personal, it’s just the zeitgeist of these hostile times. People don’t want to read about my work with the homeless; they don’t want to read that I raised over half a million dollars for children with cancer last year, or the time and money I pour into animal rescue and organizations that fight poaching. I’ve been very transparent with reporters, but they only want to print mean stuff. I befriended a homeless man five years ago, bought him a new set of teeth, helped him get his life on track. A writer for Elle spent two hours talking to this guy and discarded almost everything he said. When the story came out, we both were weeping while reading it on the street!
Early on your plan was to stay in D.C. permanently. What made you change your mind?
I wanted to be there for my man. But It didn’t really occur to me how much of an impact the move would have on my business. Making movies is hard when you’re in D.C. So after a year my husband said to me, “I can see that you miss your work, so why don’t you live part time in L.A. and do what makes you happy.” I was very grateful.
Do you fly back for big events?
Well, I feel sort of bad about missing the First Lady’s Luncheon this week, but I’ve been stuck in the editing bay. But next month I’m going to Buckingham Palace. I had to really think that one over. On one hand, it’s dinner with the queen! But if I make one false move, all the craziness will start up again.
How do you choose what to wear?
Google! I’m my own stylist. I google what Michelle Obama and Meghan Markle and Kate Middleton have worn to palace dinners and try to come up with something suitable. It’s not easy. Like, I ended up really hating the dress I wore at the Emmanuel Macron dinner.
When did you first meet Trump?
A year before he ran. We went to dinner with him. He told us that night, “I’m gonna run!” It was just the three of us out to dinner. It’s so wacky in retrospect. I never imagined someone who wasn’t a politician could become president.
You weren’t the only one.
I know, right? Maybe he’s opened the floodgates! Maybe there will be fewer traditional politicians and more young women like me or people from different backgrounds, be they gay, transgender, or from different countries. Who knows who the next secretary of Treasury’s wife will be! Maybe she’ll be a rapper! (Laughs.)
There seems to be a bit of a dispute about your early life. Did you or did you not grow up in a Scottish castle? (Laughs.) My father bought a beautiful, old, very historic, highly neglected property when I was 11 and restored it back to its former glory as a labor of love.
But was it an actual castle?
Yeah. Melville Castle. It was where Mary Queen of Scots and Rizzio had their romance. I’d spend my weekends playing in the river and running in the grass. I never lived there full time. Now it’s kind of a hotel.
Are you a huge celebrity in the U.K. ?
I’ve been in the British tabloids a lot.
Do they portray you the same way that the American media portray you?
Unfortunately, most of the media is united in its hatred of me. (Laughs.)
Your Instagram used to feature jewelry and fancy dresses. Now it’s mostly animals and homeless people. Some people have suggested that you’re using your charity work to bolster your image.
Screw them. I have always been a charitable human. My mother was one of the most altruistic, genuine humans that ever lived. When I was a child, she always took me with her to help the homeless or visit the elderly. We were raised with the idea of service. I feel incredible empathy. I became a vegan because I feel empathy for animals. I work in a homeless shelter because I feel great empathy for those people. I started my work with charities long before I ever met Steven Mnuchin.
How many animals do you have?
Just three right now, all of them rescues. As an engagement gift, Steven bought me a lifelong sponsorship of an endangered rhinoceros, which was very romantic of him.
I was scrolling through Instagram the other day and saw your moving post about elephant poaching. And it occurred to me that the same month you posted that the administration relaxed its ban on hunting wild game. Were you furious when that went through?
Naturally I was. I was very upset. Not furious, just very upset, just upset, sad. Sad.
And what did you do about that? Your proximity to power gives you an outsize ability to change things. Instead of posting on Instagram, did you ever think of just calling the president?
It doesn’t work like that. Look, when I went to D.C. I thought I would have an incredible platform to help animals. I’m not a fan of the service industry; I’m not a fan of puppy mills; I’m not a fan of many things that are governed by the USDA and the Department of the Interior. So I went to several meetings thinking, “Oh, great! I can now lobby influential people against the military’s practice of testing ammunition on live animals. Maybe I can convince [former Defense] Secretary Mattis, whom I adore, over dinner.” But I realized very quickly that there were huge limits to what I could do. Cabinet spouses are not allowed to lobby other Cabinet members. It’s against the rules.
Donald Trump Jr. is not in the administration. He’s a big advocate of big-game hunting—lions and elephants. Do you feel uncomfortable going to dinner with him?
(Long pause.) Yes, I feel uncomfortable. … Look, I do what I can. I was involved in a couple of meetings at the White House, one of them was a Pets for Vets thing. So there I was, sitting in the Roosevelt Room in a suit, with all these other animal advocates, and my husband walks past and he does a double take, like, “Honey? What are you doing in the Roosevelt Room?” (Laughs.) I’m like, “Hi Steve. I’m just here being a voice for the animals!”
In your new movie you play a sociopathic bisexual who kills and eats men. Did you worry that some people might think its autobiographical?
(Laughs.) Ha! I’m sure some people will think so. Which I don’t mind. I’d always wanted to do a female version of American Psycho. The idea actually came to me last October. I spent two weeks writing it up and we started shooting a month later. It’s my first real directing job. It’s funny and campy and over the top. I go around killing guys with crossbows and martini glasses and arrows and kitchen knives. But the final effect is more funny than scary.
You cast Ed Westwick, who was facing two rape accusations at the time, to play your love interest. Are you trying to piss people off?
No, not…it’s not that I like fucking with people. But if a great idea comes into my mind, I’m not going to worry about people pleasing. I’m not worrying about the haters. I wanted to cast someone in the male lead who had the inner strength to match my character’s indomitable nature and spirit. Someone with enough gravitas for a crazy woman like her. We were going over all these actors and suddenly my producing partner said, “What about Ed Westwick?” And I said, “Genius.” I expect that some people will denounce me for casting him. All I can say is that I fervently support the long overdue MeToo and Time’s Up movements and applaud all women courageous enough to come forward. But I also believe we’re all entitled to due process. [The allegations against] Ed were investigated and dropped. Just as we shouldn’t jail an innocent man for crimes he didn’t commit, we shouldn’t torpedo a person’s career for unsubstantiated charges.
You are trying to make a career in a city that’s united in its loathing of the current administration. Has that hindered your success as a producer?
You’d think so, but not at all! We take meetings with studios and agents all over town. Some might be a bit frosty at first, but as soon as we’re sitting in the same room they realize I’m not a politician, I’m just a happy girl and a filmmaker. Any doubts they may have because of who I’m married to immediately evaporate.
Have you lost many friends through all of this?
Not real friends. But the whole process has been upsetting. There was one writer on a project I’m very passionate about who stopped talking to me completely. He can’t separate me as an individual from my husband’s job. So that was very sad for me, but I still want to develop his beautiful script. But just because I’m married to someone who works in this administration doesn’t define me. I define me. I’m just another girl in Hollywood who’s trying to make it.
I guess in a polarizing moment like this, everyone is expected to take sides. Even in your own family. I read that Steve’s father is so disgusted with his politics that they’ve stopped speaking.
I have no comment on that. No! They get along really great. I mean Steven and his father are great friends. They love each other. They see each other every time Steven’s in New York. Do they have different political opinions? Yes. But they certainly have not stopped talking.
Where do you see yourself when this is over?
I’m already at work on my next screenplay. It’s loosely based on my own life, the working title is Celebrity. It’s gonna be a fun sort of Kill Bill, Tarentino-esque, revenge story about a young actress who has a psychotic break and ends up going out for revenge on all of the meanie reporters and trolls that stalk her on the internet. It’ll be a comedy of course
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