It’s a muggy afternoon in Los Angeles as I sit down to write this — in my bathroom; the AC’s broken everywhere else. My vanity is dusty, cluttered with books, storyboards, shot lists and Post-It notes scrawled in ALL CAPS with a frenzied thick black Sharpie: ‘LOCK PICTURE!!’ ‘BEAR!’, ‘BORN FREE!’, ‘DOG’, ‘STATE DINNER’, ‘DOCUMENTARY!’, ‘GRATITUDE’. It’s a bizarre medley, as is my life in general. I’m married to a Republican politician but I’m extremely liberal. I cannot say that I’m a Democrat either. These terms are binary and weaponized. (Can’t everyone just get along?)
My husband is a temperate, restrained and serious politician. I am passionate, creative, hot-blooded. Everything you wouldn’t traditionally expect from the ‘wife of’ a cabinet member. But the term ‘wife of’ assumes that my identity as a woman is chiefly defined by who I am married to. Which it is not. People’s definition of what a cabinet spouse ought to be should evolve with the times. The floodgates have opened; from President Trump to AOC, Washington is flourishing with non-establishment types. Being an individual and simultaneously a cabinet spouse has been difficult for me. I’m trying to walk the tightrope but sometimes I feel a bit wobbly.
When I’m not in DC creating a stir for wearing gloves (the humanity!). I’m back in LA, working as a full-time filmmaker. My life on each coast is radically different from the other. Tonight I’m in DC having supper with Jared and Ivanka. (Whom I like very much, by the way.) Last week I was in LA, hosting a dinner for friends in my garden. A patchwork of LA-based artists, musicians, designers, actors, directors and writers. We talk about cinema, art, great books. For obvious reasons we don’t talk politics.
I spent some time today pondering what to wear to the Australian state dinner at the White House this month. (Keep it ‘DC Demure’, nothing too ‘LA’.) The rest of the day I spent working on my next script (which is very LA.) This year, my focus has been on building my production company, Stormchaser Films. We’re actors, writers, directors and producers who collaborate on projects. Our latest feature, Me, You, Madness, is my writing and directorial debut. Oh goodness, the pressure. It’s a racy comedy, which will inevitably create controversy. The film is campy, playful and consummately willful in its decadence and 1980s aesthetic. It’s a homage to the ‘Greed Decade’ but for all the fast cars, fashion, outlandish materialism and aspirational themes, the movie has a goodness and a certain nostalgia. It speaks to my love of every John Hughes movie I watched as a child in my living room in Scotland. The character I play, Catherine Black, is an amalgam of cinematic femmes fatales: Gene Tierney’s Ellen Berent in Leave Her to Heaven; Gloria Swanson’s Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard; Glenn Close’s terrifying Alex in Fatal Attraction. Throughout the decades these diabolical characters have thrilled and intrigued us. My character is every bit as bad — but she’s fun.
We have to ‘LOCK PICTURE’ tomorrow. For any director, this is a terrifying point in the post-production process. I’ve been in a dark edit bay in Koreatown since April, all leading to this moment. I’m proud of the film but, like all filmmakers, I fear criticism. (‘How dare the “wife of” the secretary of the Treasury make such a brazen film?’) I’m a little vulnerable. I cast my gaze upon my well-thumbed copy of White, Bret Easton Ellis’s most recent book, which reminds me not to take things personally. I’m comforted. As I finish post- production, the Storm team is busy with our other projects. Kristen, our head of development, is pitching a book we’ve optioned called Confessions of a Master Jewel Thief. It’s an exciting and pacy true tale that we know would be great for TV. We need to be adaptable: this business has become fluid and the rules change. The formulas upon which Hollywood once relied are obsolete, in TV and film. Our projects must evolve. It’s challenging but inspiring. Our first documentary, written and directed by Travis Zariwny, is a poignant and detailed portrait of the oldest drag queen in the world. It just won its first festival as Best LGBT film. Travis gave me my first lead role a decade ago. We’ve made six films together since. I’m proud of him.
This month we launched Perfect Storm, a charitable fund to protect children and animals in under-resourced communities. I’m wild about animals. This week we rescued our sixth abused dog. This month, I’m throwing a fundraiser for Born Free USA’s Primate Sanctuary, which is home to more than 500 monkeys, many from circuses or cosmetics labs. And next week, I’m flying to Pennsylvania to persuade the owner of a sports lodge to relinquish his long-suffering caged Asiatic bear to a waiting sanctuary. Wish me luck.
Thus we arrive at the final Post-It: ‘GRATITUDE.’ This is a work in progress. My mom once wrote, ‘Remember the gift of the precious present. Cast off yesterday’s doubts and tomorrow’s anxieties. Life is taking place now, in this precise moment. Grasp it and know it in all of its abundance.’
This article is in The Spectator’s October 2019 US edition.