The Herald - The Herald Magazine
Queen of California
Louise Linton swaps life in a Scottish castle for Hollywood rollercoaster
T he voice of Louise Linton comes breathlessly down the line from Los Angeles. The sun is barely up in California and the Scottish actor is still walking on air following a weekend in which she not only made her first solo flight as a pilot, but discovered she had been cast in William & Kate, an upcoming film about the romance of Prince William and Kate Middleton. Linton will play Middleton’s best friend, Vanessa.
“Originally I went for the role of Kate but they said: ‘You don’t look anything like Kate Middleton. Can you prepare scenes for a different character?’” explains Linton.“I was given five minutes to prepare an audition for a separate character entirely. I thought I’d done a horrible job so I wasn’t expecting to get it, but I did. It’s exciting – I feel like I’m on a roll.”
You may not have heard of Linton, but that’s about to end. With five Hollywood movies in the pipeline, she has already had Robert Redford knocking on her door and an invitation from Sir Sean Connery to be an ambassador for his charity.
When we first meet a few weeks earlier, Linton, 25, has flown in from LA to visit her family and is cheerily battling jet lag. In a corner of an upmarket Glasgow salon, there are few people who could look glamorous in rollers and a hairdresser’s gown, but she pulls it off. Linton was born and brought up in Edinburgh, and everything about her smacks of good breeding. She attended the prestigious Fettes College and as a teenager spent time living at the gothic 18th-century Melville Castle, near Dalkeith, which her family own and run as a luxury hotel.
When it comes to acting the die was cast for Linton at an early age. She took the lead in her first school play aged six (“I played Hiawatha and got to perform in front of the Queen”) and attended drama school in Edinburgh followed by a stint at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts.
Despite veering off track to gain a BA in journalism from Pepperdine University in Malibu, three years ago she joined the hordes of aspiring actors who descend on LA each year with their eye on the ultimate prize: living the Hollywood dream.
While many slink back head home, tails between their legs, Linton was determined not to be among them. She got off to a stellar start, landing a part in her very first LA audition: the role of Simone de Lille, a French tutor for a wealthy Manhattan family, in CSI: NY.
Supporting roles in US drama series Cold Case and comedy mockumentary Screwball: The Ted Whitfield Story followed, with Linton seeing off competition from hundreds to be cast by Robert Redford in the thriller Lions For Lambs, which he directed and starred in alongside Tom Cruise and Meryl Streep. “My role in Lions For Lambs was small but I was delighted to work with a director of that calibre,” she says. “Most of it ended up on the cutting room floor, but I wasn’t upset because it gave me an opportunity to work with Redford, and I hope I can work with him again some day.”
She just might. The roles have since come thick and fast. Linton, who began filming William & Kate last week, which stars British actor Camilla Luddington as Middleton and New Zealand-born Nico Evers Swindell as Prince William, has recently wrapped four big-budget Hollywood movies: sci-fi flick Scavengers, romantic drama Five Hours South, rom-com She Wants Me and pacey thriller The Power Of A Few.
Linton filmed Five Hours South, due for release this year, in Italy alongside Jordan Bridges, scion of the Bridges acting dynasty. The movie is about a small-town policeman who pursues his passion for break-dancing. In sharp contrast, Scavengers, also due for release this year, sees Linton play Emerson, the captain of a team of intergalactic scavengers fleeing a stricken planet Earth.
“The latter I was delighted to get because it was my first female lead,” she says. “The film is set in a post-apocalyptic world which has been cannibalised by the human population, and there is nothing left. It was a physically arduous part and shot in
December on a very cold set in Los Angeles. It’s the least glamorous role I have ever played – I usually get cast in blonde girl roles. This one, though, was heavily dramatic. They dyed my hair dark brown and I wasn’t permitted even a lick of Vaseline on my lips – no make-up, none. I had some lip salve on set, hidden in my costume, and would sneak a little bit on before each scene. The make-up artist caught me one day and went ballistic.”
Linton’s next movie, She Wants Me, starring Hilary Duff and Charlie Sheen, meant doing a 360. “It was complete opposite to Scavengers – they had me in a bikini the whole time,” she says. “I was playing Jessica, the blonde girl-next-door who starts dating the lead girl’s boyfriend. The film is a bit like Love Actually with different characters in interlinking relationships. It was fun going from a serious action role playing a tough woman with no limits in command of an entire ship of men, to slipping into playing the stereotypical LA girl.”
How did she get along with Sheen and Duff? “They were both very professional,” says Linton. “Actually, Charlie worked the day after, um, all the controversial things happened in New York [Sheen is reported to have trashed a hotel room last October after accusing a prostitute of stealing his wallet and mobile phone]. The expectation on set was of it all being a bit awkward, but it was a terrific experience.”
Most recently she has been filming The Power Of A Few – billed as “international terrorism collides with urban crime” – in New Orleans alongside Christopher Walken and Christian Slater. Linton plays a single mother addicted to drugs. “I had to completely transform myself – it was another ugly role,” she says. “They are coming more frequently now, which is a good thing because usually those roles do tend to be more meaty.
“We were filming in the Lower 9th Ward which is where the [Hurricane] Katrina flooding was. My trailer was next to the levy that broke and very little regeneration had taken place. There is barely any electricity and all of the houses we were filming in had been nine feet under water. Spray painted outside was the number of people who had been saved from each one. It was a provocative shoot given the environment, although that did help me get into character.”
There are elements of raindrops on roses, whiskers on kittens about Linton, but for all her sunny demeanour she is under no illusions about her chosen industry. “Acting involves a lot of disappointment and requires the ability to swallow your pride and roll with the punches,”she says.“Everyone thinks movie sets are glamorous, but it’s hard work. Often you are on set for 12 hours – and then they decide to do your scenes in the 11th or 12th hour, by which point you are fairly exhausted.
“There is always a lot of sitting around, which I try to make good use of. I’m finishing up law school so usually have five or six big books on criminal law with me. On the set of She Wants Me I was never socialising or out of my trailer, I was studying the whole time. While pursuing acting I wanted to have a sense of equilibrium and balance in my life. It’s easy to be perceived as vain or unintelligent when you are an actress.”
With Linton there’s not much chance of that. Spend only a few minutes with her and it’s evident how whip smart and forthright she is. While she may appear to have lived a charmed life, Linton was only in her mid-teens when her mother Rachel died from breast cancer. Losing a parent at a young age, she admits, has moulded her own life path.
“My mother was a genuine altruist,” she says. “She was down to earth, extremely generous and involved in the Murrayfield Parish Church. Her death has shaped me. It has made me more empathetic and taught me to appreciate life is short. You have to live it to the fullest, not just in personal endeavours, but also in being a kind and humane person and by helping as many people as you can.”
That included Linton, then aged 19, spending a gap year teaching in Zambia – an experience which proved eye opening in more ways than one when she spent a night hiding in the bush as Hutu rebels attacked the village she was working in.
“I was working in a village at the southern end of Lake Tanganyika.We were only 30km from the Congolese border – DRC – and had heard rumours that the war there was possibly going to spill over its borders, but I never anticipated seeing anything in our village. Then one day they [Hutu rebels] arrived by boats,” she explains.
Linton made it to the safety of the forest, but others weren’t so lucky. Men were shot, women raped and huts burned as she cowered terrified nearby. “I hid in the nearby bush overnight and heard the village I worked in being ransacked, gunfire and people screaming,” recalls Linton. “The next day the game wardens had been shot, several people in the village lost their lives and children had gone missing.
“I was there for many more weeks afterwards but had to leave when the threat
became more serious.The second Congolese war is still ongoing – more than six million people have lost their lives. It gave me a very helpless feeling because, even if you were to solve the problems in Congo and the surrounding countries, you still have issues going throughout Africa. It is a continent in dire need of internal organisation.”
It’s something she would like to revisit again in the future, but for now Linton is focusing closer to home on her role as an ambassador for Erskine, one of three military charities supported by Sir Sean Connery. “I met Sean at his charity event, Dressed To Kilt, last April and through that got the opportunity to be an young ambassador for Erskine,” she says. “I started working with them last May.There are wars ongoing and those coming home injured need our support.”
A lthough now based on the US west coast, Linton remains close to her family in Edinburgh. Her father, William Hay, is a property developer while her sister Suzanne, 35, manages a property portfolio and dabbles as a chef. Brother David, 33, meanwhile, works in hotel and property development.
Although hugely proud of Linton’s blossoming career, they remain nonchalant about her star-studded lifestyle. “They are very laidback about it,” she says, smiling. “They have been hearing about the ups and downs for the past three years so aren’t staggered when something good or bad happens: they see it as a job like any other.
“They get the phone call when I lose a big role as well. This past year I was down to the wire on nearly a dozen big film roles and had to wait with bated breath to see whether I got them. It was often down to one other girl and me. On a lot of occasions it went to the other girl, chiefly because she was more famous. That is hard and disappointing, especially when you have invested weeks of work into creating a character.”
How has the fact her family own a castle gone down in the US? Do people imagine her to be a princess? Linton rolls her eyes and smiles. “They have a very romanticised view of it,” she says. “There was a rumour to that effect going around my law school which I quickly nipped in the bud.”
Interestingly, she has chosen to use her grandfather’s surname for her stage name, rather than her own Hay. “I’m aware I’m stepping into an industry which can be glowing but also challenging, so it was a measure to protect those who share my last name,” she explains.“Linton is my brother’s middle name and one of my father’s names. There is a famous author called Louise Hay too so I wanted to avoid confusion.”
By now we’ve moved from the main salon into a treatment room so Linton can lie down and get her false eyelashes attached. I have to say she’s a trooper – there’s not many people who would lie serenely on a trolley with a dozen chunky rollers digging into their head.
Linton won most stylish female at the Scottish Style Awards in 2009, something she still appears bemused about. Since moving to Los Angeles, has she gone all California hippy chick? “No, quite the opposite,” she says, sounding horrified. “LA is extremely casual but I retain a bit of the Scottish formality in the way I am and dress. The longer I’m away from Scotland
‘Acting requires you to swallow your pride and roll with the punches’
the more I miss it and gravitate towards wanting to identify myself as Scottish.”
The only time she goes coy is when the topic of relationships is raised. All she will divulge is that she’s seeing an LA-based producer who spent Christmas with her family in Edinburgh. It’s perhaps inevitable Linton is cautious of saying too much. She was married to LA-based defence lawyer Ronald Richards but the couple divorced two years ago.
“My ex and I are best friends – we even had breakfast together the other day,” she says, grinning. “We share custody of our little dog and are dear, dear friends.”
Linton is most happy, she says, when spending time with her family and the aforementioned canine, a chihuahua called De Beers (after the diamond company). “I know – it’s so LA,” she says, giggling.
Her other big passion is learning to fly. “I’m taking flying lessons and hoping to get my pilot’s licence this year,” she says. “I fly for a couple of hours every Saturday. I deviated on one of my flying lessons recently. I flew over my boyfriend’s house and dipped my wings. My instructor just rolled his eyes.”
She admits to being a driven “textbook type-A personality”. Another huge smile. “I don’t think laidback is a word you could use to describe me,” says Linton. “I’m definitely ambitious, but I’m caring too and try hard to make everyone in my life as happy as possible.
“Acting is going to be my career for the rest of my life. I would like to still be doing this when I’m Helen Mirren’s age. I want to finish off [law] school, but my focus is acting.” Is law, then, the safety net she hopes she never has to use? A fervent shake of the head. “It’s a hobby,” she says firmly.
As for a philosophy, Linton endeavours to live by her old Fettes motto: industria. “Even in the face of great adversity, you have to pull yourself up by your boot straps and keep trying,” she says. And with Linton you get the feeling she’ll do just that.