Steve Mnuchin: Questions for the Would-Be Treasury Secretary and, Now, Actor

Steven Mnuchin Trump Campaign Finanace
Trump: Greg E. Mathieson Sr./REX/Shutterstock

Steve Mnuchin is on the brink of a coming-out party, and not just because President-elect Donald Trump has said he might name the Hollywood money-man U.S. Treasury Secretary.

Potential Cabinet post notwithstanding, Mnuchin is set to make his big screen debut this Thanksgiving weekend with a cameo role in Warren Beatty’s “Rules Don’t Apply.”

The financier — who has backed films ranging from “Black Mass” to “Suicide Squad” to “Mad Max: Fury Road” —  was one of about a dozen one-percenters who stepped up to cover the $30 million budget of “Rules Don’t Apply,” which stars Beatty as aging billionaire Howard Hughes.

That got Mnuchin, 53, a producer credit, along with fellow investors who included Jeffrey Soros, Steve Bing, Ron Burkle and Arnon Milchan. Mnuchin also got an on-screen role as “Merrill Lynch Executive.” He appears in several scenes, remaining in the background while his boss, played by Oliver Platt, makes repeated, and increasingly agitated, efforts to get a meeting with the mercurial Hughes.

Mnuchin does not have any dialogue. But he wears his dark suit with aplomb. And he looks bankerly, just like a guy who had a long run at Goldman Sachs, which he did, before moving to Hollywood. The newcomer does not upstage the stars. Truly a performance fit for a treasury secretary.

Mnuchin did not return repeated calls for comment. Beatty — who also wrote, produced and directed “Rules” —  also declined to talk about his fellow producer and cast-mate.

Assuming he receives the rumored appointment to the Treasury post, it will be Mnuchin’s behind-the-scenes Hollywood maneuvers, not his on-screen moment, that gets most of the attention. And it’s fair to say his record as a film financier has been mixed.

He created and is chairman of the film-finance outfit Dune Entertainment and is joined with producer-director Brett Ratner and billionaire James Packer in another funding endeavor, Rat-Pac Dune Entertainment. Among his successes have been “The LEGO Movie,” “American Sniper,” and “Sully.” He has also backed bombs like “In the Heart of the Sea,” “The Legend of Tarzan” and “Pan.”

But perhaps Mnuchin’s biggest Hollywood bugaboo was his brief and challenged relationship with Relativity Media. Mnuchin and fellow investors in his Dune Capital were said by sources to have lost as much as $80 million that they dumped into Ryan Kavanaugh’s multi-media company.

The New York native was so bullish on Relativity he signed on as co-chairman with Kavanaugh and touted the company as “redefining what it means to be a content creator in the 21st century.” Instead, Relativity made a series of cinematic stinkers and sank in a sea of red ink — to the point it filed for Chapter 11 protection in July, 2015, claiming $1.2 billion in liabilities and $560 in assets.

Just seven months after joining as co-chairman and two months before the bankruptcy, Mnuchin quietly exited Relativity. But even his departure left bad feelings. That’s because a bank that Mnuchin once headed — OneWest Bank of Pasadena — was allowed by Relativity to drain $50 million from the studio’s accounts, just weeks before the Chapter 11 filing.

The funds were owed to OneWest for loans the bank had made to Relativity. Still, others who were owed hundreds of millions of dollars found it unseemly that the bank founded by Relativity’s one-time co-chairman got the large payout, while others got stiffed.

One creditor said OneWest had received an unfair “preference” and predicted the payments to Mnuchin’s bank would be challenged in bankruptcy court. But in the nine months the case was being heard in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in New York, the preference issue was not raised.

That does not mean the hard feelings for Mnuchin have disappeared. One of the firms with unpaid loans to Relativity, RKA Film Financing, filed a lawsuit against Relativity and a number of other defendants, including Mnuchin. The lawsuit accused him of taking advantage of his dual positions with OneWest and Relativity to secure money for the bank that rightfully should have gone to RKA to repay a P & A loan it made to the entertainment company.

“Mnuchin was in a unique position,” the lawsuit alleged, “affording him knowledge of both Relativity’s precarious financial position and the ability to ensure certain creditors—namely, OneWest Bank—were able to siphon away funds that had been commingled with RKA’s P&A Funds.”

RKA’s lawsuit has been dismissed, but the lender has pledged to refile the claim and continue to press its case against Relativity, Steve Mnuchin and the other defendants.

As with his film role, Mnuchin has remained mute on his brief, unprofitable run at Relativity Media.