By: Donna Freydkin
Riley Keough oozes cool, unemotional confidence as slinky escort Christine in the Starz series "The Girlfriend Experience," available Sunday. By day, she toils away in an unscrupulous law firm. By night, she pleases men who can't get a read on her.
The role, says Keough, was written before she came on board. "By the time I came on, we had a lot of discussions about who she was and what I would do with the role. I wasn't going to play this as a sexy lawyer who moonlights as an escort," she says.
She got herself into the right head-space in a cerebral way. "It was a lot of thinking, really. There wasn't anything tangible I could do to prepare. I met some escorts and talked to them. But you have to figure it out for yourself," says Keough of the series, produced by Steven Soderbergh.
Keough, the daughter of singer-songwriter Lisa Marie Presley and the granddaughter of Elvis Presley, approached this role as she would any other and didn't dwell on the many sex scenes. The show, after all, isn't lascivious as much as it is about the business side of providing high-end female companionship to men with hefty bank accounts.
"For me, it wasn't really about being an escort. It's about this girl who ends up doing this thing, this character study of a girl who is maybe a sociopath," says Keough. "It's transactional. She likes the control. She likes sex, but I think the reason she enjoys being an escort is the control."
In real life, Keough is married to Australian stuntman Ben Smith-Petersen; they met on the set of the George Miller hit "Mad Max: Fury Road." He's with her on the "Girlfriend Experience" press tour, and the two try their best to be a unit. (See our interview with Miller above).
"We try as much as possible to not work at the same time. It's happened and it sucks. For the most part, we don't work when the other one is working. He's right there," says Keough, pointing at her hubby.
Keough wanted to act from an early age, but finished school first. She went on her first audition at 19 and booked it. "I've always had a strong work ethic. Anything I do, I'm going to do in the same way. Kind of like Christine. My parents were very strong on me in not dabbling at things. If I do something, to be the best at it and be professional. I'm very responsible. I like working. I don't like being idle," she says.
But still, she encountered her share of eye-rolls, especially in high school when she was drawn to drama.
"You think you can be in theater class because you're Elvis Presley's granddaughter? There was definitely that vibe in school," says Keough, who nevertheless stood her ground and took acting classes.
Playing characters, she says, "was something I liked from when I was little. I would have been happy to do anything in film. I was obsessed with human behavior. (My parents) were a bit apprehensive on the acting thing, because it's difficult."
Ultimately, Keough wants to direct and be a lot more active behind the camera. To that end, she's working on stories and scripts.
"I'm just trying to do things I like and have a life," says Keough. "I've been sober for three months, just because I want to work. If I have wine, it's not a great time to write. I get lazy. I have a strong work ethic and I don't like not working."