Riley Keough Tells Us What She Loves

by Brent Smith

For one, she has actual love for L.A.

Riley Keough and I meet initially at Joan’s On Third but it’s a madhouse, loud and busy with nowhere to sit, so we walk a few doors down to a vacant café, appropriately dubbed Simplethings. I wouldn’t have made the budding, unassuming movie star if not for the strange, remnant eye makeup from the photoshoot that just wrapped. Really, she’s just another 26-year-old Angeleno (I don’t have to remind you who her grandfather was) longing for a place in Atwater Village. “I’d never thought I’d live in this part of town, but so many of my friends do.”

Amid the honking cars and chatty pedestrians, she candidly takes my phone and places it down in front of her, explaining that she tends to speak very quietly. “Doing interviews makes me so sick of myself. I hate talking about myself, but I have to.” The world must be going by at light speed for Keough. She’s just returned from Sundance for two different projects: Lovesong with Jena Malone, and The Girlfriend Experience, a serialized redux of Steven Soderbergh’s experimental film of the same name. Her acting career so far has gone through a relatively gentle acceleration, beginning with her portrayal of Marie Currie in The Runaways (2010), before making waves as downtrodden protagonists in Magic Mike (2012), and last year’s epic Mad Max (2015). Now, with the highly-anticipated and not-so lo-fi The Girlfriend Experience, Keough’s likely to make a more controversial splash courtesy of her character Christine Reade—a law student who decides to supplement her income via transactional relationships with older, wealthy men.

Tell me about transitioning from Lovesong to your character in The Girlfriend Experience.

It’s funny that Lovesong came out at the same time as the show. I shot Lovesong maybe a year before. Those definitely weren’t characters that overlapped. What I really liked about GFE was that the role is not your average female lead, and she’s not extremely likable. We were trying to do something new that gets a reaction out of people, whether that’s good or bad, and we know the topic [escorting] can be whatever it is to people, but the topic wasn’t the point of the show, it was more about Christine engaging in this enterprise, rather than coming from a ‘bad background’ or some kind of oppression. It’s not a sad story. It was more of a character study for me, and Christine’s job, both in law and in escorting, is a part of that. It tells a lot about her.

Were you hesitant to take on the role?

I was definitely nervous about some things. But once I talked to Amy [Seimetz] and Lodge [Kerrigan] and trusted them, we all had the same idea about her and the show, and it was really exciting. It just gets weirder and weirder. And a bit creepy. The ending is extremely out there. I don’t want to say too much, but I think it’s really funny how the season ends.

So it’s weird, creepy—and funny?

I think it’s hilarious. I was laughing the whole time, but I don’t know if that’ll be people’s response.

I was talking about this with Soderbergh, I think people will have a lot of different responses, be it angry, annoyed, frustrated, interested or whatever. There was no real goal in what people were going to feel. We just wanted to present this story in a sort of voyeuristic way without swaying the audience in any direction. You’re just watching this girl and you feel kind of uneasy... You’re watching this girl making these dubious decisions and getting herself into difficult situations, but her own morals never waiver, which is what I love about the character. She’s always ‘right.’ She never doubts—well, I don’t know if she does or not, that’s up to the audience to decide, but she believes in what she does and does it the best she can.

How do you feel about L.A. being so coveted at the moment?

I was always behind L.A. Even when the sentiment was: I hate L.A., New York’s got so much culture. I was always like, no fuck that! L.A. is dope. Live here, be from here, and you’d see. I love the culture by the beach, I love the culture on the east side, I love the telephone wires, the palm trees, the Hispanic influence everywhere and the taco stands. I love the history in Laurel Canyon and Venice. I love the Valley—especially the Valley in the ’70s.

Beer or yoga?

I was very into yoga for a minute. Then I got very into beer. [laughs] I just love doing stuff outside; hiking, swimming, anything. I’d rather do anything outside than run on a treadmill while watching TV. Let’s be real, though, I haven’t worked out in like six months.

Do you get into the alien phenomenon at all?

I love aliens. If I could make any one thing happen in my lifetime, it would be for aliens to come here. Everyone’s so scared of it. I talk to my husband and he’s terrified of the idea, and I find it so exciting. The idea that there’s something else, besides just this. I mean, who’s to say? Maybe they’ll kill everybody, I don’t know. At least there’s something else—something other than Joan’s on Third.

Photographer: Adrian Mesko for Defacto Inc.

Stylist: Sean Knight For Jed Root.

Hair: Jamal Hammadi For Forward Artists using Hamadi Beauty.

Makeup: Kayleen Mcadams For The Wall Group using Chanel.

Beauty Notes: Chanel le blanc de chanel multi-use illuminating base, perfection lumière velvet smooth-effect makeup broad spectrum spf 15 sunscreen in 12 beige rose, and hydra beauty essence mist and Tom Ford eye defining pen in deeper and lip color in casablanca.

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Follow Brent Smith on Twitter (@brentellesmith). He has no bandwidth for clickbait journalism.