Riley Keough was born and raised in Los Angeles, but there’s no doubt she feels a kinship with the growing number of rural and/or Southern women she’s played in recent years.
“A lot of my family is Southern. My mom is from the South. So I know that world very well. I feel close to it,” Keough, 28, told Yahoo Movies at the press day for Steven Soderbergh‘s new comedic heist film, Logan Lucky. Keough’s mother, in case you didn’t know, is Lisa Marie Presley, and Keough is the oldest grandchild of Elvis and Priscilla.
The heartland’s place in her heart, whether by design or not, has shone through in the rising star’s role selection. After making her film debut with a small part in The Runaways (2010), Keough attracted notice for playing a Florida stripper in Magic Mike (2012). She played another exotic dancer, this one in Mississippi, in the 2015 drama Dixieland before earning raves (and an Independent Spirit Award nomination) as the uncompromising queen bee of a nomadic group of magazine-slinging runaways south of the Mason-Dixon in American Honey (2016). And earlier this year she was half of an enigmatic couple surviving a plague in the backwoods in It Comes at Night.
Logan Lucky, though, might be her most down-home role yet. Keough plays Mellie Logan, the hairdressing, fake-nail-sporting, Camaro-driving West Virginian who — when not prepping her young niece to be the next Honey Boo Boo — helps her ne’er-do-well brothers (Channing Tatum and Adam Driver) hatch a scheme to rip off a NASCAR race.
The film is directed by West Virginia native Soderbergh, the revered (and definitely not retired) filmmaker behind sex, lies and videotape, Out of Sight, and Ocean’s 11. It was Soderbergh who gave Keough one of her first breaks in Hollywood, casting her in Magic Mike (though she playfully gripes about the number of her scenes he cut) and subsequently making her the lead in TV’s The Girlfriend Experience. “I was nervous [about working on Magic Mike], but to work with Steven I felt so lucky to be there,” Keough said. “He’s just given me so many things in my life.”
Logan Lucky is written by Rebecca Blunt — or so she’s credited. The screenwriter’s actual identity is a mystery, although Tatum, Driver, and co-star Daniel Craig all said they emailed with Blunt during production, and speculation has centered on Soderbergh’s TV-host wife, Jules Asner. “She’s an amazing writer,” Keough said coyly when asked about Blunt, adding that they exchanged emails as well. “I don’t know [why they’re keeping her identity a secret]. But I asked her some questions about specifics and little nuances about West Virginia and that was kind of it. She knew what she was doing.”
Keough knew what she wanted to do from a young age — or at least that she wanted to work in showbiz. It was an easy career choice, especially given her Presley family pedigree. “I think it’s one of those things where if your family is all dentists, it’s very likely that you might be a dentist as well. It’s not something totally unachievable. It seemed very achievable to me, which is different for a lot of people. For me it was always definitely an option. So I definitely thought I was gonna do something in the arts.”
At first Keough gravitated toward dancing. Then around age 11 or 12, she started filming and editing home videos with her friends. When she was 18, she appeared with her mother on The Oprah Winfrey Show, where she proclaimed to the world her ambition to be a photographer. “I wanted to direct, but I was just shy to say it. I was like, ‘Why am I on Oprah? Why is everyone talking to me? I’m like, ‘I’m , leave me alone,'” she said with a laugh. “I said I wanted to be a photographer because saying that I wanted to be a director would’ve sounded like a bold move, especially for an -year-old.”
Keough still wants to direct, but the success she’s having in front of the camera has put that dream on the back burner for now. In the meantime, she’s aligning herself with the right people. Aside from her continuing collaborations with Soderbergh and biggest commercial success (Mad Max: Fury Road) under George Miller, she has worked with some of the most exciting young filmmakers to emerge this decade. There was Andrea Arnold (American Honey) and Trey Edward Shults (It Comes at Night), and she will next be starring in projects from Jeremy Saulnier (following the critically acclaimed Green Room with Hold the Dark) and David Robert Mitchell (following the critically acclaimed It Follows with Under the Silver Lake), not to mention Lars von Trier (The House That Jack Built) and Barry Levinson (the untitled Joe Paterno HBO film starring Al Pacino).
Her own directorial debut feels inevitable. Don’t be surprised if it’s set in the South.
Logan Lucky is now in theaters. Watch the trailer:
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