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Riley Keough almost didn’t make it. The 25-year-old actress is starring in one of the most anticipated blockbusters of the season, Mad Max: Fury Road, starring Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy, which involved six months of shooting in the desert while confined to the back seat of a rig. This all ended in a case of hypothermia. “All of us lost our minds a little bit,” Keough says. “I held it together for about five months, and then I started to lose it around Month 6.”
Ultimately, this episode on the brink has pushed Keough, aka the oldest granddaughter of Elvis Presley, to the brink of stardom in her own right. Keough plays Capable, one of the five wives of the villain, as they speed through a post-apocalyptic desert dispatching various post-apocalyptic hordes and warlords. All done from the backseat. “It’s f------ crazy,” she said. “It’s very weird being around a bunch of people in one car for six months, and then a whole crew on top of that. It’s so many personalities that you kind of have to find your place. It’s wild and it’s interesting. I don’t think I’ll do anything like that again.”
On the plus side, the proximity provided front-row access to daily actors’ workshops with Hardy and Theron. “They’re both f---ing amazing,” she says. “Every time I had to do a scene with them, I was like, ‘Oh, s---.’ They’re both really naturally talented and intense. Charlize is good at turning it on and off. She doesn’t need time to get into character. She’s found how to be completely OK in the spaces she’s in when she’s working. I find that a really important thing to practice. And Tom, he’s really f------ cool too, because he’s got this mixture of theatrical intensity, but he’s also extremely naturalistic. It’s kind of everyone’s goal.”
Keough was connected to the project for five years and says, “All my friends are in it.” She can’t say a tremendous amount more, although her character is a protector to her sister-wife Splendid, played by Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, and their job essentially amounts to being worshiped. “We don’t get to do much crazy stuff,” she says. “We’re not very badass.”
Not so for the character in her next big project, The Girlfriend Experience, a Starz drama based on Steven Soderbergh’s film of the same name, which starred porn star Sasha Gray as a modern-day escort who, per the title, specializes in intimate and ongoing arrangements with her benefactors. You get the sense that Keough is looking forward to any controversy. “People are going to talk s--- about it, and I have sex in it,” she shrugs. “I do things that aren’t super-G-rated. I’m playing a sort of twisted character. Not that that career is twisted, but my specific character is a bit of a freak.”
Keough spent months researching her part by delving into modern-day sugar-baby culture, talking with young women who have entered into similar arrangements with older, wealthy men. “I thought about it a lot, because I wouldn’t want people to mistake that for me being supportive in any way of prostitution,” she says. “But I’ve done a lot of research on sex work, and it’s a very different career. I’ve talked to a lot of GFEs. They’re very much not in an oppressive situation — they are choosing to do it. They look at it as a career, and there are things about it they don’t like, but no one’s forcing them to do it. They’re not on the streets being forced to sleep with people and beaten and abused. It’s a very different thing than any street prostitution or sex slavery. It’s girls who are in law school or going through undergrad, or are like, ‘Oh, s---, I can make a f---load of money’. Make a website, go on these dates with these wealthy, wealthy men, and then have hundreds of thousands of dollars. I just found that very interesting.”
Coming with the territory: copious nude scenes. “They’re explicit,” she smiles. “There’s nothing — and everyone says this when they do sex scenes — ‘gratuitous’ about it, but it’s her job. There are sex scenes. They’re probably your average sex scenes — there are just a lot of them. ’Cause she’s got a lot of clients!” She laughs.
"It's interesting for me to try and understand," she continues, “I was asking one of the girls, ‘How do you do this intimate thing with this amount of people, and what if you don’t like the person?’ She told me, ‘I always try and find something that I like about them, and focus on that one thing.’”
Reality couldn’t be more different for the actress, who has eschewed Hollywood hangouts and recently wed her longtime stunt man boyfriend back in February. As for her style? “I really like clothes. I’m pretty comfort-based — I like wearing jeans and T-shirts and tennis shoes, but I also have a lot of fun dressing up for events.” Her preferred designers: Louis Vuitton and Chanel. “I love what Nicolas is doing with Louis Vuitton right now,” she says. “It’s just very my sort of style: It’s not too girly; it’s not completely androgynous. Some of his dresses have this ’60s vibe. I don’t even know how to describe it, and that’s a really cool thing to me. If I could ever imagine myself designing clothes — which I could never, ever, ever do — that’s what I would want them to look like. My taste goes toward androgynous. It depends on who’s the designer and what they’re doing with it. I don’t like super-super-girly-ballgown. I like interesting.”
Keough’s overall vibe is chill and level-headed to the nth degree. She credits this to growing up in Los Angeles with her low-key mom, Lisa Marie Presley, who never allowed Riley to view paparazzi as “a thing,” didn’t let her eat sugar until she was 18, and dissuaded her from partying in Hollywood with an eye-roll and a simple assertion that it was “so lame.” She says she doesn’t think about how her career trajectory — whether red carpet or nude — sits with her family canon. “The only time I think about it when people ask me about it,” she says. “I’m appreciative, because I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing without that. Doors have been opened to me because of that. I’m fine with that, because it is what it is. I’m still working. If anything, it’s helped me grow up in a situation where I’m doing what I want to do with my life.
“And if a few articles want to use funny Elvis puns, I don’t mind. It’s my family, and I’m not going to be ashamed by my family.”
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