Riley Keough sits alone at a small table in the bar of the Langham Huntington Hotel. Even from across the room, there’s no mistaking from her smoldering looks that she’s the daughter of Lisa Marie Presley and the grandchild of Elvis Presley.
She’s been using those looks to carve out a career in modeling and acting. Her latest work is the starring role in the new Starz 13-episode limited series, “The Girlfriend Experience,” from noted filmmaker Steven Soderbergh. It starts Sunday on Starz.
Keough plays Christine Reade, a second-year student at Chicago-Burnham Law School who lands an internship at a prestigious firm. She soon finds that there’s a more interesting and lucrative world for her as a paid escort, providing sex and emotional support to her clients.
Getting to play a woman who on one hand must deal with the restrictions of an office setting and then who faces no barriers with the men who hire her. It feels like playing two completely different characters for Keough.
“At work and as an escort, she’s becoming whoever she needs to be,” Keough says. “She does that in an environment where she’s trying to take control whether that be the office or the bedroom. As the season goes on, you get to see more of her and home. That’s when you really get to see who she is.”
This is one aspect of the character that’s easy for Keough to understand. The way Reade becomes a different person to fit the situation is no different than what an actor has to do for each role.
The 26-year-old California native started modeling when she was a teen and landed her first professional acting role five years ago when she played Marie Currie in “The Runaways.” Since then she’s been in “Magic Mike,” “The Good Doctor,” “Dixieland” and “Mad Max: Fury Road.”
Keough always wanted to get into the film business, but her original plan was to direct. As a youngster, she was constantly filming her friends. That career plan changed as she began to model and then act. She’s still determined to direct because she loves the idea of creating an entire world.
Keough had some concerns about committing to the 13-episode project, but she says they were eased by the episodes being shot like a short independent film that gave her the chance to grow the character over the weeks.
“You don’t have to prove who the character is in 10 scenes. You have months and months to develop her. You are not forced to figure out how you are going to communicate everything in an hour. In that way, I love doing TV,” Keough says.
Keough worked with Soderbergh on “Magic Mike.” The director knew then that there was more to her work. That’s why he thought of her for “The Girlfriend Experience,” a role that would show how deep her acting skills go.
The most difficult part of preparing for the role was understanding how her character could be so casual when it comes to getting involved in sexual relationships with strangers. It took the filming of a few of those revealing scenes before Keough felt like she understood what the character was thinking. Read sees the relationships as nothing more than work, where everything is technical.
The same could be said about filming the intimate parts of the story.
“There were a few moments that were uncomfortable but in general I don’t have a problem with nudity,” Keough says. “It was more difficult trying to get into the head space of Christine but I think I go there. What she enjoys is the control she has over men.”
The Girlfriend Experience
- 8 p.m. Sunday, April 10, Starz