Photoshoots // Riley Keough Network

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You might imagine, paging through the new March issue of NYLON, that Riley Keough floated through the dusky Los Angeles light like some angelic being. While that’s true, the real magic happened behind the scenes. Tricking the light to be just right is an art in and of itself, and the side of Riley Keough you see in our new issue is just one, fiercely provocative side. Between takes, touchups, and clothing swaps, we got to see every side of our March cover star. And now, you do, too. With the help of Clinique, we’re taking you behind the scenes of our latest issue cover shoot. Sometimes, dreams feel like reality, but then sometimes, when you’re lucky, life feels like a dream. This happens to fall into the latter category.

We have 19 pictures from the Esquire Photoshoot. Enjoy!

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Thanks to Riley Keough Brasil via Twitter

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Riley Keough’s nails are striped with a riot of color—sparkly mahogany, mermaid blue, Manic Panic purple.

At Kure Spa in Silver Lake, we’re testing out polishes for a mani-pedi, and the tyranny of choice is killing us. We want all of the colors, like a unicorn’s mane. “I always want to go for the wild shades,” says Keough, her voice still a tad hoarse from pneumonia, “but most of the time, I just have to pick nude.” Defeated, she brings the Deborah Lippmann neutral back to our cushioned white perches where the spa technicians scrub away at our soles.

It’s a safe choice—the barely there hue won’t clash with the dark Dior ensemble she’ll wear tomorrow to the Critics’ Choice Awards (Mad Max: Fury Road, in which she plays a ruby-haired concubine on the run, snagged nine awards, including Best Director for George Miller)—but it also has an intriguing resonance with Keough’s latest project. In The Girlfriend Experience, set to premiere on Starz next month, the actress plays a Chicago law student who revels in the empowerment and detachment of sex work—and spends a lot of her time naked in the throes of calculated ecstasy. Innocuous nail shades aside, the role, like many of Keough’s career choices, is a high-wire feat that should pay off big time. In the span of a few flurried years, Keough, 26, has defined herself as a gutsy and unvarnished actress who doesn’t blanch at stripping down for steamy sex scenes (hetero, lesbian, or otherwise) or playing a harem member in a dust-raw dystopia. Her laid-back personality—at times in our conversation, she tips her head back like she’s sunning at the beach, her voice close to a sigh—translates on-screen as unflappable. She’s a naturalistic performer who has yet to blink.

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Enjoy the new portraits of Riley. For now we only have them in MQ!

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Primetime is getting sexy again with The Girlfriend Experience, a new 13-episode series set to debut on Starz on April 10. The series is a television adaptation of Steven Soderbergh’s 2009 film of the same name, which had its original premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. Back then, it starred adult film star Sasha Grey as an escort providing men with companionship and sex.

This time around, Elvis’s granddaughter, 26-year-old Riley Keough, leads as the show’s high-end escort and second-year law student Christine Reade. Like the original, it had its premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival earlier this week.

With seeing a young woman so open to sexual experiences on-screen, it’s natural to have flashbacks of 50 Shades of Grey’s Anastasia Steele. But The Girlfriend Experience flips the idea of a woman as the submissive one on its head. There is no Christian Grey. Keough’s character Christine is the one making the sexual decisions and choices. She is the Christian of the scenario.

“Christine is never forced into anything,” Keough told InStyle when we discussed the show at Sundance earlier this week. “She’s very much deciding what she wants to do. There are so many women characters on TV and in movies that are just perfect wives. She’s not at all. She’s this person who’s super happy to have casual sex with people. Yet, she never doubts herself or her morals, which is admirable. You end up rooting for her, even though she’s a trainwreck.”

Throughout the show, you will see Keough’s character of Christine in very explicit scenes, she said, though none are XXX-rated. “Shooting sex scenes is so technical,” she said. “On this show, I was doing so many that it got to feel the same thing as shooting like a dinner scene. It was never uncomfortable.”

Of course, nudity is a part of that. “People’s viewpoint on sex and nudity is so weird,” Keough said. “ The fact that you can’t show boobs on TV creates this weird energy around sex. I don’t have that viewpoint on nudity. I don’t like how people make nudity this weird thing. Yes, what I do on this show is going to push some people’s buttons. But I don’t really care.”

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WHO: Riley Keough

WHAT: actress, The Girlfriend Experience and Lovesong

Playing Christine Reade, a law student by day and high class escort by night, in The Girlfriend Experience did come with its fair share of uncomfortable scenes, but that didn’t seem to faze Keough going into the project. “I had reservations on what the point of the show was more than reservations on being naked or whatever, because I don’t really have a problem with that,” she says.

On her GFE character: “You know, you don’t get a lot of characters for females who are allowed to be assholes or say what they are feeling or are not super emotional like normal women or who are kind of borderline sociopath or really like sex or things like that that a man plays often.”

On filming sex scenes: “I don’t really like preparing for this kind of stuff, so it was a good opportunity not to. A lot of the times, you have so much time to think about things, and with the schedule of GFE, I didn’t really have time to think about any scenes that I was about to shoot ever, except for maybe the ones I was going to do in, like, an hour. I just kind of went for it. I was like f*ck, this could be really crazy and f*ck with my head, but it didn’t, which was surprising. Maybe I’m just a sociopath.”

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