TV Series // Riley Keough Network

NOTE: (Riley’s quotes are in italic)

Steven Soderbergh, star Riley Keough and Lodge Kerrigan dig in with Indiewire on what led to one of this spring’s biggest TV surprises.

If sex work is truly the “world’s oldest profession,” then exploring the lives of the women who engage in sex work isn’t exactly a groundbreaking premise for a story. Case in point: “The Girlfriend Experience,” a new Starz anthology series that owes its very existence to a 2009 Steven Soderbergh-directed film of the same title.

But despite the well-worn subject matter, this latest version of “The Girlfriend Experience” is a compelling new half-hour drama that treads upon familiar ground in a fresh, visually captivating way. Now set in Chicago instead of New York, the series follows a brand new Christine (Riley Keough) as she navigates the complicated world of high-class escorts.

At a recent press event for the series in New York City, Soderbergh attributed much of the show’s brilliance to its distinct auteur-driven directorial style, something he believes and has all but disappeared from the movie industry and is now a natural fit for television.

“If you’re one of those people that’s come up with an idea nobody’s done before, the you can kind of have a generic take on the filmmaking and it will still work because nobody’s seen this story,” Soderbergh explained. “But when you’re dealing with something that has been done a lot, and well, by other people, the burden is on you to find a way in that is so specific that it feels new.”

To find that “specificity of image,” Soderbergh sought out one male director and one female director — Lodge Kerrigan and Amy Seimetz, neither of whom knew each other before embarking on this project —  and paired them together to write and direct the series while he produced from the sidelines.

“I felt like the show was really going to live or die on the filmmaking approach,” he said. “So I do think if you can design a show from the beginning with a director or a small group of directors involved, and they are in the core creative group, that you just get a better result.”

Considering how sex and gender can still be so intertwined in modern society, having both a female and male perspective present during the writing process was invaluable — although as Kerrigan noted, both he and Seimetz were so similarly focused on writing individuals that gender wasn’t a defining factor. “I think overall we were both just really interested in who this character was and what decisions she makes,” he said.

Which isn’t to say that the two always approached Christine’s story in exactly the same fashion, particularly as directors. “Amy was really interested in this idea of spying on Christine and being in the room, we both were, but I was also really interested in trying to understand Christine’s psychology and get closer to her,” Kerrigan added. “So that’s one of the directorial differences you can see between Amy’s episodes and mine.”

However, no one involved in the production feels as if their show is really about sex as much as it is about control and power, and how that can affect relationships — or the “ultimate unknowability of other people,” as Soderbergh put it.

“Amy and I were really interesting in examining intimacy, in a professional context or in a transactional context — living in an advanced capitalist society where everything has a price.” Kerrigan said.

Christine, as it turns out, is a master of negotiating that price. “She becomes aware of the fact that she has an effect on men and starts thinking like a superhero who’s just discovering what powers she has,” Soderbergh said. “She’s sort of pushing the boundaries of, how far do these powers that i think i have extend?”

Naturally every superhero needs an origin story, and this premiere season functions exactly like that for Christine. While the original movie gave us just a brief glimpse into the already established world of its escort, played by adult film star Sasha Grey, the Starz series starts us at the very beginning of Christine’s new career; after being introduced to a few of her friend’s clients, she becomes attracted to the agency this new lifestyle affords her — and to her friend, it seems, although Keough stopped just short of identifying Christine as bisexual. “She’s kind of evolved in that sense, I would say, in terms of male, female,” she said. “She likes things and she doesn’t like things.”

Labelling Christine as one sexual orientation or another does feel a bit unfair, since as a character she’s often completely inscrutable — even sometimes, it appears, to herself. That, according to Soderbergh, was by design. “I don’t want her to have an outlet. I want to know what she’s thinking by what she does, but I never want to know.” Even in the show’s sex scenes where she appears to pleasure herself, “it’s not even clear… did she finish? Or did she just give up?”

While the slow rise of the “female antihero” has recently become a topic of much discussion among television and film critics, it’s still rare that we see a female protagonist who’s permitted to be so “intelligent, driven, ambitious, manipulative, conflicted,” and “selfish” — all terms Kerrigan used to describe her. Although, of course, this doesn’t make Christine an “antihero” in the strictest sense, despite the term’s usefulness as a buzzword.

“I wouldn’t really call her an antihero as much as I’d call her a human, really.” – Riley Keough

“She’s got flaws, and there’s not a lot of female characters that are like that. I wouldn’t really call her an antihero as much as I’d call her a human, really,” Keough said.

Nor is Christine a stereotype of a sex worker, with a damaged psyche and a traumatic past. “There’s nothing wrong with her. She’s not broken. There’s no skeleton in the closet that you find out,” Soderbergh says. Rather, her emotional aloofness is simply an inherent part of her character.

“In a way she feels superior to the human race sometimes, you know?” Keough noted. “I feel like she feels like she’s the smartest person in the whole world. I think that creates a distance.”

Don’t go expecting “The Girlfriend Experience” to moralize on its subject, either. “I don’t this by any means speaks for sex work or any generalities,” Keough said. “It’s called ‘The Girlfriend Experience,’ obviously, but it’s more of a character study for me, and it’s a look at this girl and her decisions, really.”

“We were all very clear that we didn’t want to editorialize or comment whether sex work was good or bad,” Kerrigan added. “It’s up to the audience to make that determination for themselves, and it’s very non-judgemental. It’s really just trying to be realistic, but at the same time intimate look at this one character, this one woman’s decision.”

Also of note: the series takes great care to juxtapose Christine’s sex work with her “day job” as an intern in an incredibly competitive law firm, where she often has less control over her circumstances.

“When you’re in a capitalist society, everything is transactional,” Kerrigan explained. “Every work is transactional. There’s always power [at play] when you’re an employee, no matter what job you have. So comparing the two, I thought was really kind of interesting — which is actually more oppressive than the other?”

But just like her clients, we’ll only get a brief window into Christine’s world; next season will see “a new landscape, new character, new place, to just keep switching it up so that you don’t fall into this trap of running out of ideas for your character,” said Soderbergh.

Even Kerrigan and Seimetz will eventually leave to make way for new directors, although they have another season to go before that happens. In the meantime, Soderbergh is content to sit back and let them have even more control over Season 2 next year.

“I don’t really like producing, actually, so I’m always hopeful that they won’t need me a lot,” he admitted with a grin. “When the phone rings, it’s because somebody has a problem you have to solve.”

“The Girlfriend Experience” Season 1 premieres Sunday on Starz. 

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“People are judgemental about sex, but everyone has their own moral code.”

The granddaughter of Elvis Presley, Riley Keough has broken into acting with roles as Nora, a stripper with a pet pig, in Magic Mike and Capable, one of the enslaved wives on the lam with Furiosa, in Mad Max: Fury Road. Now, she’s starring in her own TV show, The Girlfriend Experience, which premieres April 10 on Starz.

Based on the 2009 Steven Soderbergh film by the same name, Keough plays Christine, a law student by day, high-end call girl by night. The actress spoke with TIME about challenging our assumptions about morality, how difficult it is to find complex roles for women and her Mad Max character’s backstory.

TIME: How did you come to this role?

I worked with Steven Soderbergh on Magic Mike, and he had me in mind for this role. He’s a genius, so I don’t question him. I knew if he was producing the show it was going to be about something more profound than just sex. It’s also hard as a woman to find characters who are difficult or unapologetic or have different morals like Christine.

Why?

A lot of the time unfortunately for women, there’s not a lot of complex roles. I don’t mean complex like tortured or whatever. I mean complex like there’s more going on with them than “I’m a mom.”

People are afraid to show women with demons. But I think it’s important for women to see flawed female characters. We’re held to a perfect standard but every woman is flawed. And there are women who like sex and don’t care. Whether it’s this show or an Amy Schumer sketch, it’s important to see women who aren’t perfect. I’m interested in opening up the range of women on TV.

There’s been a larger conversation in Hollywood in the lack of women behind the camera. What was the experience like working with both a male director, Lodge Kerrigan, and a female director, Amy Seimetz, on this show?

Steven did that for a reason. He put in one male director and one female director to get two perspectives. I think that’s the smartest way to do that. If we could do that with every film that would be great.

Why do you think it was important that the show not judge Christine?

She’s not a victim. It’ll push people’s buttons because she comes from a great background, so they’ll ask, “Why did she choose this?” People are judgemental about sex, but everyone has their own moral code. So unless you are hurting people, who are we to say what’s right? Christine is secure in her moral code and not wavering in what she’s doing. It challenges your assumptions.

You spoke to a call girl in order to prepare for this role. Did anything she say surprise you?

I was most interested in how emotions tie into it because I’m very emotional whereas Christine is not at all. What [the woman I spoke with] was telling me was that she did have emotions for clients. And I was like, “Okay so not everyone who does this is like Christine and can compartmentalize as well as she does.” I don’t want to say Christine is sociopathic, but questionably sociopathic.

In Mad Max: Fury Road you learned about a different part of the sex trade. Director George Miller brought Vagina Monologues writer and famed feminist Eve Ensler to the set to talk to the cast about sex trafficking. What was that like?

My character, one of the wives, was a sex slave. Eve had us do exercises that she did with survivors, and we were all in tears by the end. It gave us the anger we needed for the role but also made us feel empowered as women.

Obviously the situation that Christine is in is very different than the world of Mad Max, but did you think about what Eve Ensler said about sex trafficking at all during the course of making this TV show?

Not really. It’s the story of a woman who really does what she wants to do, and this is what she enjoys doing, which is very different from sex trafficking. I think the point is that if you had a show about a man who went, “I want to be an escort,” it would look almost glamorous. And so for me the point was like why is this okay if a man does this and if a woman does this it’s terrible and forbidden and bad, bad, bad? So I’m obviously 100% against sex trafficking, but I am interested in making people think about things and making people think outside of what they’re predisposed to think.

Can you tell us some of the backstory for you character in Mad Max that didn’t make it to the screen?

Every single character has an incredibly intimate backstory. That’s just the way George works. We got to write and approve our own backstories. George had some ideas. We came up with how old the women were when they became breeders. For example, some of them came in as babies and were offered to the Immortan. Some of them were handpicked. Also, my character and Rosie [Huntington-Whiteley]’s character had a connection growing up together sort of like sisters.

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We have 4 new stills of Riley’s upcoming tv series ‘The Girlfriend Experience’.

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TV Series > The Girlfriend Experience (2016) > Stills

Riley Keough, actress and granddaughter of Elvis and Priscilla Presley, is taking Hollywood by storm. Starring in “Magic Mike” and “Mad Max: Fury Road,” the 26-year-old starlet takes on the role of a young escort in Starz’s “The Girlfriend Experience.”

Keough opened up about her risqué character and experience on the show at the Television Critics Association winter press tour.

“It’s not something you see as a lead character on a TV show,” she shared. “I wouldn’t say she’s extremely likable or morally correct. She’s very controlling, manipulative and kind of selfish and likes sex. It’s kind of a character you see more for a man, and it kind of drew me to the show.”

Keough revealed the number one obstacle she had to overcome as she played a character law school student turned escort.

“I would say something I had to overcome was being able to have sex with no emotional connection and I sort of started to understand that the more sex scenes I did,” she explained. “Which was interesting how it could be just a sort of physical thing, because that’s not what it is for me.”

And Keough admitted that she feels uncomfortable to have the men in her family watch this new show.

“I don’t really want to show men in my family the show to be honest,” she revealed. “My mother (Lisa Marie Presley) has seen the show. She likes it. She’s pretty progressive. She understands art.”

“The Girlfriend Experience” is a 13 episode series for Starz and is based on the 2009 film directed by Steven Soderbergh. The show premieres April 10th on Starz.

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The Mad Max: Fury Road star reveals what she had to get over to play an escort in The Girlfriend Experience. “I couldn’t wrap my head around how you view sex that way,” she says.

Generally, you get two kind of prostitutes in the movies or on TV: The streetwalker with the heart of gold, who may or may not be saved by a prince charming client (Pretty Woman), or the exploited, often abused woman who finds herself in the world’s oldest profession because of dire circumstances or coercion (Taxi Driver). As the protagonist of the Steven Soderbergh-produced TV series The Girlfriend Experience, premiering April 10th on Starz, actress Riley Keough depicts an unseen—and often unknown—facet of the escort business: workers who enter into it willingly and remain there because they actually enjoy their jobs.Keough, the 26-year old granddaughter of Elvis Presley and one of the sex slave “wives” in Mad Max: Fury Road, stars as Christine Reade, a second-year law student in Chicago whose curiosity is piqued by a friend’s job as a GFE, a rarefied escort service that provides clients with ongoing emotional and sexual relationships (Soderbergh made a 2009 film of the same name that featured the porn star Sasha Grey). Upon becoming a GFE, initially to supplement her studies and high profile internship at a law firm, the confident, socially distant Christine finds both pleasure and unexpected complications as she delves deeper and deeper into the escort world.

What made you want to take on the role of Christine?
It was a character that you don’t really come across very often as a woman: someone who is complicated, complex, kind of unlikable, kind of controlling, kind of selfish, and likes sex and is manipulative. That’s something you typically see more for a male character, so that was what really got me interested in this story. And the other things are components, parts of who she is. So I was very excited by her when I read it.

Did you have reservations at all about the level of nudity and sex you would need to portray?
No, because before reading it I was aware of what the subject matter was, and it was on Starz and those networks allow lots of crazy sex. So I knew what I was about to read. I was definitely apprehensive about knowing whether or not I would be able to fully understand her because that’s not something I can relate to at all.

Meaning?
The casual sex, that viewpoint on sex. I can understand being selfish; I can understand being manipulative. I can understand those things, but I couldn’t wrap my head around how you view sex that way. And in order to play something, for me, I don’t want to play something if I don’t understand it one hundred percent in some way. So I was apprehensive about that: Can I really understand who this person is? And can I really get to a place where I can understand how you can feel that way? So that was scary for me. And I didn’t want to do it if I couldn’t. But I did eventually get there.

You met with some real life GFE’s. What insights did you pick up from them that helped you with this role?
How many there are. How normal it is and people don’t know it’s going on. To me it was this crazy, rare thing that I didn’t know much about. There were so many of them. It’s a lot. Now I look around and I’m like, ‘They’re everywhere.’

Can you spot them if you go out to a restaurant?
One hundred percent.

What are the tells?
Not to be mean, but the first thing is there is an age difference. That’s the number one thing. And then it’s just their behavior, the way they’re acting. Obviously, not every young woman with an older man is an escort, but it’s where they are, what restaurants they’re at, what hotels they’re at, what she’s wearing. I can just sort of tell just because of all the knowledge I now have on the subject.

You have GFE-dar! Your character’s sister refers to Christine as incredibly selfish, and Christine even has concerns she’s a sociopath. What is your take on her preference for being alone and avoiding meaningful relationships, platonic or otherwise?
It’s super interesting to me to play a girl who is not obsessed with her feelings and is in touch with herself. A lot of girls are very emotional and she just doesn’t give a shit about her feelings. She’s like, “Whatever.” She’s very pragmatic and doesn’t get caught up in a lot of emotions like [many] women. So it was fun.

It sounds quite liberating.
It was. The whole thing was quite liberating because you don’t normally get to play someone who is that sure of themselves doing these things. She knows who she is and she is young, so it was very fun.

Christine is super smart and on her way to becoming a passionate, successful lawyer. What do you think was the appeal of the GFE life?
It was a thrill for her. I think it’s control. I think she really is a control freak. She feels superior to most people in general. I think that’s what doesn’t allow her to get vulnerable or emotional with people, because she just feels like she’s smarter than everybody.

Christine is very cognizant of her effect on men. And I feel like all women have that moment when they understand their effect on men. Do you remember what that was like for you, and did that help you with this character?
I think a lot of women have the general idea of what kind of control they have over men. Not to simplify men into just being controlled by sex, but women can have this power over men. And for her, she loves that. Power over anybody, really, and I guess she realizes how easily it can be done with men for her. So I think that’s a huge component in why she does it, and likes it.

It’s interesting that she’s someone who doesn’t like the messiness of emotions in her own life, but she chooses to be a GFE, which entails listening to and dealing with the emotions of her male clients. Why not just be a prostitute without the GFE part?
There are a lot of reasons why. I don’t want to say all of them because I like the audience to figure her out for themselves. I think that there’s a reason why you don’t see her discussing anything vulnerable or personal in her real life, and you do sort of see some of that with these men. But then there are other times when you don’t know whether she’s lying to them or not. You don’t know if she’s telling the truth or if she’s just saying what she thinks they want to hear. But it is interesting that the only times you see her vulnerable are with clients, really. There’s something in that, but like I said I don’t want to over intellectualize it. What I liked about the show is we’re putting this thing here for people to watch and come up with their own viewpoints.

I know you went into this understanding what was going to be asked of you from a shooting standpoint. But were there ever points where you were like, “I feel uncomfortable doing that,” or, “That’s not something I want to do”?
There were moments where I was like, “That’s not what she would do.” But that’s because I realized people have different ways of doing sexual things. And I had to kind of get over that because Christine is not going to have sex and do things the way I do them. So I was like, “That’s a dumb argument.” A lot of the time I think actors will say, “My character wouldn’t do that,” because they can’t get to a place where they understand it, which is fine. But I wanted to get to a place where I understood it and I didn’t want to just turn her into Riley. Because that’s totally different from me. So it was me having to figure her out instead of bringing her to me.

That said, were there any elements of her you could identify with?
I think when you’re with Christine sometimes you feel alone in a crowded situation. And I can identify with that. And not in a sad way, just in an exterior to the situation kind of way. Feeling different to other people I can understand. And not in the way she does—she thinks she’s the best thing in the world. But just feeling on a different wavelength to people, I can understand that a lot.

Did playing this role change your perspective on sex work and GFE’s, whatever preconceptions you had prior to this?
Yeah. No one really knows the world of sex work where people are doing it because they want to. What you hear is girls who are forced into being sex slaves and prostitution and street workers and things that are very not this story. I wasn’t even aware of this world. It just opened my eyes to a completely different world of sex work. There are girls who are doing this, girls we spoke with who did it because they liked it. And a lot of them were retired and still saying, “I don’t regret it, I loved my job.” It wasn’t something they were saying under pressure, they were being very honest with us. So I would just say that my education on different types of sex work has grown.

You got married recently [to Australian stuntman Ben Smith-Peterson]. Was it hard signing on for this so close to getting married?
Just because of the schedule of shooting two weeks after we got married.

What a happy honeymoon!
We did have a two-week sort of trip that we did. But that was the hardest thing. Do I really want to work right after I get married? But you can’t a lot of the time pick the things you shoot, unfortunately. And he’s also in the same industry, and if it was him he would be working as well.

But the content of it was never an issue?
No, he’s very cool. He’s, like, very chilled out. He understands film. He works in the industry. He gets how it works and he’s very, very cool. I’m lucky with that.

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Amazing news. STARZ announced their App/8.99 a month and you could watch ‘The Girlfriend Experience’ and more anytime and anywhere. We are still waiting for an answer if the App is also available for those who don’t live in the USA. We will inform you.

GET THE APP HERE

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Public Appearances > 2016 > April – USA Today Interview

BEVERLY HILLS — Riley Keough can’t keep a straight face.

Sitting for a photo shoot the actress manages a few alluring shots, as her new Starz series, The Girlfriend Experience, would suggest, but her publicist and stylist keep making her laugh. “You guys!” she says.

But on Sunday (Starz, 8 p.m. ET/PT; all episodes on Starz.com for subscribers), Keough’s new show will prove serious business, focusing on the most elite level of the world’s oldest profession. The 26-year-old actress takes on escort duties in the new 13-episode series, loosely based on Steven Soderbergh’s 2009 movie starring Sasha Grey.

Unlike the film, the series turns back the clock: Keough plays Christine, a law school student lured into the high-class escort world through a girlfriend.

Soderbergh, an executive producer on the show, says he told writer-directors Amy Seimetz and Lodge Kerrigan to take his title — and start from scratch. “We agreed that unlike the film, where you kind of parachute into a character’s life as a GFE, that it would be interesting to sort of set a character up and watch her gradually move her way through this world,” he says.

She tries sleeping with (mostly older) men for money – and later, revels in it. “I liked the idea of showing a girl who doesn’t come from an oppressive background, who is intelligent and has a lot going for her, that ends up in sex work. Not the other story, which has been told before,” Keough says.

As a character, Christine is “controlling, she’s manipulative, she’s selfish. She likes sex. She doesn’t really want to discuss her feelings or emotions. She’s more of a character you’d see for a male lead,” says Keough, who had zero nerves about the required pay-cable nudity, but plenty in taking on her first TV series.

The actress, who has appeared in movies including The Runaways and Mad Max: Fury Road (she played one of the wives) currently lives a quiet life with Ben Smith-Petersen, her stuntman husband of one year, in West Hollywood. But the Starz series could change that. “I’ve been dying for it to drop so people can start talking about it,” says Soderbergh.

Turn back the clock, and Keough had the kind of legacy upbringing that fascinates. Elvis Presley was her grandfather (though she never met him), and Michael Jackson was her stepfather for several years. So was Nicholas Cage. “I fast-forwarded some sex scenes” while watching GFE with mom, Lisa-Marie Presley and dad, musician Danny Keough, she says. Keough spent part of her youth in Hawaii, craving work and finding odd jobs until she began modeling professionally at 14.

But the actress is also aware of her privilege. Soderbergh remembers casting her in a small role in 2012’s Magic Mike. “She seemed very centered and calm and bright, and I made a mental note of, ‘Keep an eye on her, remember her,'” he says.

Now fame – and the kind of paparazzi that pop up on grocery runs – looms.

“All I want is to work,” she says. “I don’t really care what comes along with it.”

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