Ac­tor Ri­ley Keough is a be­guil­ing pres­ence in young Hol­ly­wood as she re­fuses to play by the rules

ELLE (UK) - - Contents - Styling by SEAN KNIGHT

‘Wait, so am I weird? I hon­estly had no idea

‘I might be a so­ciopath. And I might be very neu­rotic. I do won­der some­times…’ Ri­ley Keough blurts the words out with the kind of heady gig­gle that might erupt af­ter an em­bar­rass­ing anec­dote. I’m cer­tain the softly spo­ken Keough, can­dle-lit be­fore me in an old-school ‘white table­cloth’ diner in Los Angeles, is none of those things. But it’s state­ments like this that make the 28-year-old ac­tor – nom­i­nated last year for both a Golden Globe and an In­de­pen­dent Spirit Award for her raw per­for­mances in The Girl­friend Ex­pe­ri­ence and Amer­i­can Honey – such a fas­ci­nat­ing crea­ture and one with that rare gift of stand­ing out in Hol­ly­wood.

‘Act­ing is the only thing I don’t get anx­ious about,’ she says. ‘I’m con­stantly hav­ing an iden­tity cri­sis and you start to go, “Who the fuck am I?”’ Keough’s sense of her own iden­tity seems as fluid as the waved Ti­tian mane that falls mer­maid-like over her navy sweater. She ap­pears both ‘silly’ (her words) and se­ri­ous, vul­ner­a­ble and head­strong, child-like and savvy, in­tense and easy­go­ing, but above all, will­ing to lay her­self bare. In black lace-up Louis Vuit­ton boots and rolledup jeans, today she is equal parts tomboy, Rita Hay­worth, shy emo and pro-woman rebel, all en­cased in her mother’s ex­quis­ite bone struc­ture (she’s the daugh­ter of mu­si­cian and phi­lan­thropist Lisa Marie Pres­ley). The word ‘Nope’ is tat­tooed on her left wrist. Re­cently, she over­heard one of her PR team de­scribe her as a bit of a weirdo: ‘I said: “Wait, so am I weird?” I had no idea. There are a hun­dred peo­ple in the world who think I’m a hun­dred dif­fer­ent peo­ple. So you’ll hear, “Ri­ley is the sweet­est girl” or “Oh no, Ri­ley? She’s so wild.” My friend said yes­ter­day, “You’re the most un­pre­dictable per­son. You’re a nut job.” And I said, “Re­ally? I view my­self as ra­tio­nal, hard­work­ing, eth­i­cal and a good de­ci­sion-maker.”’

Judg­ing by her body of work over the past seven years, Keough’s per­cep­tion is pretty ac­cu­rate. Since her turns in 2010’s The Run­aways, about the epony­mous all-girl punk band, and as a strip­per in Steven Soder­bergh’s Magic Mike (2012), she has tack­led a di­verse range of of­ten un­like­able an­ti­heroines in fe­male-cen­tric, in­de­pen­dent films. She has been hard-hearted in the sap­phic love story Jack & Diane (2012) and as the home­less Amer­i­can sweet­heart-cum-bitch in An­drea Arnold’s award­win­ning Amer­i­can Honey. She was so­cio­pathic as the sex­u­ally preda­tory law-school in­tern who moon­lights as an es­cort in The Girl­friend Ex­pe­ri­ence, the anti-Fifty Shades Of Grey in terms of its hon­est por­trayal of fe­male sex­u­al­ity. Her char­ac­ter mas­tur­bates 10 min­utes into the first episode – and that’s not even the hors d’oeu­vre.

‘The Girl­friend Ex­pe­ri­ence is about sex as fe­male em­pow­er­ment. I was ter­ri­fied peo­ple would just think: “Oh, she’s just a slut who took off her clothes.” There is def­i­nitely not a full ac­cep­tance of a fe­male be­ing as sexual as a male,’ she says.

So far, it seems there is no un­flat­ter­ing phys­i­cal or emo­tional chal­lenge that Keough, as an ac­tor, won’t un­der­take. But then she has ‘re­ally lived a lot for a 28 year old. No one in my fam­ily is all that sta­ble. They are all artists, a bit like pi­rates.’ Her grand­fa­ther was Elvis Pres­ley, and her fa­ther is rock bassist Danny Keough. Her par­ents split up when she was five, af­ter which her mother, an out­spo­ken Scien­tol­o­gist, was fa­mously mar­ried to Michael Jack­son, Ni­co­las

Cage and then mu­si­cian Michael Lockwood. ‘I’m sen­si­tive. I’m rid­dled with is­sues. I’m prob­a­bly a bit emo­tion­ally un­sta­ble. I felt so many emo­tions. I mean, crazy shit…’ she says.

With seven films re­leased this year, Keough has projects lined up like cars on a Los Angeles free­way. Next up, in a rare light mo­ment in an oth­er­wise gritty body of work, she does com­edy in Lo­gan Lucky (di­rected by Soder­bergh, his first film in four years). She stars as a racer girl and south­ern-belle hair­dresser with two sib­lings, played by Chan­ning Ta­tum and Adam Driver, who at­tempt to rob a Nascar sta­dium with the help of Daniel Craig (a hard-nut jail­bird). The quick-wit­ted cast cer­tainly didn’t help with Keough’s ten­dency to have fits of gig­gles while film­ing.

‘Chan­ning just makes me laugh when I look at him. He’s such a goof­ball,’ she tells me. Craig and Driver, mean­while, were ‘non-stop ban­ter­ing’. She didn’t have any scenes with Fam­ily Guy’s cre­ator Seth MacFar­lane, who has a cameo, but did mis­take an end-of-October birth­day party of his for a Hal­loween event: ‘I dressed up “trashy” in a hot-pink Adi­das track­suit and a gold tooth. When we ar­rived, peo­ple were in cock­tail at­tire.’ Along­side the comic mo­ments, Lo­gan Lucky is also so­cially con­scious, deal­ing with poverty and lack of health­care – none of which is lost on Keough. ‘There are so many things that con­cern me,’ she says. ‘[The cur­rent US pres­i­dent] is re­gres­sive in so many ar­eas – women, im­mi­grants, en­vi­ron­ment. Right now, ev­ery­one is an ac­tivist, and I think that’s re­ally cool. I am very pas­sion­ate about Na­tive Amer­i­can rights, the en­vi­ron­ment, and women.’

Born in Los Angeles, Danielle Ri­ley Keough grew up be­tween there, Hawaii and Eng­land, where her mother moved when she was 19. She was a sen­si­tive child with a mor­bid streak. At 11, she filmed home­made hor­ror movies: ‘I’d put all my friends in them and kill them off.’ At 12, she was told she could do any­thing, so she re­solved to be ‘Pres­i­dent of Eng­land!’ Af­ter her par­ents di­vorced, she stayed close to her fa­ther, who un­der­stood her roller­coaster of emo­tions. ‘He al­ways said: “You can feel more deeply than oth­ers – the hor­ri­ble feel­ings, but also the good ones,”’ she re­veals. Her mother was de­ter­mined not to bring her up as the av­er­age Hol­ly­wood celebrity daugh­ter. ‘My mum is very an­drog­y­nous – she hated bimbo girls. She put it in my head that that [be­hav­iour] was rude and spoiled and bratty.’

In 1994, when Keough was five, her mother mar­ried Michael Jack­son; Keough re­mem­bers trips to toy-filled Nev­er­land, Jack­son’s own ver­sion of Elvis Pres­ley’s 14-acre Grace­land es­tate in Memphis, Ten­nessee. She never met her grand­fa­ther, who died there in 1977. If she could time travel, she’d ‘prob­a­bly want to see him with my mum as a baby. I’m ob­sessed with pic­tures of my de­ceased fam­ily and the [Amer­i­can] south. It makes me feel very nos­tal­gic.’ Elvis died when Lisa Marie was nine, af­ter which she be­came sole heir to the Pres­ley es­tate. ‘My mum is the strong­est woman I’ve ever met. She has had a tough life, hav­ing that kind of power so young. She’s also had to deal with a lot of death and loss in her life.’

Keough ad­mits that grow­ing up un­der press scru­tiny left its mark. ‘I was over-aware of peo­ple look­ing, but I am not both­ered by fame,’ she says. She’s gra­cious enough to ad­mit that ‘fame has al­lowed me to act. I don’t think I’d have pro­gressed as quickly [had it not been for her back­ground].’ She at­tended the­atre pro­grammes at school and en­rolled in act­ing classes at places such as Hol­ly­wood’s Lost Stu­dio: ‘I would vet them, do a cou­ple of days, then I would leave.’

Keough’s fas­ci­na­tion with fe­male iden­tity came at an early age: ‘I re­alised when I was very young that if I dressed up, did my hair and wore make-up, I’d be treated dif­fer­ently, and it made me un­com­fort­able. I al­ways felt a bit an­drog­y­nous. I just didn’t want men to look at me.’ In her late teens, she ob­served how oth­ers re­sponded to her based on her ever-chang­ing hair colour (since our in­ter­view, she has gone brunette): ‘Red is, “Oh, you’re in­ter­est­ing, a bit wild.” Brunette: peo­ple tend to take you more se­ri­ously. Blonde is, “Here’s a hot young ac­tress” – and I don’t like that,’ she says. At 20, she shaved all her hair off: ‘I could walk around Brook­lyn at night and, as a woman, I didn’t feel like I had to look over my shoul­der. I al­ways felt vul­ner­a­ble at 2am with no one else around. I used to carry a knife ev­ery­where with me, in my bag.’

She no longer car­ries the knife now that she has her hus­band by her side. Keough first no­ticed Aus­tralian stunt­man Ben Smith-Peter­son while film­ing Mad Max: Fury Road in the Namib­ian desert in 2012, but she was with her fi­ancé, Magic Mike’s Alex Pet­tyfer, at the time. It was only on the re-shoot a year later, in Aus­tralia, when SmithPeter­son and Keough were both sin­gle again, that they started ‘hang­ing out’. He won her over with a road trip. ‘One day, we were at this gas sta­tion and I just had this weird feel­ing he was go­ing to be the fa­ther of my kids. It wasn’t a sexual thing or an ir­ra­tional girlie thing, it was just “re­mem­ber that thought”.’ They got en­gaged six months later and mar­ried in the Napa Val­ley in 2015. So far, they co-par­ent two dogs, but Keough isn’t quite ready to fol­low that up with her de­sired ‘tribe’ of chil­dren. ‘I think I know who I am, and then I don’t. I want to get to a sta­ble point where I’ve been con­sis­tent for two years be­fore hav­ing kids.’ But Smith-Peter­son has proved to be a ground­ing in­flu­ence: ‘It’s a roller­coaster for him. I’m a com­plete psy­cho and he’s sta­ble and ra­tio­nal.’

The pair are more likely to be found at home play­ing cha­rades than par­ty­ing. ‘I’m not in any kind of Hol­ly­wood crowd,’ she says. She knew her bridesmaid, Dakota John­son, be­fore ei­ther of them started act­ing, and grew up a 10-minute drive away from her Run­aways co-star, Kris­ten Ste­wart. ‘All my friends are kooks. I don’t hang out with any nine-to-fivers who’ve got their shit to­gether.’ Her other friends in­clude film-mak­ing part­ner Gina Gam­mell, who she co­pro­duced Dix­ieland in 2015 with, and Aus­tralian model-ac­tres­s­painter-mu­si­cian Abbey Lee Ker­shaw – her co-star in up­com­ing mys­tery thriller Wel­come The Stranger. But Keough’s ten­dency to mir­ror oth­ers means she prefers to work with friends – and ‘kind peo­ple’.

When Keough does lose her way, she re­mem­bers who she re­ally is: ‘I think, “I’m sure I care about other peo­ple. I’m sure I’m silly….”’ Keough’s in­ter­nal con­tra­dic­tions, can­dour, and ex­plo­ration of fe­male iden­tity make for charm­ing en­coun­ters off-screen and thrilling per­for­mances on it. And there is so much more yet to come. As well as her film com­mit­ments, she has founded her own pro­duc­tion com­pany for fe­male-cen­tric works and called it Felix Culpa – happy flaws. It could be Keough’s per­sonal motto.

‘I was over-aware^of peo­ple look­ing, but i am not both­ered by fame... it has al­lowed me to act

THIS PAGE AND OP­PO­SITE Tulle and crepe de chine dress, £1,795, SI­MONE ROCHA

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