INTERVIEW: Riley Keough on her role in The Girlfriend Experience
Riley Keough plays Christine, a law-firm intern who becomes a high-end escort, in her Golden Globe-nominated role. Seasons 1-2 of this no-under-18s series are now streaming first and only on Showmax.
Executive produced by Oscar winner Steven Soderbergh, The Girlfriend Experience is about Christine, a law-firm intern who becomes a high-end escort. In the lead role, Riley Keough (Mad Max: Fury Road, Magic Mike) was up for Best Actress at the Golden Globes.
Now streaming first and only on Showmax, the hit show has an 85% critics rating and an 84% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with Newsday calling it, “TV’s most adult show,” The Guardian hailing it as “TV’s most audacious drama,” and Vulture celebrating it as “one of the best shows of the year.”
We caught up with Riley, who happens to be Elvis Presley’s eldest grandchild, to find out more about her challenging role.
How would you describe Christine?
I can say whatever I think about Christine but one of the big ideas about the show is to be very non-judgmental – not put our opinions into it much. I don’t really like talking about exactly who she is because I think that that’s the fun about the show: you figure it out as the season goes along. I think at the end everybody will come to a different conclusion about who Christine is.
Why does Christine want to be an escort?
Figuring out how you could meet men in hotel rooms and have sex with them and run this whole operation – I had to wrap my head around that. I think the answer is just that’s just part of who she is. It takes a specific kind of person to be able to do something that bold. I think she likes control and she likes thrills and she likes money and it all sort of works for her. And then she just finds that she really enjoys it. That’s who she is.
How is The Girlfriend Experience different from other shows about prostitution?
It’s not about being a victim. It is nothing like the classic sad story we hear all the time. I think a lot of the time you get girls who come from an oppressive situation or who are hurt or who have some sort of fucked-up childhood or something that drives them to become a prostitute. What about the girls who are prostituting because they want to? So I was very interested at looking at the subject in a different way. I think that’s what we were all interested in.
Did you speak with any real escorts to prepare to play Christine?
I did. [Creators] Amy [Seimetz] and Lodge [Kerrigan] had a bunch of people that they were getting their information from and girls they were talking to. So I got to speak with them as well. For the most part the girls that were being talked to were girls in a similar situation to Christine. They were very smart and had a lot going for them and were doing it because they liked it – so that was good.
Is this a realistic portrayal of the escort industry?
No, I don’t think so. I think that every girl has a completely different story, you know? I don’t think we’re trying to create a realistic portrayal of the industry. I think we were just coming up with an interesting idea that we hadn’t really seen before. Somebody coming from a great background, close family, great opportunities ahead in college and in law school with a great internship who wants to be an escort. I don’t think it’s an accurate portrayal of the entire industry, absolutely not.
Did playing Christine change any of your preconceived ideas about the escort industry?
I didn’t really know much about the industry but now my awareness is definitely higher. For the most part, if somebody is generally succeeding in life and doing what they want and seems to be happy and not asking for help, you should leave them alone. It made moral codes different for me. I really have no say in other people’s business. That’s what I got from this show and playing this role.
How graphic is the nudity in the show?
She’s an escort so there’s going to be more sex on the show than other shows that aren’t about sex. There are definitely some episodes where things get a bit intense and weird – like Episode 13. But I watch HBO shows and Netflix and all those networks that allow nudity – and I don’t think it’s much worse, I really don’t. I don’t think it’s anything shocking.
Was this a difficult role?
I definitely thought it was going to take a bigger tax on me than it did in terms of emotional damage. I thought it was going to be some traumatic experience I wasn’t going to be able to bounce back from for six months, like, ‘Oh my god, I’m playing a prostitute.’ But the funny thing is she’s not an emotionally damaged character. I think she’s very happy. So I actually found that it was very easy.