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Riley Keough wonders if we make too big a deal out of sex

On "The Girlfriend Experience," the actor (and Elvis' granddaughter) plays a young call-girl who doesn't think about her feelings. Keough finds that funny.
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    On "The Girlfriend Experience," premiering on April 10 on Starz, Riley Keough play|Starz

Let's get this out of the way: Riley Keough is Elvis’ granddaughter. Her mom is Lisa Marie Presley and she spent some of her life with Michael Jackson as a stepdad. When we speak, Keough discusses none of this. She doesn’t have to. She’s made her own life, and that includes a relatively normal actor’s career: A start in indies (like “Jack & Diane”), striking supporting work in the likes of “Magic Mike” and “Mad Max: Fury Road.” And now she headlines the Starz show “The Girlfriend Experience,” in which she’s in nearly every scene.

Spun-off from the titular 2009 movie by Steven Soderbergh (who produced), “GFE” spends 13 half-hour episodes spying on Christine, a young law student who moonlights as a high-end escort. Keough, 26, has to convey a lot without saying much. That’s fine with her.

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Shooting TV can be hectic for actors, but it seems the quick pace might have helped with a character who doesn’t say much. Most of the time, we watch Christine as she's silent.
I generally don’t like overthinking things or preparing too much. This didn’t give me room to do that at all. I didn’t have an hour to sit in my trailer and intellectualize my scenes. I was given whatever we were doing, and then I was just doing it. With movies you have time to overthink.

Christine doesn’t have another person to talk to. That’s unusual for a lead character. Even Jane Fonda’s character in “Klute” had a therapist.
She just isn’t that interested in intellectualizing her feelings and emotions, unlike most women. Women are supposed to talk about everything. I am emotional, and I care about my feelings, and I get upset. But [Christine] really doesn’t care. She finds that to be a waste of time. I find that really funny.

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Soderbergh has talked about how she’s unique because she just doesn’t think of sex as a big deal.
That’s true. And doing this show made me think about why it’s such a secret, weird thing. Why is there so much attached to it? I like that it means nothing to her. She’s like, “Whatever,” and she’s unapologetic about it. That makes you think: Is everyone right about sex? It’s something that has a lot of emotion attached to it. People get angry about it, people hate it, people love it, people are obsessed with it. To have someone who doesn’t care is super weird. It’s more of a role you’d see for a male character. I think [writers-directors] Amy [Seimetz] and Lodge [Kerrigan] were writing for a human, not a woman. That’s a great perspective to have on her — that she’s just a person, to not give her a gender.

What was that like, having a woman and a man write and direct a show about a woman like this?
The thing with Lodge and Amy is they were both writing for a person who happens to be a woman. They have the same viewpoint. They weren’t like, “She’s going to do this because she’s a girl.” That was cool, and cool for me, because I didn’t have some crazy misogynistic guy saying, “Give him a blow job, make it hot, show me your t—s.”

The goal of all the talk about diversity that’s been happening lately is that one day it won’t require a discussion.
In a perfect world everyone’s the same. We’re all human beings. But these conversations are important to have. It’s f—ing annoying that these conversations have been going on for so long. It’s going somewhere, though. I hope.

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You were one of the wives in “Mad Max: Fury Road,” which is a film that was ostensibly about a heroic white male but wound up really being about strong women fighting against old men.
It’s funny because none of us thought about it like that. After people started jumping on that train it was like, “Oh, it really is. How did we never think of this before?” But it’s kind of sad that it’s looked at as a feminist film, just because there are women in it. If it was about men it wouldn’t be a film about male freedom. We have to label everything if they’re not whitebred.

True, though the idea that they were rebelling against an old patriarchy that refuses to change says a lot about what’s happening, especially in this election season.
Totally. It’s this weird, consistent thing that’s been going on for hundreds of years. Whoever deemed white men to be in charge of the entire world?

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So far that’s the only big Hollywood film you’ve done, and most of your career has been indies. Do you consciously go after smaller projects?
I pursue whatever interests me at the time. When I did “GFE” I was very interested in this subject matter. I’m always changing my mind about things. I’m not someone who will say something and tell you that’s what I’ll always feel about it. [A project I choose] is something I think will make me grow as a person. It has to be something I want to explore, whether it’s a social thing or whatever I’m into at the moment. It changes all the time.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge

 

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