There is a weird familiarity with Riley Keough that too many people have without really knowing Riley Keough, perhaps because there are so many ways to have glimpsed her: as a fashion model for Dolce & Gabbana, Dior, and Victoriaís Secret; as the woman born into forever being known as the eldest granddaughter of Elvis, the daughter of Lisa Marie Presley, and, later, the stepdaughter of Michael Jackson before Nicolas Cage (making her perpetual gossip-headline fodder); as that sister of Dakota Fanningís character in The Runaways, that stripper Nora in Magic Mike, and that scarlet-haired Capable, one of the five escaped breeders of a water-hoarding desert tyrant, in Mad Max: Fury Road (on the set of which she met her Australian stuntman of a husband). Though now is a good time to actually get to know heróparticularly as a savvy law-school student and call girl named Christine on the new Starz series The Girlfriend Experience (premiering April 10), which was inspired by Steven Soderberghís eponymous 2009 film. Or in the heartfelt indie Lovesong. Or as a soft-spoken partner in genuine conversation about moneymaking, confidence, and the mechanics of not exactly lovemaking, as she was while sitting recently with Esquireís chief What Iíve Learned interviewer, Cal Fussman, at the Sunset Tower Hotel, in Los Angeles.
> Iím not shy. Iím quiet.
With my close friends, I talk a lot. But if Iím at a big dinner, Iím not gonna walk in and go introduce myself to everybody. If I donít feel like saying stuff, I just wonít say stuff.
My third-grade teacher actually made me go outside and yell words across the parking lotójust to be louder. I didnít get what was happening. It felt unnatural. It made me feel like Iím shy.
I guess I just took that on for a while. I thought I would never be able to act because of it.
> I was always interested in having my own moneyónot my familyís money.
I donít think it had anything to do with me being Elvisís granddaughter. None of my drive was I need to get away from my family legacy! I wanted to save up the money to go to film school.
People always ask, How crazy is it that your grandpa was Elvis and your stepdad was Michael Jackson? I make them happy and say, ďYeah, itís sooooo crazy!Ē But actually, I donít think about it, ever.
The reality is I know as much about my grandpa as youíd know about a grandpa you never met.
But I always wanted my own money, and I just loved working. Iíd work at a jewelry store supergluing flowers on sandals for thirty dollars a week. Iíd set up a little store in the living room and sell stuff that Iíd been given for a dollar to my motherís staff.
I remember this Disney watch that Michael gave me. I think I sold that for five.
> I donít know why modeling worked for me, because Iím short. But I liked it because it let me buy my own furniture.
> I started working so much that I didnít finish high school, and then I didnít go to film school. So after a while, I thought, sugars!, what do I do?
Iím going to try acting.
But I was battling that stigma. Oh, Rileyís too shy. And when my agent got me auditions, I wouldnít go. I was really scared.
Then came an audition for The Runaways. And I thought, If I donít try at least once, Iíll never know what wouldíve happened.
So I went in terrified and clueless and sat with the casting director. We did a scene three times. I almost blacked out, I was so nervous. I thought it was the worst thing Iíd ever done. I booked it.
Iím thinking, I donít even know what Iím doing. Iím not an actor.
Two days in, I started to get it.
> I had a little lucky streak for a minute, booked another movie. Booked another movie. Booked another movie. This is darn easy.
I see this with a lot of people who start acting. You go inóI got this, and youíre cocky, and people like that, so they hire you. Then you get beaten up a little bit. Everything crashes. Oh my God. Am I a shit actor? Then youíre not so cocky.
When I was about twenty-one, nothing for a year.
> What do you do in a year like that? Make bad decisions.
> People make you think you need to audition for everything, and that the goal is to make millions and millions and be an action star and be in the biggest blockbusters. And yeah, some darn movies are cool as sugars!. Like, I loved being in Mad Max. Thatís cool. But no one ever said: You donít have to go on things you donít want to go on. I donít care if I do one movie every two years. Thatís important.
> In The Girlfriend Experience, I didnít want Christine just to be the hot girl whoís in law school and does sex work but also is smart. I guess we all wanted her to be kind of cynical and smart, and kind of like a man about her life and her career, and not really emotionally connected to intellectualizing her feelings about things.
Thereís sex in every episode. I did talk to a girl who used to do this sex work, and she said she would find one thing that she liked about the person and just focus on that the whole time. I didnít really do that, but I thought that was interesting.
What I did do was I became kind of mechanical, and I had no emotional connection whatsoever to anything. I didnít feel gross, didnít feel awkward. I didnít feel anything. It was like having a cup of coffee.
> It made me realize that sex isnítóI donít know. On one hand, Iím like, itís really special and itís the closest you get to the person you love, so it should just be for the person you love. But then another part of me is like, is that something that people just teach us?
> Iím writing a film at the moment, hopefully going to direct it this year. No actors. The leads are real people. Itís based on a lot of true stories. Itís gonna be cool, I think.
> But yeah, just film for now. Eventually I want to move to Hawaii and chill forever.