“It was very empowering to play an empowered woman,” admits Riley Keough as we chat via webcam (watch above) about her role in the Starz anthology drama series “The Girlfriend Experience.” She plays law student Christine Reade, an intern at a prestigious New York law firm, who also moonlights as a high-end escort.
“I’m very emotional, I’m girly, I talk about my feelings,” Keough explains. “But it was totally liberating to play a character that doesn’t give a damn about what anybody thinks. I’m super sensitive and really affected by other people’s energies, so it was super liberating to play that. It was really enticing for me.”
Inspired by the 2009 film by Stephen Soderbergh of the same name, the series’ first season was written and directed by Lodge Kerrigan and Amy Seimetz, who were chosen by Soderbergh along with Keough (with whom he’d worked on “Magic Mike”) to put their own spin on his original vision. After Seimetz and Kerrigan spent months meticulously planning the first season, the actress was brought on to further develop the character. “I had never worked in television before. I was essentially shooting a long movie,” Keough says. “I got all 13 episodes five months before we even started shooting and I got to read all 13 episodes and then make an educated decision on things,” she explains. “It was an amazing thing for me to see the entire arc and figure out who this person is.”
One of the challenges of bringing the character to life was to not become preoccupied with whether she was sympathetic. That was in keeping with the austere and emotionally disconnected world of Christine between her day job as a law intern and in her life as an in-demand escort. “It’s always about how is she relatable? Is she likeable?” she says. “But it is so much fun to not have that concern and just play this human being. Not everybody is likable. Some people might think she’s funny, and some people might hate her, and that’s reality to me. The more unlikeable she was the more fun I had playing her.”
Given the subject matter, the show features its fair share of sex and nudity, which was integral to the story and to exploring who this character was. For Keough, that was all in a day’s work. “As she was becoming more comfortable, I was becoming more comfortable,” she admits. “If I wasn’t fully doing my job, I might have been uncomfortable, but because I got there mentally, it wasn’t uncomfortable because I was Christine. I worked very hard to be this person, with that came along the confidence of all of these things I had to do.”
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