“If it’s full-length, should I be wearing heels?” Just like that, the stillness surrounding our shoot with Riley Keough at the Shangri-La Hotel in Toronto is instantly replaced with a flurry of motion. Our photographer agrees, her hair and makeup artists nod and as the 29-year-old kicks off the loafers she’s wearing under her floor-length Proenza Schouler dress, her publicist produces a pair of high-heeled black mules. In seconds, she’s back to commanding the room, instinctually adjusting her pose with every flash. The consensus is clear: Keough knows what she’s doing.
Sitting in the hotel, Keough says being in the city brings back memories of her time shooting The Girlfriend Experience, the limited series produced by director Steven Soderbergh, whom Keough worked with on Magic Mike and Logan Lucky. “I very much associate being in Toronto with that time in my life, so I really like being here. I actually filmed in the hallways of this hotel, in the lobby across the street, all over.” Keough’s role in the TV drama earned her her first Golden Globe nomination. Looking back, she says it was a turning point in her career. “I had never done something that difficult or demanding. There’s not another narrative in the story, just this one girl’s. It was like boot camp for an actor, which I really liked.”
In her latest film, Netflix’s Hold the Dark—which co-stars Jeffrey Wright and Alexander Skarsgård—Keough plays Medora Slone, a mother grieving the death of her son. But what informs the character even more than the tragedy she’s facing is the frigid environment she lives in. “It’s kind of like this no man’s land,” she says of the story’s snowy setting, which was filmed in Calgary. “It feels very off the radar and otherworldly.” When she first appears in the movie, her pale skin and spare language make it feel as though the iciness outside is slowly taking hold of her. It’s a haunting performance that’s felt even when she’s not on screen.
“It always depends on the film and how I’m feeling,” she says of her preparation. “With this one, I had a feeling that being in the cold in the woods was going to really do a lot of it for me.” When our conversation turns to the choices she’s made as an actress, Keough says she relies on her instincts more than anything else. “I always look for things that I’m in the mood for. It’s like ‘I want to do something that feels like this,’ then you do it, and get it out of your system.”
Unlike Keough’s characters, her associations with Hollywood royalty are less easy to shake off. As Elvis Presley’s granddaughter and Lisa Marie Presley’s daughter, she says her mom had specific advice for her when she decided to pursue acting. “[She said,] ‘In order to be taken seriously in any career, you’re going to have to show that you know what you’re doing.’” A self-described workaholic, Keough’s certainly done that. She appeared in five movies in 2018, and already has a few in the works for next year (including Earthquake Bird with Alicia Vikander). “I don’t feel the need to prove myself to the world in anything,” she says. “It’s more about proving myself to myself everyday.”
When she’s not acting, Keough is focused on Felix Culpa, the production company she started last year. “I try and relax, but I can’t. I relax by working on my production company’s films. I give myself a break from performing, but I’ll do other stuff because I can’t stop.” Collaborating behind the scenes gives her the opportunity to discover new writers and develop projects she’d like to see.
The world Keough inhabits in Hold the Dark seems as far away from her childhood homes in L.A. or Hawaii as one can get. Still, it’s clear that if she’s required to shoot in harsh conditions, she can take it. “I’ve had a few Canadian winters. You have to feel that cold, you know? You can’t fake that in films. It comes across,” she says. Again, Keough goes with her mood. “I think I’m pretty tough. I can do anything that I want to do—it’s about if I want to do it or not.”
Photography by Kourosh Keshiri.