Sundance: Riley Keough Tries to Crack Her Character's Psyche in 'Girlfriend Experience'

Courtesy of Sundance Institute
'The Girlfriend Experience'

"Being physically naked wasn’t a problem for me, but wrapping my head around Christine’s viewpoint on sex was different to mine," the actress says of her character in the Starz series.

Riley Keough’s sexy performance in The Girlfriend Experience is hot enough to melt a Park City snowbank.

But the actress, here in Sundance to debut the first four episodes of the Starz series from executive producer Steven Soderbergh, can’t understand all the fuss about sex onscreen.

“I think the importance put on nudity and sex is weird, particularly in America,” says Keough, who plays a law firm intern by day and high-end sex worker by night. “Obviously loads of other countries have it more than America. When you go to Australia or France or England, you can see boobs on TV. You can go to the beach and take your top off. Here and other countries, it’s suppressed and made into this weird thing and I think it makes the energy around sex is weird and secretive.”

For Girlfriend Experience, Keough was required to masturbate on camera and engage in kinky play with older men. But that wasn’t nearly as tough as cracking her character’s psyche.

“I like doing that kind of thing because I think people’s secretive weirdness around nudity and sex I don’t agree with,” she adds. “Being physically naked wasn’t a problem for me, but wrapping my head around Christine’s viewpoint on sex was different to mine. I don’t understand casual sex in the way Christine does. So that was more difficult than the actual filming of the sex scenes.”

After all, it’s all just part of the job. Off screen, Keough is happily married (she was seen nuzzling around town with her husband of one year, stunt double Ben Smith-Petersen, who she met on the set of Mad Max: Fury Road).

Keough’s Sundance schedule is particularly grueling. In addition to doing press for the buzzy series, she will be at the premiere Monday for So Yong Kim’s Lovesong, in which she co-stars.

As such, the granddaughter of Elvis Presley won’t be catching Spike Lee’s Michael Jackson Journey from Motown to Off the Wall, though Jackson was briefly her stepfather when her mother Lisa Marie Presley was married to the King of Pop when she was a child.

“I have no plans to see any movies just because I’m struggling to even find time to sleep,” says Keough, who recently suffered a bout of pneumonia. “I think I’ve got an hour free after lunch at that’s it.”