Walking into a hotel bar, Riley Keough can spot the girlfriend experience almost immediately. “I’ll see a girl and I’ll know she’s giving the GFE,” the 26-year-old actress says, referring to a service sex workers offer that’s based more on emotional intimacy than other, more traditional options. “My education on the subject has been really thorough.”
It had to be, considering Keough’s debut television role as the star of The Girlfriend Experience, a new series on Starz that follows Christine, a law student who moonlights in the world’s oldest profession. But this is no moralizing tale of a woman whose virtue is saved by a john with a heart of gold. “We wanted to tell a story about a girl who ends up with this kind of job, but without judging her,” she says. “This is someone who ended up doing sex work, but who didn’t come from a bad family or experience some sort of trauma. Nobody is forcing her to do it.”
Thanks to a remarkable turn from Keough, Christine’s self-assuredness and steely determination come through loud and clear. The actress, who cut her teeth as a model and has appeared in films including Magic Mike and Mad Max: Fury Road, anchors nearly every scene in the series and puts her formidable talent and striking good looks—she’s a ringer, it should be noted, for mom Lisa Marie Presley—to undeniably good use.
“This role is a game changer for Riley,” says Steven Soderbergh, who created the series. “It’s an incredible performance. It’s as good as anything I’ve seen an actor do—and I’ve been a witness to some wonderful performances. People are going to be stunned by what she does in this series and the range that she shows.”
While that range certainly includes some risqué content, Keough says any struggle with filming racy scenes was overcome quickly. “It’s a bit weird the first time, but by the time we were finished, it was so normal,” she says. “I would have to make the guys that I was working with comfortable, telling them, ‘I do this every day, don’t be nervous.’ ”
That sense of professionalism should serve her well in the coming months, as she’ll be appearing in films including Lovesong and American Honey, directing a handful of music videos and taking a turn at writing her own screenplay, albeit one she’s hesitant to explain much about. And that’s just what’s happening right now. “I get bored really easily,” she says. “That’s why I’m always doing 20 things at once.”
Luckily, the challenges The Girlfriend Experience offered were enough to keep her occupied. “I had so much to do, and I had to do it all so quickly,” she recalls. “It was a lot of work, but I like pushing myself really hard. It was kind of a triumph, being able to walk away from it not having lost my mind.”
In main image: Dress, $3,495, DEREK LAM, dereklam.com. Shannon shoes, $655, CHURCH’S, church-footwear.com. In inset: Jacket, price upon request, EMPORIO ARMANI, armani.com. Trousers, price upon request, ALTUZZARA, altuzarra.com. Shannon shoes, $655, CHURCH’S, church-footwear.com.
Stylist: Paul Frederick. Hair: Christopher Naselli at Starworks Artists. Makeup: Hung Vanngo using ck one Color Cosmetics at The Wall Group.