This story about Riley Keough first appeared in the Down to the Wire: Drama and Limited Series issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine. The interview was conducted before the SAG-AFTRA strike began.
The beginning of 2021 was a rough time for Riley Keough. A few years removed from her breakthrough roles in Andrea Arnold’s film “American Honey” and Steven Soderbergh’s series “The Girlfriend Experience,” she was about to codirect her first film, “War Pony,” with Gina Gammell, and she had a starring role as a ’70s rock star in “Daisy Jones & the Six,” the hotly anticipated limited series adaptation of Taylor Jenkins Reid’s hit novel.
But her struggle with Lyme disease was getting particularly rough, and she was also reeling from the summer 2020 death of her younger brother, Benjamin. (The second unexpected death in her family, of her mother, Lisa Marie Presley, happened after the series had been completed.)
“We were supposed to start filming [‘Daisy Jones’] at the beginning of the year, and I was definitely feeling like, I don’t know if I can make it through this with everything I’m going through,” she said. “I certainly considered not doing it at that point.”
But with the COVID-19 pandemic hanging on, shooting was delayed for six months, and she decided that playing a free-spirited (if troubled) rock singer might be a tonic.
“I think something in me knew that it would be a healing experience,” she said. “I had a feeling it would be the kind of job where I felt joy going to work every day and was excited to be there. I kind of felt it was there for a reason and I should continue working on it, you know?”
But she didn’t have any illusions that it would be easy: Keough might be the granddaughter of Elvis Presley and the daughter of Lisa Marie Presley, both of whom had careers in music, but she was not an experienced musician and had to work hard to perform and pull off the trappings of rock stardom in a 10-episode, 8.5-hour limited series.
“I was intimidated by the workload, because it was an extremely rigorous schedule,” she said. “I knew the schedule was gonna be crazy, I knew it was gonna be a lot of physical work, a lot of performance and a lot of workdays and nights. But when I do things that are challenging and I’m able to push through and achieve things, I feel stronger.”
In a way, the biggest challenge was to turn herself into a credible rock star; despite the fact that that job description ran in the family, her own musical experience was limited and it took her several auditions before she convinced the producers that she could pull off the role vocally.
“It was daunting,” she said. “I think the time we spent doing the music in the rehearsal space and in the studio at Sound City — we spent so much time rehearsing that we all felt true confidence in our performance. We rehearsed for a year during the pandemic and we were really, truly confident. Which was not a place I don’t think any of us ever felt we would get to, you know?”
Pushing through earned her an Emmy nomination, her first, for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie. It was one of nine noms for “Daisy Jones,” including Outstanding Limited or Anthology Series, giving the series the highest profile of anything Keough has done.
“It reiterated that I want to do things I enjoy and not think about the outcome,” she said. “Not who’s gonna see it or who’s gonna like it, because ultimately you can’t think about anything other than what makes you happy. For me, that’s what I’ve learned doing this.”