Riley Keough Leans Into Complexities on ‘Under the Bridge’: ‘When You’re a Storyteller, There’s So Much Empathy’ SuperNayr

On June 6, the 2024 IndieWire Honors ceremony will celebrate 13 creators and stars responsible for some of the most stellar work of the TV season. Curated and selected by IndieWire’s editorial team, the event is a new edition of previous IndieWire Honors ceremonies, this time focused entirely on television. We’re showcasing their work with new interviews leading up to the Los Angeles celebration.

Coming off what would ultimately become her Emmy-nominated role as Daisy Jones in Prime Video’s conversation-dominating “Daisy Jones & The Six” miniseries, Keough wasn’t sure of her next move.

Two young men in a foggy forest, one wearing a dark blazer and the other in a black jacket; still from 'Dead Boy Detectives'
Big Little Lies Season 2 Episode 4 Nicole Kidman

The actress, who will receive the Maverick Award at IndieWire Honors, was immersed in her production company, Felix Culpa, and her debut co-writing and co-directing feature, “War Pony,” received the Caméra d’Or at Cannes. There were paths to go down — but a true tale about the horrific murder of Canadian teenager Reena Virk didn’t seem like the obvious choice.

“I was a little bit hesitant going into it because [I thought] true crime, I just didn’t know if it was right for me,” she told IndieWire during a recent interview. “The more I began to understand the story, and Reena’s story, the more I felt really compelled to be part of telling the story in the way that [creator Quinn Shephard and Samir Mehta] wanted to tell the story. I just thought there was a lot of room to have more interesting conversations. … I’ve never really seen a true crime where the victim [was] so much a part of the story and a real, fully realized human being who you feel for and care for.”

Hulu’s eight-episode miniseries, also starring Lily Gladstone, attempts to explore Reena Virk’s life as well as interrogate true crime itself. Riley portrays Rebecca Godfrey, a journalist who wrote a book about the teenagers convicted of the infamous crime. Keough has drawn rave reviews since the program premiered in April — and as an executive producer on the show as well, the conversations it’s generating is something of which she’s particularly proud.

“As a producer, I think sometimes you can hear, ‘Oh, a talent-led production company,’ and maybe people assume it’s a [vanity] credit or something,” she said. “I think that these days, that’s not so much the case anymore. For [producing partner Gina Gammell and myself] specifically, we’re not interested in coming on board something we can’t actually participate in. And they had already written the pilot, and they were already at Hulu. So, we were a little bit hesitant going, ‘Well, what is there for us to do?’ and they were so open to collaborating with us, which was such an ideal experience for our first time producing television.”

Alongside Shephard and Mehta, Keough weighed in on it all, from the scope of the story to last minute details. Both on screen and behind it, she was instrumental as well in the shocking but very true exploration between Keough’s character Rebecca and Warren (Javon Walton), one of the teen’s ultimately convicted. That empathy was appropriately uncomfortable for some audience members, but Keough saw an opportunity to tell a different story.

Under The Bridge -- “Blood Oath” - Episode 103 -- Upsetting news shakes the small town of Victoria, and as rumors surface, Rebecca and Cam reconnect. In the past, Reena enters Josephine’s mafia fantasy world. Rebecca (Riley Keough) and Cam (Lily Gladstone), shown. (Photo by: Darko Sikman/Hulu))
Riley Keough and Lily Gladstone in ‘Under the Bridge‘HULU

“Rebecca is able to find humanity in places that maybe it’s more difficult for other people,” Keough explained. “And I think that happens often with storytellers. I relate to that. When you’re a storyteller, there’s so much empathy. At times, it feels reckless, but it also feels extremely empathetic; she was able to have this human relationship with this person who was involved in something really horrific.”

“I’m a very empathetic person myself,” she continued. “And I’m always trying to [move] beyond the black and white of a situation and look into the humanity, the reasons things happen. Ultimately, [we] wanted to ask questions that were a little more profound.”

Much like the closeness the real-life Rebecca Godfrey developed with the accused teens, Keough was charmed by the experience of working with so many young people on the show, for many of them in one of their first projects.  

“I have a similar feeling with young people as I do to old people where I feel like in a way they’re wiser than I am,” she said with a laugh. “I think that young people and old people are kind of closer to something, to honesty and being authentic. I really respect all actors, but I really respect young actors.”

Keough’s co-star Lily Gladstone clocked that as well: “She has such a compassion for teenagers and the teenage experience,” Gladstone told IndieWire. “The way that she worked with all of those girls and with Javon with the character Warren was really beautiful.”

Keough can certainly relate to teenage ambition. Coming from an entertainment family (perhaps you’ve heard of them) the actress got her start in projects like “The Runaways” and “Magic Mike,” but like oh-so-many actors before her, what she really wanted to do was direct.  

“I wanted to do documentary filmmaking at some point!,” she excitedly noted. “I just wanted to make movies. I was very obsessed with people, people were what inspired me. And then I turned 18 and the desire grew to want to perform. And then I booked my very first audition so that kind of set me on a journey that I’m on now, but I always wanted to do more than just act. Acting was actually my second passion.”

Under The Bridge -- “The John Gotti of Seven Oaks” - Episode 102 -- Cam is thrown by a shocking discovery, and the police rush to unravel what really happened under the bridge. Josephine makes a deal with Rebecca, while a look into the past reveals Reena’s first rebellion. Rebecca (Riley Keough), shown. (Photo by: Darko Sikman/Hulu)
‘Under the Bridge’Courtesy of Darko Sikman / Hulu

“Now it’s a more empowered industry,” she continued. “And you can kind of do it all. But at the time, when I was like 20 years old, it wasn’t quite what it is now in terms of: ‘Oh, you can act and direct and produce and do it all.’ I would say [in] the last 10 years, that’s really become a thing where everybody’s producing; everybody’s doing everything, which is really liberating. But at the time, it was just: I’m an actor. But I had desires to do other things.”

The directing and writing dreams started to feel more possible when she met Felix Culpa co-founder Gina Gammell. Keough remembered their first meetings, which involved whipping up a sci-fi (!) script. Soon after, they wrote “War Pony,” which took off in ways they never expected: “We were just in Pine Ridge and in the prairies, writing together for fun. … And I think the responses is what made it sort of take on a life of its own because people read it and were kind of like, ‘Wow, this is really special.’”

The acclaim for “War Pony” as well as her role as a Stevie Nicks-esque ‘70s rocker was gratifying, but Keough is matter of fact about what did and didn’t change for her post-career upswing. When asked if she has noticed a difference in the kind of work she’s able to do she’s refreshingly candid about Hollywood woes.

“I think there’s something about being a female,” she said. “When that feeling kind of doesn’t go away. Because you’re constantly having to prove yourself. … I haven’t tried to finance my next film yet, but I’m assuming it’s not going to be easy. And I think that’s just part of being a woman, you constantly have to be like, ‘You can trust me to do this.’”

“It’s so weird, because [the industry] is so subjective,” she said. “You work with one person who totally gets what you’re doing. And then the next day, you work with somebody who looks at you like an alien, and they’re like, ‘What is this?’ … And so the more people who connect with what you’re doing, it kind of helps you remember who you are as an artist, and keeps you on your track.”

Her track record, however, is starting to speak for itself. “I think I do feel a little bit at Felix Culpa that things have changed. When we started out, it was kind of like, ‘Who are these random young girls trying to produce?’ and I think now I can feel a difference; we’re a lot more seasoned.”

And she shows no interest in slowing down, both in terms of her projects and what fuels them. “I look around in this industry, and there’s so many people who inspire me,” she said. “And I think that what inspires me the most is people being authentically themselves.”

Spoken like a true storyteller.

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