Riley Keough Unpacks That ‘Under The Bridge’ Finale SuperNayr

Under the Bridge is a brutal watch. Centered on the horrific murder of a fourteen-year-old girl named Reena Virk, the Hulu series is based upon Rebecca Godfrey’s book of the same name. After the murders happened, none of the teens accused of contributing to Reena’s death would talk to reporters. But then Godfrey entered the scene. Youthful and patient with a dark streak, the twenty-something writer was able to gain the trust of the defendants and the surrounding community. The book she wrote about the incident and the ensuing trial was applauded for its evocative prose, probing tone, and vivid character studies.

Riley Keough steps into Rebecca’s shoes in the adaptation. Fresh off her Emmy nomination for her work as the eponymous Daisy Jones in Amazon Prime’s Daisy Jones and the Six, Keough delivers an understated, thoughtful performance as a woman returning to her old hometown to find source material for a new book. Godfrey did not make herself a character in her own book, but she developed the material alongside showrunner Quinn Shephard for more than two years before her untimely passing in 2022. And one of her wishes was for Keough to play her.

The Rebecca we see onscreen has been fictionalized, and she finds a partner in crime in Cam Bentland (Lily Gladstone), a cop character created whole cloth for the series. But the other relationships she engages in have varying levels of truth to them. Keough has a dangerous, searching quality to her as she befriends the teens connected with the murder. Rebecca’s connection with the group of suspects is palpable as Keough’s scenes with them are tinged with the heady excitement of staying out past curfew or bumming a cigarette for the first time. As Rebecca gets closer to Warren Glowatski, one of the prime suspects, she also comes to realize that her connection with this boy might be in detriment to the memory of the girl he murdered. In the final two episodes, Keough’s Rebecca gets to ask and pose answers to the questions that Godfrey never asked in her original book, and the results are intriguing.

Speaking via Zoom, Keough and I had a wide-ranging conversation about the truths and fictions behind the series, spoke about how it felt for her to portray Godfrey on screen, the importance of taking a holistic approach to the narrative, and how the team behind the show tried to utilize “radical empathy” in their storytelling.

As someone who read the book, I was surprised to find out that the series included three additional facts that Godfrey chose not to include in her telling of the story. One is Reena’s false accusations against her father, Manjit, but the other two were personal to Rebecca —her own tragedy as she lost her brother as a teen, and Rebecca and Warren’s very real friendship. How did it feel to bring those two previously untold storylines to light?

I think that the choice to include and what not to include, I would say that [showrunner] Quinn [Shephard] would be the person to talk to about that because she and Rebecca were really close, and from what I understand, Rebecca was totally on board in terms of making this … yes, it’s based on Under the Bridge, but to tell this story in a delicate way, I think that you have to include more perspectives than Rebecca’s. I think that’s what’s so beautiful about the adaptation. Rebecca’s book was used, Reena’s father’s book was used as source material, the trial itself and the facts were used, so it wasn’t just Under the Bridge, the book. I think it just makes for a more holistic view of what happened. It’s very ensemble. In a sense, you have all of these characters supporting Reena’s story, and Reena herself is a character. Of course, in Rebecca’s book, it wasn’t centered around Reena, and that was the thing that was problematic with Under the Bridge, and I think Rebecca was on board with addressing that, and on board with her character not being perfect.

You’ve said in previous interviews that Rebecca Godfrey wanted you to play her in the series, but unfortunately you never got to meet her in real life due to her untimely passing in 2022. In the absence of her presence, how did you prepare to step into her shoes?

I think that knowing that she wanted me to play her gave me a lot of freedom. I know she was familiar with my work and I think that she trusted me, and knowing that made me feel like I was able to play her but I didn’t necessarily feel the drive to mimic her. I felt like she felt connected to me in a deeper sense and that she would be okay with my take on her. You know? And bringing myself to her, as well. It’s heartbreaking that I wasn’t able to meet her. The timing was just totally crazy, but knowing that she wanted me cast was the coolest thing.

You and Javon Walton have such easy chemistry together. How did you find the relationship between Warren and Rebecca?

That was an interesting relationship in real life. Rebecca had this really close relationship with him. They talked and maintained a relationship for a long time. Javon’s super easy to work with, and I think I’m pretty chill, and I think we just tried to make the most of the scenes. It’s very heavy material, and I was aware that I’m working with these younger actors and it’s a really heavy story, and wanting to bring a little levity where it could exist because they were dealing with such heaviness. So, we actually had a lot of fun together. Me and all the young actors and Javon, too.

The scene where Rebecca visits Warren in the penultimate episode, it’s such a captivating, easy scene. Even though you’re literally sitting in a jail together, your rapport makes it so fun, and your connection is almost magical in a way. I really gravitated toward that scene, maybe because I was looking for some levity, too.

There were a lot of conversations about this because I felt it was really important to see that there was a real connection there, that she was comfortable with him and that there was a familiar feeling between them. He says at the end, ‘we have a connection,’ so we had to feel that. So, I think that moment was a good moment to feel a connection, but you also want it to feel lived in. When you have that connection with someone, you feel so comfortable with them. She ends up inviting him to her house, and it’s this weird, familiar thing, and all those moments where you can feel that were really important so that you were able to understand where you were coming from.

Speaking of Warren and Rebecca’s friendship, the last two episodes of the series emphasize that Rebecca was determined to retain this kid’s humanity even though he did this terrible thing. The idea of finding humanity in people who have done terrible things is not new to me — in my other life, I’m actually a therapist who often works with court-mandated individuals — so this perspective was very heartening to me, but I can see how it might anger or frustrate other people. Was it important to you to be a part of sending a message like that?

I think that that’s why it was nice to have more than one — it’s an ensemble. Because you have Rebecca’s perspective, you have Cam’s perspective, you’re able to look at multiple perspectives. And it’s not saying Rebecca’s right. It’s not saying that Cam is right. It’s just giving the audience an opportunity to consider different ways of thinking about things. I think radical empathy was really the theme of the show, and honestly working back from Suman’s forgiveness of Warren. That’s something that actually happened. It’s something that happens often with incarcerated individuals on Death Row or who have committed horrific crimes. The families end up having some sort of relationship with the person. So, if Suman was able to get there, I think it would be a missed opportunity to not allow the audience to potentially have that perspective as well.

There’s also so much grief in the series. Suman is one of the people who we see grapple with a huge loss and she eventually works through her grief with forgiveness, but there’s also anger in her grief earlier in the series. This mirrors Rebecca’s journey with how she’s dealing with her latent grief from her brother Gabe’s accidental death. It feels like the idea of anger as a very real and very lingering part of grief is a running theme throughout the series. Can you relate to the manifestation of anger as one of the stages of grief? And, if not, how did you access that for the character of Rebecca?

The way that Rebecca deals with life and grief isn’t totally relatable to me, but I’m a very empathetic person and I understand how one could feel that way. My experiences in life are still happening every day, and things are different every day, so though anger hasn’t been my overarching emotion in my life experiences, I think it’s pretty common. It’s one of the stages of grief, and I think that that can manifest in different ways, like it can manifest as self-hatred, which may be more of I think Rebecca is actually dealing with.

And that might be part of what draws her to Warren, too. There’s a scene in which Rebecca talks to Cam in the finale about how she thought she was relating to Warren because she saw Gabe in him, but she was really seeing herself. And that scene made me very curious about what Rebecca’s thought process when she breaks down in the courtroom hallway after Warren’s testimony. It feels like she could be reacting to a lot of things, so I’m curious what your take is on what exactly she’s reacting to in that moment.

You know, I hate telling people exactly what’s going on in moments that aren’t super clear like that. If you really want me to talk about it, um, I can say that she’s just heard a lot of things come out of Warren’s mouth, and she has a reaction to it. [smiles]

Fair enough! So, something a bit lighter! The final scene between Cam and Rebecca has “I Love You, Always Forever” by Donna Lewis playing overhead, which feels promising for their relationship. What do you think happens to them after this? Do they ever see one another again?

I don’t know. Again, I think that’s up for the audience’s interpretation. But I do think that there’s so many people in your life that you have relationships with, and the spectrum of love is so large, and I think people make it so simple. I think that there’s different types of love. There’s being inspired by someone, being in love with someone in a partnership … and my point is that I don’t think they need to be together. It is what it is a little bit.

Relationships aren’t always meant to be! They’re not always perfect! But I do know that there’s a lot of people rooting for that relationship…

I didn’t say that they’d never hook up! [laughs] Just kidding!

Finally, this is something we touched on a bit before, but Rebecca was responsible for protecting the memory and legacy of someone she never knew, and this is a point of contention between her and the Virks in the last few episodes of the series. As this is a new retelling of the story, do you have any thoughts about who has been getting to tell Reena’s story and does telling her story come with any specific responsibilities?

I think telling anyone else’s story comes with an incredible amount of responsibility. I don’t know if there is a right way. I think that’s something we talked about constantly with this show. It’s something I’m familiar with even with my own family. [Note: Keough is Elvis Presley’s eldest grandchild. When her mother, Lisa Marie Presley, died in January of 2023, she became the sole trustee of her mother’s estate and the heir to Graceland.] It’s a large conversation, and something that I feel passionately about, but I don’t totally have the answer to. I think that if you’re going to tell somebody’s story you have to be incredibly empathetic and really get a holistic idea of it. That sort of radical empathy, again, and being understanding and inclusive, it’s all a big responsibility. And I think we did feel that. It’s not to say that we did it perfectly, but we tried to.

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