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Riley Keough's Transformation From Model To Big-Screen Actress

You may not have realized it yet, but Riley Keough is one of the biggest up-and-coming names in Hollywood thanks both to her history as a model and her standout on-screen performances. Although she's undeniably a bit of a nepo baby – alongside the likes of Maya Hawke and Zoë Kravitz — she has nonetheless made the most of her inherited fame with some genuinely impressive performances over the years.

Riley Keough began her entertainment journey as a child model but has since transitioned into acting roles over the past few decades that have varied from thrilling action features to subversive horror films. According to an interview with The New York Times, this willingness towards experimentation comes from an inherent devil-may-care mentality that she's had her entire life. She said, "I don't care if I fail. I have this attitude of, 'Well, then I'll just do better.' And besides, there were bigger quandaries to spend that energy on."

Whatever she's doing seems to be working since Riley Keough has been scoring major roles and significant buzz throughout her acting career. As an actress, she's been nominated for countless awards from organizations such as the Independent Spirit Awards, Cannes Film Festival, and even the Golden Globes for her work on the small screen. It seems clear to anyone that Riley Keough isn't going anywhere any time soon, so it might be valuable to learn a bit about how she got here. Read on to learn all about Riley Keough's transformation from a model to a big-screen actress.

She's related to Elvis

Let's address the rhinestone-wearing elephant in the room, shall we? Riley Keough is the oldest grandchild of legendary singer Elvis Presley. She probably looks a lot more familiar now that you can see the resemblance to her ultra-famous grandpa which, honestly, takes the cake when it comes to nepo babies. Keough is also the daughter of recently-passed singer-songwriter Lisa Marie Presley who died in January of 2023 from cardiac arrest at the age of 54.

Regarding her feelings about her legendary lineage, Keough seems to be proud of her history and close with other members of the family. During the recent release of Baz Luhrmann's fantastical biopic "Elvis" about her grandfather, Riley Keough was interviewed by The Hollywood Reporter about her thoughts on the film and her family's presence at the premiere. She said, "We saw the movie and thought, 'How can we not?' We saw the love that Austin and [Baz] put into it and how much they've honored the legacy, and we couldn't not get behind it." 

On the other hand, she was also open about how the film dredged up complex emotions about the pain her family has endured over the years being in the public spotlight. While speaking with Variety, Keough touched on how "Elvis" moved her to tears for this very reason. She said, "I started crying five minutes in and didn't stop. There's a lot of family trauma and generational trauma that started around then for our family. I felt honored they worked so hard to really get his essence, to feel his essence. Austin captured that so beautifully."

Michael Jackson was her step-father

As mentioned earlier, Riley Keough is the daughter of iconic singer-songwriter Lisa Marie Presley, who is best known for her studio albums "To Whom It May Concern," "Now What," and "Storm & Grace." Although she tragically and unexpectedly passed away recently at the age of 54, she was remembered fondly by her daughter in a heartbreaking tribute post on Instagram.

Lisa Marie Presley had countless influences on her daughter, Riley Keough, but one of the more interesting ways was through some of the people she was married to throughout Keough's youth. One of the most standout step-dads along the way had to be pop sensation Michael Jackson, who Marie Presley was married to from 1994 to 1996. 

Going from having the King of Rock and Roll as a grandfather to having the King of Pop as a step-father is certainly going to have an effect on someone's early life. During an interview with James Corden back in 2017, Keough touched on the difference between these two famous men in her life by saying, "I didn't know Elvis, but I did know Michael [Jackson]." She also spoke with People about her feelings toward the chart-smashing singer by explaining her deep feelings for him as a father figure. She said, "He was an amazing person and I am lucky to have gotten as close to him as I did and to have had the many experiences and years that we had together."

She's been open about her privilege

With a background like hers, it's safe to say that Riley Keough is one of the most well-connected nepo babies in the entertainment industry today. Her grandfather was Elvis, her mom was a rock star, and some of her step-fathers included Michael Jackson and Nicolas Cage. This doesn't devalue her talent or achievements in any way, but it's essential to acknowledge how this kind of privilege can give people a leg-up while others have a much harder time building a career for themselves.

Thankfully, Riley Keough seems to have a good head on her shoulders since she openly acknowledges the advantages she's been given in life. Apparently, she is fully aware of the unfathomable wealth, power, and influence that her family has and how that has affected her situation growing up. In an interview with The Guardian, she touched on the differences between growing up with her wealthier mother and her more rustic father. Keough said, "I grew up very privileged with my mother, but my dad didn't live like that. And I think experiencing both sides has been helpful. My father had mattresses on the floor of his apartments. He lived in cabins and trailer parks. He just didn't have much money." 

Overall, it sounds like she was given an appreciation for the advantages she had thanks to her more low-income experiences with her dad — something that prepared her for a career in the public eye.

Started modeling at 15

Before ever appearing on the big screen as an actress, Riley Keough began her career as a child model at the age of 15. While it's not unusual for famous people to start off as models, Keough got an earlier start than most by appearing in Dolce & Gabbana's ready-to-wear show in 2004 as well as the Christian Dior ready-to-wear show for 2005's collection.

These are huge names for a new model to be working for, which made an impressive first impression for Keough's burgeoning modeling career. It's no wonder that she achieved significant success very quickly by appearing on the cover of Vogue in August of 2004 alongside her mother and grandmother. As her modeling career grew she continued to pose for massive brands such as Elle, Vanity Fair, Harper's Bazaar, and Nylon to name only a few. 

During an interview with Harper's Bazaar in 2011, Keough discussed her transition from model to actress and how that has impacted her. She said, "It's been wonderful. I think I was really lucky being able to grow up modeling and getting the opportunity to travel the world and experience so much at a young age. They are definitely two totally different worlds so it's been very cool to experience them both in a lifetime. Acting is what I've always wanted to do and is such a huge passion of mine. I feel really blessed that I get to do it."

She made her film debut in The Runaways

After years of modeling, Riley Keough finally made the pivot into becoming an actress by scoring a major role in the 2010 biographical film "The Runaways." This movie was directed by Floria Sigismondi and focused on the story of the 1970s all-girl rock band The Runaways. Keough starred in the film as Marie Currie, the identical twin sister of one of the band's lead vocalists, Cherie Currie. Within "The Runaways," Keough starred alongside some big A-listers from the time including Dakota Fanning, Kristen Stewart, Michael Shannon, and Alia Shawkat. 

While the film wasn't exactly a smash success at the box office and only garnered middling reviews, it still proved to be a generally well-regarded film with fans. Cherie Currie herself — the real-life member of The Runaways, that is — noted how the film failed to capture the complete story for the sake of Hollywood gloss. Currie told The A.V. Club, "This is just a lighter kind of flash of what The Runaways were for a specific amount of time. How do you possibly take two and a half years and make it a film that's an hour and a half, and make it even closely touch what was truly going on?" 

While the film may have had its detractors, it was an important step for Keough, as it was a significant first-time acting performance for her — one that helped jump-start her career.

Keough began taking roles in major films like The Good Doctor and Magic Mike

Following her debut role in "The Runaways" and further parts in projects like "The Good Doctor" and "Jack & Diane," Riley Keough landed a part in her first big blockbuster movie with Steven Soderbergh's 2012 hit film "Magic Mike." This would be the first in a long line of collaboration between Soderbergh and Keough but, at this stage, she was still relatively new to the acting scene when cast as Nora in the film.

Fans of "Magic Mike” will know that the first film focuses on the lives and struggles of a group of male strippers working in southern Florida. While it ended up spawning an extremely successful franchise with two sequels, the first film brings audiences into this exciting yet complex world of male stripping with care. 

While her part in "Magic Mike" is relatively small, Riley Keough nonetheless must have made a significant impression on director Steven Soderbergh since they went on to develop a consistent working relationship with her being cast in future projects like "The Girlfriend Experience" and "Logan Lucky." What's more interesting is that Keough briefly found love on-set of this movie with co-star Alex Pettyfer since they were engaged from 2012 to 2013. During an interview with Radio Andy, Pettyfer commented on the intensity of their relationship by simply saying of Keough, "She was the first woman in my life that I fell in love with at first sight."

Keough worked with Justin Timberlake

Even as Riley Keough shifted from modeling to acting as a career, she managed to participate in a fusion of both while starring alongside Justin Timberlake for one of his most ambitious music videos. The two came together for the song "TKO" off the 2013 album "The 20/20 Experience — 2 of 2," which featured an elaborate seven-minute music video of the two going through a romance juxtaposed with Keough driving Timberlake off a cliff.

"TKO" performed very well by reaching the Billboard Top 100 upon release, and the music video generated its own buzz thanks to the magnetic performance of Riley Keough combined with the impressive direction of filmmaker Ryan Reichenfeld. One contemporary review by Billboard noted the over-the-top nature of the video's story by stating, "Whatever JT did to end up in such a bad spot is unclear — Keough does deliver a cast-iron skillet to the star's cranium, so we assume something pretty godawful." 

This marks a unique moment in Riley Keough's career, as it remains her only music video appearance aside from Orville Peck's 2022 single "Hexie Mountains."

She landed a big part in Mad Max: Fury Road

While she worked as an actress throughout the 2010s, it may not have been until 2015 that Riley Keough landed on your radar since that's the year she appeared in the award-winning George Miller action spectacle, "Mad Max: Fury Road." Her part in the film was much more substantial than some of the smaller roles she had previously gotten as she portrayed Capable, who had a central part in the film. "Mad Max: Fury Road" was the fourth movie in the "Mad Max" franchise, which takes place in a hostile post-apocalyptic landscape of road warriors who struggle for survival. 

The film stars Tom Hardy as Max Rockatansky, a former patrol officer who teams up with a leader named Furiosa (Charlize Theron) in her attempt to free the five wives of their evil ruler from captivity. Riley Keough's character, Capable, is one of the five wives and travels with the main characters on their escape. Her character stands out as one of the strongest and most competent of the wives, who develops a special relationship with a turncoat war boy named Nux (Nicholas Hoult). 

During an interview with Flicks and the City, Keough discussed the appeal of the movie and her take on its themes by saying, "For me, one of the main themes of the movie is women being extremely powerful and sort of taking over men."

Keough had a big breakthrough role in The Girlfriend Experience

After connecting with filmmaker Steven Soderbergh during the creation of "Magic Mike," the two came back together for Riley Keough's biggest role yet in the Starz anthology series "The Girlfriend Experience." This series was produced by Soderbergh and starred Keough in Season 1 as Christine Reade, a struggling law student who also works as a high-end escort on the side. "The Girlfriend Experience" proved to be the biggest boon to Riley Keough's career yet, and it truly became a breakthrough role for the actress. In fact, Deadline reports that it helped her get represented by CAA in 2018 — something that any actor would dream of.

Keough seemed to really dig her teeth into this role by making it all her own, and during an interview with The Wrap she explained just what was so compelling about the part. She said, "I don't think she needs other people to make her feel better, which is very rare for a female character. If I was reading this pilot about a man, I would be like, 'Yeah! He's got swagger.'" 

Her performance in "The Girlfriend Experience" garnered significant praise from critics and audiences alike and even earned her some major award recognition, including a Golden Globe nomination for best performance by an actress in a limited series. Keough would later work with both Soderbergh and her "Magic Mike" costar Channing Tatum in "Logan Lucky," a heist story set in Tennesee.

Transitioned into weirder independent films

Having achieved mainstream success and recognition, it seems as though Riley Keough has pivoted to making more unique independent films in recent years. Many of her biggest roles since "The Girlfriend Experience" have been in lower budget, smaller scale fair that may even be off-putting to some audiences. Her first foray into these types of projects was with A24's 2017 psychological horror film "It Comes at Night," where Keough played a mysterious survivor of a deadly plague who becomes a guest in a paranoid family's home.

Riley Keough continued her journey into bold indie filmmaking by working with one of the most controversial directors in the industry, Lars von Trier. She took a small but show-stealing role in Trier's 2018 serial killer film, "The House that Jack Built," as one of the later victims of a demented serial killer named Jack (Matt Dillon). She also snagged a starring role in the David Robert Mitchell black comedy, "Under the Silver Lake." Keough plays the role of a beautiful new neighbor to Sam (Andrew Garfield) who disappears without a trace. The plot of the story revolves around Sam investigating her disappearance to discover what happened to her while uncovering a bizarre conspiracy along the way. 

With more entries into her filmography, such as "American Honey," "The Lodge," "Earthquake Bird," "The Devil All The Time," and "Zola," we can only hope Riley Keough continues acting in these bold independent films.