Riley Keough: ‘I’ve lived my whole life in a sort of existential crisis’

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I never really think of Riley Keough as a “celebrity” or someone to gossip about. She generally seems unproblematic and easy-going. She’s not a famewhore, she’s beautiful and talented and she’s never in the gossip press. Riley is currently promoting her role in Zola, and the NY Times really nailed her lowkey energy in this profile/interview – she’s not self-conscious nor does she have a flurry of celebrity-affectations. Riley chats about Zola, why she’s good at playing poor white people and her brother’s death. Some excerpts:

Her lack of self-consciousness: “I have an ability that’s really hard in this industry to be kind of like, ‘Meh.’ I don’t take things too seriously…I’ve lived my whole life in a sort of existential crisis. The minute I got to Earth, I was like, ‘What am I doing here? Why is everyone just acting like this is normal?’”

She doesn’t mind not booking movies: “I don’t care if I fail. I have this attitude of, ‘Well, then I’ll just do better.’”

On spending some of her childhood with her musician father Danny Keough: [Danny Keough] lived more modestly, in trailer parks with mattresses on the floor. Keough had no qualms about visiting her father; once, she even told him, “When I grow up, I want to be poor like you.”

In Zola, she plays another sex worker: “I didn’t want it to be ‘American Honey,’ this really naturalistic, understated performance. When you do something well, people want it again and then you kind of get stuck.”

Playing Stefani with an OTT blaccent: “People are like, ‘Am I allowed to laugh? Am I a bad person?’ I love that. I’m a little bit of a troll in my heart, and I think I bring that into my work. You don’t know if the whole thing’s a manipulation, even in her moments of being vulnerable. That’s why I love playing these characters that would seem like the bad guy. It’s so much more fun to make people have moments with those characters where you’re like, ‘I feel bad for her.’ Or, ‘I’m having fun with her. I’d go with her, too.’”

Her younger brother, Benjamin, killed himself in July 2020. What followed was “a year of feeling like I was thrown into the ocean and couldn’t swim. The first four or five months, I couldn’t get out of bed. I was totally debilitated. I couldn’t talk for two weeks.” Even now, Keough finds the tragedy hard to accept. “It’s very complicated for our minds to put that somewhere because it’s so outrageous. If I’m going through a breakup, I know what to do with that and where to file it in my mind, but suicide of your brother? Where do you put that? How does that integrate? It just doesn’t.”

Her ground rules: “I wanted to make sure that I was feeling everything and I wasn’t running from anything,” she said. To that end, Keough recently became a death doula. Instead of helping to facilitate a birth, she guides people through the issues that arise during the final portion of their lives. “That’s really what’s helped me, being able to put myself in a position of service. If I can help other people, maybe I can find some way to help myself.”

What she learned from her brother’s death: “There’s this sense of the fragility of life and how every moment matters to me now.”

[From The NY Times]

I think becoming a death doula was probably her way of just feeling “in control” a little bit after Benjamin’s death. She was devastated and it became her way of not being scared of death, of wanting to be able to manage that sadness and look at grief in the face. I’ve never really thought about how good she is at playing, let’s say it, those white-trash characters, but she is. She didn’t just grow up in mansions and Graceland – she was exposed to a different way of living from her dad.

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35 Responses to “Riley Keough: ‘I’ve lived my whole life in a sort of existential crisis’”

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  1. Lara says:

    “When I grow up, I want to be poor like you.”

    Why do people say these things out loud?

    • Lex says:

      Thank you! She might have been exposed to something other than a mansion while growing up, but she always had financial security so it’s not the same. I’m so sick of rich people trying to romanticize being poor. She knows nothing about financial struggling.

      • Lara says:

        I will say, from her Instagram at least, she does hang out a lot in poor indigenous communities and tries to help those people. But that just makes her romanticizing of being poor even more weird. She HAS seen what’s it like to live with 10 people crammed in a falling apart house.

      • NewKay_ says:

        @lara you mean her Instagram is full of poverty porn with her and brown people? Huge eye roll and hard pass.

    • kgeo says:

      It sounds like she was a kid that didn’t appreciate what that really means? I don’t think she’s saying she wants to be poor now.

      • Pinellas Pixie says:

        Exactly. She even talks about how hurtful it must have been to her father in other interviews. She was a child.

      • Ry says:

        I can’t snark at her at all. She was born into her circumstances as we all are and she’s trying to keep it real.
        Actually she sounds like an old soul. She didn’t have to go that route.

    • Lucy says:

      I think she was referring to something she said when she was just a kid (notice the “When I grow up” bit).

      • Sarah11 says:

        I think she lived primarily with her mother and that was living in mansions. But I believe Lisa Marie always tried to be on good terms with her ex Danny. So if he lived in nasty trailers, Riley would have seen it.

    • Shoshone says:

      I heard the recording of this interview and her recollection in her own voice came across as genuine and heartfelt not at all condescending or privileged. I thought she was saying that she was happiest when she was with her father and , as a child, she came to equate some of that happiness with her father’s poverty and lack of materialistic concerns. I do not recall her speaking at all about her mom or grandmother which I found striking. ( I may not have heard the entire interview cuz car radio)

  2. Case says:

    She’s starring in the limited series adaptation of Daisy Jones and the Six and I think she’ll be an excellent fit. That book wasn’t my favorite, but I think it’ll be good on screen.

    She seems like a good actress and nice person from everything I’ve seen of her.

  3. Marie says:

    Ugh. I think she is a nice enough person and my heart breaks for what she went through with her brother,
    And here come the big BUT:

    “I’ve lived my whole life in a sort of existential crisis. The minute I got to Earth, I was like, ‘What am I doing here? ”

    I hate when actors, and it seems like so many, say this kind of crap. Everyone feels this way, We all wake up in the morning and have to choose how we decide to live that day, and sometimes wonder how we got where we did, are we going in the right direction, etc. But only people who have never really struggled have the time to spend navel-gazing about this.

    • Livvers says:

      I read it more in the spirit of her Scientology upbringing (especially how she implies that as a baby she had full consciousness and chose when and how she came to Earth – it’s very thetan-esque) and how she was probably taught that Scientologists are the only ones with ‘their eyes open’.

    • Monica says:

      I’m not a Scientologist, but honestly I feel I must have come from another planet, too (have struggled, as well). Does everyone feel that way?

      • Anners says:

        Yep. My friend always jokes that she and her mum are waiting for the mothership to come back and pick them up.

        Not sure if everyone feels this way, but I definitely remember as a kid/tween thinking that everyone else seemed to be on this same wavelength and while I could tell that the wavelength existed, I had absolutely no idea how to get on it. I always felt like I must’ve come from somewhere else.

        Interesting to note, all the people I know who feel this way have similar MBTI categories (all INxx)

      • Monica says:

        Yup. INFJ here.

      • Pinellas Pixie says:

        There are many people who are not Scientologists who believe that we choose our parents based on what we need to learn in this life. This is not uncommon.

  4. Susan says:

    I REALLY appreciate her death doula comment. We have come a long way with talking about sex, mental health, childbirth, PPD, etc., but as someone who lost two family members in the past couple of years, I feel like we are NOT there as a country in discussing and handling death. And I don’t mean “died in a car wreck suddenly,” death, I mean, end of life, cancer, hospice, etc. I could have really benefitted from a death doula. There’s not a lot of information and resources out there if you’re going through it. Hospice is a wonderful group but their focus is (rightfully so) on the patient, not so much the caregivers and loved ones.

    • Lady D says:

      I just finished a death doula course. It was a seven day, once a week course where we were expected to also read 2-3 books on death and dying and watch 6-10 videos each week. We also had printed material on funerals, laws surrounding the dead/dying, caring for the dying person, what to do if they died while in my care, helping the grieving family plan a funeral/be with them for initial funeral home visit and handling death certificates for the family and information on wills for the family before and after the death. I would also stay with the family through these processes, if needed, offering help or information for the distracted and heartbroken family members. I’m waiting for Covid to simmer down and unfortunately it’s starting to skyrocket in my area, so I’m not sure when I could start, but I will be talking to the head of the organization Tuesday. I’ve been volunteering in senior homes for 30+ years, and this seems like something I can do, so I feel I should. It’s one of the harder volunteer jobs, and not a lot of people can handle sitting with the dying. I just hope I’m strong enough to help children.

      • EveV says:

        I always love your insightful comments and I have so much admiration for the hardship you have overcome from your childhood (I remember some stories from the times you have shared), but this may take the cake. I think that’s so wonderful that you are sharing your time like this and helping those who need it the most. I will keep you in my thoughts.

      • Christine says:

        Same. It’s wonderful, that you actually want to help people navigate the last moments of their life, and also help their families come to grips with all of it. I’m crying while typing, so I am clearly not cut out for your line of work, but I really appreciate the people who are able. All of my best thoughts are heading your way.

    • Hotsauceinmybag says:

      @Susan @LadyD

      Thank you both for sharing your experiences and perspectives. I have been contemplating taking an end of life doula course for some time now, and while I’m not a big believer in signs, I’m going to take your comments as the push I need to fully commit.

      @LadyD, you may be interested in this short doc about a palliative care doctor who works with the families of terminally ill children. The empathy, patience, strength and resilience she radiates is so inspiring and comforting. This doc is why I became interested in end of life doula certification.

  5. anna says:

    i love her.

  6. Shoshone says:

    I had a dentist for a time whose wife was a medical professional who worked with terminally ill children. He said that he was in awe of how strong she was mentally and emotionally. I hope that when the time came to get out that she recognized the moment and had the strength to move on and surrender her job to others.

  7. Margo says:

    I would imagine that having Lisa Marie Presley for a Mom would be very challenging. I think her comment about wanting to be ‘poor’ like her Dad was probably a child’s way of saying ‘simple or uncomplicated’. Her mother had a lot going on during her growing up years – after Danny, Lisa Marie married Michael Jackson, Nicolas Cage, and Michael Lockwood. I’m sure it was hard for her but she certainly turned out well and is a fine actor!

    • Monica says:

      The rest of the paragraph in that story:
      “She hadn’t known then how offensive her remark was, but that bifurcated childhood with her brother, Benjamin, would come in handy in her 20s, when Keough pursued work as an actress: She had amassed enough authenticity to play regular people as well as enough privilege to live her life without much worry.”

  8. Katie says:

    I think any comment from her needs to be read through the lens of her Scientology background. Also, I think her family has had a sh*t time of it on top of her brother’s death.

  9. Eenie Googles says:

    “I don’t care if I fail”

    Yeah, that mindset makes sense when you’re rich as fuck.

    • Sarah11 says:

      Yes. This reminds about a story on Elizabeth Olsen. When she started her acting career and moved to NYC, her big sisters (the Olsen twins) apparently offered to help her by buying her a one bedroom apartment to call home but she declined the offer (wanting to make it on her own). The price for her starter home would have been about $1 million.

  10. Stacy Dresden says:

    Poor thing is compromised by $cientology. I love her look, talent, and the unique ideas she shares. I wish her all the best.

  11. Jaded says:

    She may be rich, beautiful and white but lemme tell you, being a death doula is excruciatingly hard. I volunteered at a cancer care centre for some years as a Reiki practitioner. Many of my clients were facing imminent death and Reiki was a good stress-reducing tool for calming and bringing positive energy to those who are facing their last days. Some would cry during the session, some would want to talk about the afterlife, some would fall asleep because they hadn’t had a decent night’s sleep in ages. I had to take care of my own energy so I didn’t get totally sapped. So despite all the privileged white girl comments, what she’s doing is brave and will teach her a lot, and likely make her a better person.