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Most young actresses would kill to play a member of a famous all-girl band in one of the year’s most anticipated films. Riley Keough is not most young actresses. Yet, the karmic irony of Elvis Presley’s granddaughter landing her first acting gig in the cinematic biopic of The Runaways is not lost on her.
“I think it’s good I didn’t play a musician because then it wouldn’t look like it was a coincidence,” says Keough, the daughter of Lisa Marie Presley and musician Danny Keough.
Instead, in “The Runaways,” opening Friday, Keough tackles the role of Marie Currie, the twin sister of lead singer Cherie (Dakota Fanning). While Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart), Cherie and their bandmates are off on an international tour making music history as one of the first female rock groups — and consuming copious amounts of drugs and alcohol in the process — Marie is left to hold down the fort, taking care of an alcoholic father after mom flies the coop.
In a case of art imitating life, Keough, 20, occasionally felt some pangs of her own at being left out of the Runaways’ jamming fun.
“There were some times when I was like, ‘F–k, I wish I had a cool part.’ Because they looked so cool and you just want to be one of them,” recalls Keough, adding quickly, “I’m really happy with my part. It was really cool to even put that in the movie because it was a really important part of Cherie’s life.”
As research, Keough listened to all of the band’s music, watched their videos online and, most crucially, met with the real Marie.
“She told me how she really felt about things, like it wasn’t a jealousy thing, she was just upset that her sister was leaving her,” says Keough, who took the advice to heart. “When I first read the script, I was like, ‘OK, I’m playing the jealous sister who gets left at home.’ I think it would have pissed her off if I’d played it jealous because that’s not how it was.”
Keough’s audition for the role was her first in what has been an ongoing dance with the acting world since childhood. Growing up in Los Angeles, she loved doing theater and even took a drama class, but at 12 decided she was too quiet to pursue her interests.
“It was really hard for me because I was really, really shy. That’s what I wanted to do, but I sort of gave up on it because I was like, ‘I’m way too introverted and shy to act,’” she says. “Teachers would put me in really small parts because I wouldn’t talk loudly.”
But by her teens she clearly had shed some of her reticence. She became a fashion darling, appearing in Dior campaigns, modeling and making the party circuit, yet she still found herself drawn to acting. This time it was geography that deterred her.
“I live in L.A. and everybody here acts and I was just so not into being, ‘I want to be an actress,’” says Keough.
The audition for “The Runaways” proved too good to ignore and she has finally found peace with her career choice. Keough has just finished shooting “The Good Doctor,” in which she plays a hospital patient whose doctor (Orlando Bloom) falls for her and makes her sick to prevent her from leaving.
“I went on a movie set and saw that you don’t have to talk loudly and put on this giant flamboyant show when you’re making a movie,” says Keough of her newfound feeling of ease. “It’s the most comfortable place for me. Obviously the first day of shooting is always really scary, but when I’m doing it, it’s just the best feeling in the world and the most comfortable I am at any point.”