Riley Keough on ‘Under the Bridge’ and Being ‘Relentless’ During Auditions

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On the Hulu limited series “Under the Bridge,” Riley Keough plays Rebecca Godfrey, the author of the true crime book the show is based on; it follows the 1997 murder of a 14-year-old girl in British Columbia. Creator Quinn Shephard spent a lot of time working with Godfrey; but Keough, who is also an executive producer on the project, didn’t get the chance to meet the writer before she died of cancer in 2022. But the actor says that Shephard became an “amazing resource for everything Rebecca.” 

Keough’s performance on the series is the latest in a run that’s seen her play characters as varied as a ’70s rock star (on “Daisy Jones & The Six”) and a mythical Bigfoot (in “Sasquatch Sunset”). Here, she talks about her early inspirations and shares the key to acting in different periods.

1. How important was it to immerse yourself in the ’90s era for “Under the Bridge”?

The cool thing about the ’90s is that I lived [during] that period, so it was easy to invoke. That was really nostalgic for me because I could walk around the sets, and [they] looked like what my childhood looked like. So when you’ve experienced the time period, it certainly helps. 

When I’ve done other time periods, you want to get to know [the era] as much as you can—watch as much as you can, listen to the music, watch documentaries…. Documentaries are really helpful for me.

2. When you’re both producing and starring in a project, how do you balance the two roles?

It’s really interesting because they do sort of bleed into each other; but I think they bleed into each other in a nice way. Your job is to act, but it’s also to make sure that the scenes are working. When you’re just acting, you kind of just show up and say the words. But when you’re producing, you are part of the rewrites and part of the creation of the scenes, and you’re overseeing everything. So it’s just more active from all sides.

3. You worked with a lot of younger performers on this series. What did you learn from them? 

I love working with young people. I find them to be so honest in their emotions. All the kids on the show are so talented, and it was just really exciting to go to work every day and see what they were going to do.

4. What was your favorite movie as a child?

I loved “The NeverEnding Story” when I was really young. I always loved fantasy. I always thought I would grow up and have a career of making fantasy films; and I certainly haven’t done that.

5. Do you still dream of doing a fantasy project?

One hundred percent. I thought I was going to be in “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” and “Harry Potter.” That’s what I wanted when I was a kid, so that was where I thought I was headed. I guess I took a little detour, but maybe I’ll end up there someday.  

Under the Bridge

Credit: Darko Sikman/Hulu

6. Which role shaped you most as an actor? 

Every role is so different. It’s hard to apply the same thing every time, because it’s a different experience entirely. You’re going to a different job with different coworkers and playing an entirely different human being. The more experience I have of knowing that I’m not experienced leads me to realize that it’s actually a new experience every time, if that makes sense.

7. What movie has most impacted you as a performer?

“Taxi Driver”—all the performances in that film. I felt like [the actors] were just living and experiencing, not acting or putting on a big, crazy performance. It just felt so authentic. 

8. What’s one mistake you’ve made in your career that you’ll never make again?

Not trying hard enough. When there was something I wanted when I was younger, I wouldn’t try my hardest because I wouldn’t want to be vulnerable. As I got older, I realized: No, when I want something is when I need to try my hardest—which seems obvious, but sometimes you [hold yourself back to] protect yourself.

9. Do you remember a moment when you really put yourself out there during an audition?

I’ve been relentless. I’ve had people say no, and I’m like, “Wait, let me tape again.” I’ve taped three times for roles. And do you know what? I booked a role that way.

10. You said that every job is different for you, but is there something you learned on one that you’ve taken into your subsequent projects?

I feel like the best environment to create in is a happy one. I really value working with people who I love and who feel free creating with. That’s something that’s important to me.

This story originally appeared in the June 6 issue of Backstage Magazine.