By Phebe Wahl By Phebe Wahl | March 15, 2023 | People Lifestyle Feature
Multihyphenate Riley Keough hits all the high notes this season with a standout performance as the spellbinding star of Daisy Jones & The Six—proving beyond a doubt she is so much more than rock `n` roll royalty.
Fame is a funny thing. It can cause some to crumble under the punishing pressure while others can remain the graceful and grounded epicenter of a storm no matter what chaos swirls around them. This year’s breakout superstar Riley Keough is clearly the latter. Often described as shy and reserved, the eldest grandchild of Elvis Presley inherited not only the family’s good looks, but an abundance of talent to spare. “I did love to perform as a child, but I was actually much more interested in being behind the camera,” shares Keough of her early years, spent in L.A., at her family’s Graceland estate in Memphis and in Hawaii. “I would make films and movies and was very interested in directing, but I did like performing. I liked doing theater and was drawn to any chance I had to do something that had to do with movies or plays.” Although it sounds like a cliche, there is no other way to describe how she dazzles on screen—much in the same way her grandfather captivated the world with his undeniable charisma.
Born in Santa Monica to parents Danny Keough and Lisa Marie Presley, Keough made her big-screen debut in The Runaways, followed by a variety of notable roles, including Mad Max: Fury Road, The Girlfriend Experience, Zola and The Devil All the Time. Yet it is through her recent breakout role in Daisy Jones & the Six that Keough’s brilliant star has become so blindingly obvious.
The Amazon Studios series follows the rise of rock band Daisy Jones and The Six through their roller coaster journey navigating the music scene in the 1970s. The binge-worthy series based on Taylor Jenkins Reid’s buzzy novel of the same name is produced by Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine. The show stars Keough as Daisy Jones, the lead singer, and Sam Claflin as Billy Dunne, the lead guitarist. Both battle inner demons, addiction and an undeniable attraction to each other. Keough shares that the title and script quickly grabbed her attention. “Because I love music, and I love the ’70s,” she explains. “I love the aesthetic of the ’70s, and I was really interested from just that little bit of information. Then I read the book and discovered this incredible female character, and from there I met Hello Sunshine, and everything just seemed to align in a way that made me really excited.”
Like her grandfather, known for meticulously perfecting his craft , Keough deeply researched the role. “I watched a lot of interviews and live performances from everybody I could find in that era, from Stevie Nicks to Joni Mitchell to Cher to Led Zeppelin to Jimi Hendrix,” says Keough. “I wouldn’t say that Daisy was specifically inspired by one artist, but I certainly watched a lot of interview footage to help her energy and spirit to feel of that era.”
As you can imagine, the fashion is equally epic. The costume designer for the series, Denise Wingate, knew the world well. “Having traveled as a stylist for The Bangles for a year, I felt I had an insider’s perspective on the music side of the story. The producers really wanted the show to look realistic, and I felt I could bring that,” says Wingate. “I had individual boards and did different research for each character,” she says, sharing that she carefully sourced the looks from a variety of places, including vintage shops and flea markets, as well as custom pieces—even reaching out to Melody Sabatasso (who had once made jumpsuits for Elvis) to craft some pieces. “For Daisy, I was inspired by early Linda Ronstadt, Cher (in her Gregg Allman years) and definitely Stevie Nicks, who was such a fashion icon.”
And the music? Well, this is once again where those one-in-a-million superstar genes shine. I still want to go back and listen to the soundtrack weeks later, as the music in the series is genuinely that good—so good that there will be an actual album released based on the fictional album Aurora. Songwriting contributions from luminaries like Phoebe Bridgers, Jackson Browne and Marcus Mumford were coordinated by lead producer and songwriter Blake Mills. Yet, much like Reid’s prose, Keough’s vocals give it all life. “I took a lot of singing lessons [because] I hadn’t sung prior to this show,” she shares. “We were put into ‘Band Camp,’ which is what they called it, at Sound City in the Valley in Los Angeles, which is a really historic studio that a lot of people recorded albums at, so it was a big deal that we got to rehearse there. We did that for many months, and that was probably our bigg est rehearsal, period.”
Author Taylor Jenkins Reid is known for her complex characters, and in Daisy Jones & the Six, you see her thoughtful portrayal of addiction and how the psychological traumas of childhood that inform us come to life. “I think that Taylor did such a good job at researching what that looked like in that era, and there wasn’t as much awareness of things like addiction during that time,” Keough explains. “We actually met with a guy who came in and explained what the thoughts were about addiction in the ’70s and how it was and wasn’t thought of, and that was really helpful. So, I think it was fairly accurate in terms of the awareness around addiction at the time.”
As challenging as those moments were to create on-screen, Keough says the stadium shows were the most intense. “The most challenging scenes were all the musical stadium shows. We shot them in the same couple weeks in New Orleans at night. So, we were doing concerts basically from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. every night for two weeks, and that was really physically demanding,” she shares.
Up next, Keough is shooting a series for Hulu called Under the Bridge, about a young teen who goes out to join friends at a party and never returns home. “This is my first time producing a series, which has been a really incredible experience,” she shares of the project.
No doubt, her star power is sure to shine both in front of and behind the camera as she captivates even seasoned industry insiders like Hello Sunshine founder Reese Witherspoon. “Riley is simply a force of nature in this show,” says Witherspoon. “She took months to develop the character from the inside out. Training vocally, practicing with the band every week for months, building Daisy Jones as a character. The bravado of a woman who is her own muse, the passion for living on the edge, and the heartbreak of being deeply in love with an unavailable man. All of it. She brought it all to life, and so gloriously.” We couldn’t agree more.
Photography by: PHOTOGRAPHED BY NATHANIEL GOLDBERG