‘Daisy Jones’ Star Riley Keough Is Finally Having the Moment Her Talent Deserves

Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Amazon Studios
Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Amazon Studios

Anyone who regularly checks Twitter knows how inescapable the term “nepo baby” and the privileged celebrities it applies to has been lately, from Jamie Lee Curtis dropping it several times during award shows to practically every actor with famous parents being asked to share their thoughts on the label.

Naturally, we all have our favorites we’d fight to the death for, with the likes of Laura Dern and Dakota Johnson among the most universally beloved. For me, Riley Keough, daughter of Lisa Marie Presley and granddaughter of Elvis, is the greatest of them all.

For proof, look at Keough’s mesmerizing work in Daisy Jones & The Six, the massively popular Prime Video series that has the performer proving that, at least when it comes to portraying a rock star on TV, the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree. With the show and its irresistible soundtrack, which features Keough’s impressive vocals, taking over the zeitgeist, audiences seem to be coming around to what I’ve known for years: Keough is one of the most interesting actors working today. And finally, now she’s the It Girl of the moment, too.

Despite her lineage, Keough has never appeared to be interested in chasing after her family’s legacy, regardless of how many times the topic may arise. Ever since making her on-screen debut in 2010 with The Runaways, she has carved her own space in film and television, frequently playing complex working-class women often grounded in the gritty underbelly of America, from The Girlfriend Experience and American Honey to Logan Lucky and Zola.

<div class="inline-image__credit">Amazon Studios</div>
Amazon Studios

And who could forget the time she tweeted her way into a guest-starring role on Riverdale? I certainly haven’t, since her appearance in the show’s third season as an ordinary country girl who flirts with Archie Andrews, before putting him and Jughead in danger, has lived rent-free in my mind ever since she randomly showed up on my television screen five years ago. Manifestation works, and she’s living proof of it.

A Breakout Years in the Making

Though she had been in films like Magic Mike and Mad Max: Fury Road, it wasn’t until 2016 that Keough starred in a project that made great use of her strengths as a performer. Her magnetic presence has never been showcased better than in the first season of Starz’s criminally underrated anthology The Girlfriend Experience—which was helmed by Amy Seimetz and Lodge Kerrigan and produced by Steven Soderbergh, whose 2009 film of the same name it’s based on. She portrayed Christine Reade, an ambitious law student and intern at a high-pressure Chicago law firm, whose friend Avery (Kate Lyn Sheil) introduces her to the high-end world of transactional relationships.

From the moment we first meet Christine, Keough draws us into her orbit and commands our attention. As she becomes a sophisticated escort going by the name “Chelsea,” the actress operates through both of her paralleling worlds as a cold, emotionally detached, and enigmatic woman who tailors her personality to please whomever she is dealing with at any given moment. Although she always keeps Christine at an arm's length, she still manages to elicit empathy from the audience, while bringing a relatability to the fresh-faced young character as she slowly peels back the layers to reveal the loneliness driving her.

Making the Band: How Daisy Jones & the Six Came to Life

While she rightfully earned a Golden Globe nomination (back when that was still considered a valuable achievement), in a perfect world she would have won an Emmy too. Keough has never been one to shy away from challenging roles like this, and she delivered a fearless masterclass in The Girlfriend Experience that deserves to be lauded as one of the greatest performances in modern TV history.

Following her breakthrough role in the series, Keough has consistently made interesting career choices that have led to a streak of unforgettable, scene-stealing moments. First came 2016’s Lovesong, a low-key drama about a stay-at-home mom who takes a road trip with her estranged best friend, slowly revealing throughout the journey that their relationship goes beyond just friendship. Built upon fleeting moments rather than heavily relying on dialogue, Lovesong afforded Keough the chance to become fully immersed in a film shoot, resulting in what is likely her most nuanced performance to date.

Keough has often inhabited Southern women with distinct personalities that have earned her the title of “white trash queen,” and it all traces back to American Honey. British auteur Andrea Arnold’s intimate, slow-burn road trip, which has an ensemble largely composed of non-professional actors, served as a showcase for Keough’s chameleonic abilities.

<div class="inline-image__credit">Amazon Studios</div>
Amazon Studios

Speaking in a Southern drawl and wearing a confederate flag bikini, she plays Krystal, the ferocious and stubborn pyramid schemer leading a crew of young drifters selling magazine subscriptions across the Midwest. Tapping into a raw and girlboss-y energy that would later become a common trait in her work, Keough emerged as the film’s standout, even though it’s told entirely through the eyes of Sasha Lane’s Star.

Similarly, in her third collaboration with Soderbergh, Logan Lucky, she slips into a thick West Virginia dialect to play Mellie, a hairdresser who helps her older brothers (played by Channing Tatum and Adam Driver) pull off an intricate robbery of the Charlotte Motor Speedway in North Carolina. Keough clearly has shown that she has the range to tackle anything, but she doesn’t get many opportunities to be funny. Logan Lucky is the rare gem in her filmography that allowed her to fully show off her comedic chops.

While Keough has portrayed a long line of compelling and sleazy Americans, it’s her role in Zola that takes the cake for being her boldest, feeling like a culmination of all her prior work. She essentially walked in American Honey so that she could run here as Stefani, an outgoing stripper sporting a thick “Blaccent” and cornrows, who recruits Taylour Paige’s titular Detroit waitress for a weekend of stripping in Tampa that goes wrong. Her hilariously deranged performance, which earned her an Independent Spirit Award nomination (but should’ve received more recognition), is pure chaos, intentionally seeming like an over-the-top caricature that only she would be able to pull off.

With the uncomfortable It Comes at Night, The Lodge, Hold the Dark (which unfortunately underutilized her), and Lars Von Trier’s The House That Jack Built, Keough has shown that she can excel in any genre, including horror-thrillers. The Lodge, in particular, stands out as one of her most overlooked works, given her hauntingly brutal and unnerving performance.

The Juicy, Real-Life Fleetwood Mac Stories That Inspired ‘Daisy Jones and The Six’

She plays Grace Marshall, a young woman who gets stuck at her fiancé’s remote cabin during Christmas along with her future stepchildren. As strange occurrences involving the kids trigger her repressed memories of being a religious cult survivor, she begins to unravel while attempting to grapple with the overwhelming trauma of her past. Keough is entrancing as she makes you feel simultaneously scared of and sympathetic for her.

The Daisy Jones Triumph

Having become a staple of American independent cinema in recent years, Keough’s bonafide star era has been a long time in the making. Now, her big mainstream moment has finally arrived courtesy of Daisy Jones & the Six, Amazon Prime Video’s 10-part adaptation of Taylor Jenkins Reid’s 2019 bestselling novel. The series has already taken the world by storm and unlocked a new level of fame for the actress.

Told in the form of a mockumentary, the series traces the rise and fall of a Fleetwood Mac-inspired 1970s rock band at the height of its fame, as its members get caught up in a drug- and love-fueled haze. Keough stars as the eponymous Daisy Jones, a free-spirited girl who grew up with affluent yet neglectful parents, causing her to seek refuge in L.A.’s vibrant music scene at an early age and reinvent herself as a singer-songwriter.

<div class="inline-image__credit">Amazon Studios</div>
Amazon Studios

Given that Reid’s book has cultivated a die-hard fanbase on social media, high expectations swirled around the series from the very moment it was announced. But Keough perfectly captures Daisy’s ethereal essence, giving an electric performance as she conveys the character’s self-destructive tendencies that intertwine with her profound passion for music. Let’s face the facts: She’s a literal rock ‘n’ roll heiress who was practically born to be in the show, so there was zero chance that she wasn’t going to absolutely kill it.

The rich source material and show’s ability to expand upon its limiting oral history format gives Keough the perfect stage to spotlight her range, and she fully carries the adaptation with a fantastic embodiment of Daisy, who could’ve easily ended up becoming a one-dimensional manic pixie dream girl in the process. In Keough’s hands, she’s a grounded, intelligent, and driven woman who takes no shit and knows exactly what she’s capable of. I’d be hard-pressed to believe that the series would have worked half as well had it been someone else in Daisy’s shoes.

In the latest batch of episodes, which mark Daisy’s official inclusion in the group, the series shifts its focus toward the relationship between Daisy and Billy Dunne (Sam Claflin), the equally troubled frontman of The Six, as it dives into the process of crafting their album titled Aurora. After the group’s single “Look at Us Now (Honeycomb)” becomes a massive hit, Daisy Jones & the Six get invited to perform at the 1975 Diamond Head Festival in Oahu, where we finally get to witness how fabulous and natural Keough’s stage presence is, highlighting how The Six feels incomplete without her. As Billy and Daisy perform cheek to cheek and gaze into each other’s eyes, their chemistry is undeniable and palpable.

<div class="inline-image__credit">Amazon Studios</div>
Amazon Studios

The following episode, “Fire,” largely centers on the pair’s inability to compromise on the record’s direction, ultimately leading to them having a lengthy writing session during which they argue and disagree countless times before finally opening up about their feelings. The result is an incredibly catchy song called “Let Me Down Easy” that I haven’t stopped listening to since it was first put on Spotify. Here, Keough is excellent at conveying the hints of sorrow—at one point, Billy goes so far as to call her “broken”—and admiration that linger beneath the carefree and selfish front that Daisy typically presents. It’s in these episodes, especially the sixth, that we get to hear more of Keough’s magnificent singing as the band records the album.

The success of Keough’s ability to bring the beloved character to life always relied on whether she could also convincingly play a musician. Thankfully, the generations-spanning musical genes have clearly been passed down to her, because the girl can really sing. Her dedication to the series and its musical craft is evident through her beautiful vocal work, with songs like “By Myself” and “Two Against Three” highlighting her folksy vocals, which are reminiscent of Joni Mitchell and Carole King’s stylings.

Having rehearsed and taken singing lessons for several years in order to fully become the Daisy Jones we all love, it all pays off for her. Whether you’re watching Keough twirl around stage à la Stevie Nicks on the series or listening to the catchy original tunes that have been released to accompany the episodes, you never once consider the fact that she had no prior experience and would immediately assume that she is actually a hugely famous rock star in the real world.

<div class="inline-image__credit">Amazon Studios</div>
Amazon Studios

Balancing her ability to go big with a subtlety and vulnerability that is key to bringing depth to Daisy’s emotional journey, it feels as though Keough’s entire career has been leading up to a role as juicy as Daisy Jones & The Six. In such a short span of time, Keough has quickly become one of Hollywood’s finest performers, who consistently turns in fascinating performances regardless of the size or quality of the role. (The less said about The Terminal List, the better.)

In both Daisy Jones & The Six the series and Reid’s novel, one of Daisy’s most iconic quotes, “I am not a muse. I am the somebody,” lies at the heart of her narrative. It could also apply to Keough, whose body of work reflects a strong desire to embody layered roles and make art that defies expectations. The long-awaited series feels like an important turning point in her career, one that means she is finally getting the recognition she deserves.

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