The Stunning Transformation Of Riley Keough

It should come as no surprise to learn that Riley Keough, Elvis Presley's granddaughter, has turned out to be a talented and beautiful young woman. While having a famous grandfather is certainly one of Keough's biggest claims to fame, fans of indie cinema probably already know her in her own right. Since first appearing on the scene in the 2010 film "The Runaways" as Marie Currie, Keough has racked up numerous impressive credits in films like "Jack & Diane," "Magic Mike," "Mad Max: Fury Road," "The Girlfriend Experience," and "Zola," to name just a few (via IMDb). Keough leaves her unforgettable mark on every film she appears in. Even in smaller cameo roles, Keough always manages to stand out and capture the audience's attention. It's no wonder she seems to be one of the up-and-coming actresses of her generation.

It goes without saying that the granddaughter of Elvis had a pretty unusual upbringing. Even though Keough never met her famous grandfather, he has been a constant shadow in her life — many people would argue that her ties to the "King of Rock and Roll" got her to where she is today. Curious to find out about Keough's real journey from famous offspring to indie starlet? Here is the stunning transformation of Riley Keough.

As the granddaughter of Elvis Presley, Riley Keough had an unusual childhood

Even before she was born, Riley Keough was destined to be different. Her father, Danny Keough, was a mildly successful musician from Chicago. Her mother, Lisa Marie Presley, was the daughter of none other than the king of rock and roll himself, Elvis Presley. As Riley explained to The Guardian, she never actually met her famous grandfather — he died 12 years before her birth.

Being descended from music royalty meant that Riley grew up in the public eye. She told NPR, "I grew up with, you know, going to the grocery store and my mom's on the cover of all the magazines there. ... it was probably similar to, like, how the Kardashians' kids are growing up now." However, while people may assume that her family connections gave her a head start in the business, it seems that the only thing that Keough's lineage gave her was a certain star-like quality. As director Steven Soderbergh told Elle, he found her to be a captivating performer before he even knew about her famous relatives. "Whatever molecules shift when she's around are generated by Riley, and not because of any entertainment industry baggage," he said.

Her parents split up when she was 6

One of the defining moments of Riley Keough's life came when her parents split up when she was 6 years old. After the divorce, Keough's life was split between her parents. While her father lived a very humble existence in "cabins and trailer parks," as she told The Guardian, her mother had an extravagant, wealthy lifestyle. Still, life with her dad was "colorful and eccentric and fun." 

Her mother remarried shortly after the divorce. Keough's new stepfather? None other than Michael Jackson! So, while living with her mother, Keough experienced the excess and opulence — and likely some of the most bizarre things that existed at Jackson's infamous Neverland estate.

As Keough reflected in an interview with NPR, these two contrasting lives gave her a balanced view of the world. "I felt like a sort of a witness in life, like I'm watching this movie more than a participant," she said. "And I felt like I fit in everywhere." It's no wonder Keough has a unique ability to slip into a vast array of roles with ease — she had been observing all walks of life for as long as she could remember.

Riley Keough was homeschooled as a kid

It's hard to imagine a little girl who is Elvis' granddaughter and Michael Jackson's stepdaughter going to school or hanging out with friends. And as Riley Keough explained to InStyle, her parents quickly realized that her life was too abnormal for school. She went to a regular school for a few years, but her mother's hectic schedule made it hard. "I felt like I was behind — I'd get into a new school, and then I would have to leave, and then I wouldn't keep up with the curriculum, and then I'd have to go to another school," Keough recalled. Eventually, school became too difficult for Keough, and it was then that she was homeschooled, though she eventually "kind of gave up on that too."

Keough never graduated high school, which, she said, was a "shame" as she was interested in doing normal things like going to college. "I just didn't have a lifestyle that would permit that," she explained.

Despite her lack of formal education, Keough's emotional intelligence shines through in her roles — and it's clear her unorthodox childhood was exactly what she needed to become the actress she is today.

She was determined to act as a child

Even as a young child, Riley Keough felt drawn to acting and filmmaking. As Keough explained to InStyle, she made her own films and put on plays as a kid. She told Vogue that she often drew on her own dual life in her childhood projects. "I was very interested in long-lost family and in class, rich versus poor," she recalled.

Though Keough's education was minimal, she quickly formulated a career plan. When she was a teenager, she spoke to her parents about acting. They were skeptical because of the rejection and uncertainty of the career. But, as she told Interview Magazine, she was determined. "I was one of those kids who thought I could be the president of England when I grew up if I wanted to," she said. "Then I started acting and realized life is hard and people are mean." So, she decided to become a model first to earn money before becoming an actress when she got older. And that's exactly what she did.

As a teenager, Riley Keough worked as a model

After realizing that acting wasn't as easy as she thought it would be, Riley Keough turned to modeling as a teenager as a way to make her own money. As Town & Country reported, she was a natural, and when she was 14, she became the face of Miss Dior Chérie perfume.

It turns out, modeling was the perfect way for Keough to enter the industry. She told Harper's Bazaar that it got her used to working in unusual locations and situations. "It's been wonderful. I think I was really lucky being able to grow up modeling and getting the opportunity to travel the world and experience so much at a young age," she said.

Even though Keough was clearly good at modeling, it wasn't something that stuck. As she said in one 2014 interview, as shared by Elvis Presley Fans of Nashville, it "was a passing phase." She went on, "They are very impatient and photo shoots are boring. If it was my career, I do not think I would have been the best."

Riley Keough began her acting career with indie films

Soon enough, Riley Keough transitioned from modeling to acting, fulfilling her childhood dream. Her famous family gave her a helping hand. She told Flaunt, "I walked in a door and wanted an agent and I got one. That's not normal and I know that." But nevertheless, it was scary. As she told InStyle, she "had this thing where, when you grow up in L.A. and everyone's acting, I felt this sense of, oh gosh ... I was a little bit afraid to fail."

In 2010, she starred alongside Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning in "The Runaways." As she told WWD, her fears quickly melted away. "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," she shared. "It's the most comfortable place for me."

After that, the roles kept coming. As Town & Country explained, her role in "Jack and Diane" proved to be something of a big break for Keough, as it caught the attention of people in the industry. In just a few short years of acting, Keough had established herself as one to watch in the indie movie scene.

She went through a two-year period with no work and learned about rejection

Even though Riley Keough's rise to the top of her game has been a fast one, she hasn't always felt successful. In fact, as she explained to The Guardian, she has dealt with her fair share of rejection. Right after her debut performance in "The Runaways," Keough didn't work for two years. Instead of becoming disheartened, Keough only pushed herself more. "Rejection just makes me work harder to prove myself," she said.

By the sounds of things, Keough didn't always have an easy time in auditions. As she told Backstage's podcast "In the Envelope," she used to get so nervous in auditions that she would forget the lines or even have panic attacks. Sometimes, the auditions were so bad that she simply stopped trying halfway through. "My horror stories are like, I go in there, I do really badly, and then they tell my agent I did a bad job," she said. Luckily, she said, she also has good auditions, which eventually secured her more parts.

She has worked with director Steven Soderbergh three times

Over the course of Riley Keough's career, she has worked with director Steven Soderbergh three times — on "Magic Mike," "The Girlfriend Experience," and "Logan Lucky." As Keough told The Guardian, she loves working with Soderbergh — in fact, she always agrees to work with him without even reading the script. "Anyone would, it's not a twist-my-arm-scenario," she said.

Her collaborations with Soderbergh have been hugely successful — she even earned herself a Golden Globe nomination for her performance in "The Girlfriend Experience." It's easy to see that she owes a big part of her career to the director. And, as Keough explained to Flaunt Magazine, they work well together, and his hands-off approach has helped her to grow. "He puts his trust in you as a performer. That raises the bar and makes you responsible for your own performance, which is stressful, but it's also really good," she said.

Riley Keough met her future husband on set in 2015

Riley Keough met the Australian stuntman Ben Smith-Petersen while filming "Mad Max: Fury Road" in the desert and started dating after they did reshoots for the project. As she explained to USA Today, she knew instinctively that he was special. "Two weeks into dating him, we were at a gas station and I was like, 'I could see myself having kids with this person,'" she said. Apparently, she instantly felt comfortable around him. It seems that Keough's intuition was right — Smith-Petersen proposed with a ring made of his mother's old diamond set in a vintage ring, as noted by Town & Country.

Then, while volunteering in Nepal in 2015, the pair decided to marry spontaneously in a Hindu ceremony thrown by the locals. In an Instagram post for her sixth wedding anniversary, Keough wrote, "The whole town came, we were so honored and surprised, it was so special."

Keough told Town & Country in 2015, "I want to have children with Ben." As of 2021, the pair don't have any kids yet, but they are the proud parents of two dogs named Grubs and Zushi (via InStyle).

Throughout her career, she's learned on the job

Riley Keough never really had a full education — nor did she have any acting training. Instead, she's become one of the top actresses in Hollywood by learning on the job. As she explained to Little White Lies, while promoting the 2017 Trey Edward Shults film "It Comes at Night," she's grown significantly as an actress with each project. "I'm feeling more confident that there's no set way to do anything, and to never think that I know what I'm doing," she said, explaining that, when she was younger, she didn't realize how much she still had to learn. "I've been learning from every director I've worked with," she said.

And acting technique wasn't the only thing Keough learned on set — she also learned that the job — and life itself — comes with all kinds of ups and downs. So, she learned to appreciate her success and be grateful. "I'm just generally trying to be grateful for everything at the moment, trying to operate in love, and keep my heart open, and give and receive love," she told InStyle. Sounds like Keough has come a long way since she first stepped foot on a set.

Riley Keough started a production company in 2017

As a child, Riley Keough made her own films — in fact, as she told The Guardian, she's had aspirations of directing one day, as well as acting. As she's found more and more success as an actress, she's also branched out into more behind-the-camera roles, too. In 2017, Riley Keough started her own production company, Felix Culpa, along with Gina Gammell. At the time, Keough announced (via Deadline), "We are, very simply, lovers of film and literature. Our company is dedicated to developing material that gives a voice to talent and stories that deserve attention and need to be heard."

For Keough, the production company gave her another creative outlet aside from acting. She told S Magazine, "I try and relax, but I can't. I relax by working on my production company's films. I give myself a break from performing, but I'll do other stuff because I can't stop."

According to the company's website, the first four projects are set to be released in the next few years, including the upcoming miniseries "Cult Following," which is set to star Keough.

Riley Keough's career took a turn with Zola

One of Riley Keough's most exciting roles to date was in the 2020 film "Zola," a film based on a real-life story that went viral in a series of tweets. For Keough, this film provided new challenges and marked an exciting step in her career. As Vogue noted, "none of her previous work ... comes close" to her work in "Zola." As Keough told the publication, she wanted to make her role as Stefani as outrageous as possible. "We wanted to make her as wild, offensive and loud as we could," Keough explained.

It took some serious work to get ready to play such an outrageous character. Keough explained to Harper's Bazaar that she spent a long time preparing the character's accent and finding inspiration in people she had come across in her own life.

While Keough clearly took a risk with her larger-than-life choices in "Zola," her risks paid off. The film received rave reviews, with Empire saying she "delivers her Blaccented honey trapper with gusto, adding countering moments of vulnerability to demand sympathy for a woman who, for all her culturally appropriating faults, is still a victim."

Her brother died tragically in 2020 and she became a death doula

In 2020, Riley Keough's younger brother died by suicide (via TMZ). For Keough, it was a devastating loss that forced her to rethink her relationship with grief. Keough told Variety, "When you're in grief ... everything for the first time hits you. It's like, 'Oh, I'm experiencing this in grief now.'" In a way, she had to relearn how to do everything from going grocery shopping to having a birthday to going to work.

The event coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic and the release of "Zola." "It's definitely tainted with my own sadness, my own loss and grief from losing my brother, so it's definitely bizarre. Those things don't go away. We don't stop being in pain from grief," she explained to Elle.

A year after her brother's death, Keough posted a Instagram tribute, writing, "I miss you endlessly every day." She also posted on Instagram about becoming a death doula, explaining, "I think it's so important to be educated on conscious dying and death the way we educate ourselves on birth and conscious birthing." A death doula, according to The Guardian, is someone who guides people through both the spiritual and practical realities of dying.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

Riley Keough is looking forward to a 'new beginning'

After her brother's unexpected death and the COVID-19 pandemic, Riley Keough felt that 2021 presented a fresh start. "There's something about the world — that it's opening back up, we're getting vaccinated, it feels like there's this hopeful feeling, and 'Zola's' coming out. It feels like this new beginning," she told Elle.

For Keough, the fresh start might just mean that we see her taking on a new type of role that reflects how she feels now. "I tend to end up doing roles that match whatever I'm going through — because I'm attracted to them and they're attracted to me," she said. Right now for Keough, that means looking for roles that "speak to [her] soul." It sounds like there's a lot more to come from this exciting, unpredictable actress — all we know is that whatever she does next, we'll be excited to see it.