Riley Keough Didn’t Think She Could Handle Acting in Elvis, the Baz Luhrmann Film About Her Late Grandfather

Riley Keough wearing dark lipstick
Photo by Amy Sussman via Getty Images

At this point in her career, Riley Keough has established herself enough in her own right for it to be entirely possible you weren’t aware that her late grandfather was none other than Elvis Presley. Not that the 32-year-old actor has ever denied that their relation was “a huge help” when it came to finding early success. (“I’m very privileged,” she said in 2017. “Like the normal story of moving to L.A. and it takes you three years to find an agent? I got one in a week.”) She’s only occasionally had to field questions about her family ties since gaining acclaim for her performances in The Girlfriend Experience and Zola, but that’s starting to change in the lead-up to Elvis, Baz Luhrmann’s highly anticipated biopic starring Austin Butler. Take her new interview with Variety; ostensibly about her directorial debut, War Pony, it inevitably pivoted to her thoughts on seeing her family portrayed on screen.

“It was a very emotional experience,” Keough, who was born a dozen years after Elvis’s death in 1977, said of watching the film. “It’s very intense to watch when it’s your family.” Though she never worried that Luhrmann would fail to deliver: Keough has long admired the director, and she was among the Presleys who spent several hours getting to know him before he started filming. Fortunately, he didn’t disappoint. “In the first five minutes, I could feel how much work Baz and Austin put into trying to get it right,” Keough continued. “That made me emotional immediately. I started crying five minutes in and didn’t stop. There’s a lot of family trauma and generational trauma that started around then for our family. I felt honored they worked so hard to really get his essence, to feel his essence. Austin captured that so beautifully.” (Her mother, Lisa Presley, has also praised Luhrmann’s vision and Butler’s performance.)

So, if Keough was so on board with Luhrmann going ahead with the film, why didn’t she join the cast? According to the actor, she was never asked—not that she would have taken the director up on it if he had indeed approached her. “It’s a little too close,” Keough explained. “It’s intense enough to watch, I don’t want to act in it. It was never a conversation. I think there was a boundary there that felt respected in a nice way.” In any case, Keough has had other projects occupying her time. She has not one, but two Amazon Prime shows in the works: The Terminal List, which finds her married to a Navy SEAL played by Chris Pratt, and Daisy Jones & The Six, starring Keough as the titular ‘70s rock star.