Four years ago, the Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh declared he was done with Hollywood and that his psychological thriller Side Effects would be his last theatrical project. Clearly, retirement from big-screen moviemaking (in the interim, he also made the HBO movie Behind the Candelabra and two seasons of Cinemax’s The Knick) didn’t agree with him—his new caper Logan Lucky opens on Friday. The charmingly madcap movie centers around the supposedly cursed West Virginian Logan family—Jimmy (Channing Tatum) has a busted knee from a football injury, Clyde (Adam Driver) lost part of his arm in Iraq—that stages a heist at the Charlotte Motor Speedway during a NASCAR auto race to raise funds after Jimmy is fired from his coal mining job.
Riley Keough, who plays the Logan brothers’ hairdresser sister Mellie, is the only woman in this eccentric, criminal group that includes the explosives expert Joe Bang (Daniel Craig), not unlike Julia Roberts’ Tess in Ocean’s Twelve (Soderbergh clearly loves a smart-talking female foil to ground male capriciousness). Dressed in brash, thigh-grazing ensembles accessorized with cowboy boots and brightly painted, multi-inch talons, Mellie defies stereotypes: she is at once a cucumber cool beautician and a quick-witted automobiles expert, making her the perfect getaway driver—and scene stealer. Here, Keough, chats stick shift, cockroaches and the American Dream.
You’ve worked with Steven before on Magic Mike and The Girlfriend Experience. What was your first reaction to the story of Logan Lucky and more specifically, Mellie, when you read the script?
I loved the story. I thought it was a really, really wonderful story about this family that’s coming from circumstances that aren’t great, kind of beat the system and end up winning. I think people dream about that kind of thing. I love that concept. And I thought Mellie was great. She’s the one who kind of bails them out and she’s the driver and that’s not something…that’s, like, cool for the girl to be kind of girly but also the badass driver, and so I thought it was fun and would be a fun character to play.
I love the contrast in her that she works in a hair salon with these mile-long nails and then she’s also a badass driver. How important were things like the nails and the costume elements to building who she is?
I think that was really important to get it right. There’s so many kinds of girls and so many different kinds of girly girls. There are so many different routes you could go with that kind of thing and I had a very distinct vision of who I thought she was in my head and then luckily costumes and hair and makeup and everyone agreed with that.
What was your specific vision?
I thought the nails were just really current. But then also you have the cowboy boots which are old school. And then her dress. She looks like a quintessential Southern girl, but she’s also kind of modern, you know? So it was this cool combination.
Did you work with a dialect coach when you were prepping for this role?
I did work a bit with a dialect coach. And I also listened to a lot of people speaking from West Virginia and watched movies and tapes, I just listened to people speaking a lot who lived there to pick up on the little subtle things that you might not just get from doing dialect work, little nuances and that kind of thing. So we worked with a wonderful dialect coach as well, so if anything slipped up on set, he was there.
Mellie’s an amazing driver. And she also drives a stick shift. Did you take driving lessons or practice that?
Yeah, I did, I had to learn to drive stick because I didn’t know how to drive stick at all, so that was a fun thing. So I did some work with a stunt coordinator and he taught me how to drive stick, basically.
Was it hard?
It was weird and awkward. I’m not used to moving that kind of way. But it makes sense, like I understand how cars work a lot better now and how car gears work.
And the scenes where you’re driving the sports car, you’re really driving it?
Yeah, I’m driving it. There’s some stuff that the stunt double, driver did for me, some of the shots, but when I’m driving, I’m driving in the shot. I didn’t go super fast. Just being able to drive stick alone felt badass for me because I’m not really a great automatic driver.
Mellie is the one person who has eluded the “Logan Curse” in this family. How would you describe her to someone who hasn’t seen the film? She’s very independent.
She doesn’t take [the curse] as seriously as Clyde does. She hasn’t had anything that tragic happen to her, so I think she’s a little more optimistic about the curse.
Jimmy’s firing is really the impetus behind the heist in the film. What motivates Mellie to participate?
I think it’s about her family and she loves her brothers. And even though Jimmy’s the one who’s unemployed, I’d say they all think they could be doing better financially. And it’s about love and family and loyalty to your family and I love that.
Mellie is the one strong female character in this family, she’s surrounded by only men in this heist. What’s that like as an actress and also from the perspective of building the character as the one cool girl in a guy-heavy rotation?
It’s great. I’m happy to be the girl. It’s kind of a story about these brothers and their sister and these characters and everyone’s got their place in the heist. And I think it was kind of badass to be the driver as a woman and not just a cockroach painter, which, by the way, takes a lot more balls than driving, I must say.
Yes, tell me about that scene [in which Keough paints a herd of cockroaches with nail polish as part of a crucial prep step in the heist] because I was definitely cringing watching you do that.
It was really gross. It was really hard to do. I was actually holding cockroaches. And it was really intense. We used non-toxic nail polish, for anyone who’s curious and worried about the cockroaches. Bur yeah, it was disgusting.
I hope you didn’t have to do too many takes of that.
We actually kind of did quite a few takes. And not only did we do a couple of takes, but I had to practice a bunch, so it was pretty disturbing.
Were they scampering all over the place?
Yeah, you have to hold them in a certain way. There’s a cockroach wrangler.
Yeah! And you have to hold them in a certain way and they squirm a lot and it’s pretty gross.
So the cockroach wrangler had to instruct you on how to approach the cockroaches, essentially?
Exactly. How to speak to them.
I wouldn’t want that job. This is a very different kind of heist film than, say, Ocean’s Eleven, because the Logans aren’t slick professionals, and they’re coming from an economically down-trodden place. And there is the sense that they feel like they’ve been let down by their country, the economic system they’re in, which is something we know a lot of Americans are feeling right now. How did that resonate for you as you were working on this movie?
I think that’s exactly what it is and that’s why it’s exciting: it’s just regular people who end up in this situation. And it ends up working. It’s achievable and it’s realistic. It’s like the version of a heist that you and I could do. And you want those people to win. So it’s kind of the dream. And I love that. So you get a lot of people stuck in this very cyclical situation and it feels like there’s nothing you can do about it. So it feels like a very inspiring thing to make a movie about some that do.
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