'The Girlfriend Experience' Star Riley Keough & Director Amy Seimetz On Crafting A Female Lead Who Is Unapologetic About Sex
We've seen this story before. In 2009, Steven Soderbergh gave us The Girlfriend Experience, a film following the experiences of a prostitute named Christine who offered more than sex to her clients. She acted as a temporary girlfriend to those who had enough cash, and her hired duties extended beyond casual sex to actual companionship. And now, with Soderbergh producing, The Girlfriend Experience is getting a 2016 television remake on Starz. The revamped narrative, which is roughly six hours of story, stars Mad Max: Fury Road's Riley Keough as Christine, an aspiring lawyer who has a healthy appetite for sex. "She's open about liking sex. She walks up to the guy in the bar and says, 'I wanna f*ck you,' in like the first 5-10 minutes of the show," Keough says. "This character is unapologetic about sex, which I haven't seen on TV before."
"The girlfriend experience, or GFE, is essentially a menu item for an escort," says Amy Seimetz, who co-wrote and directed the series with Lodge Kerrigan. "It's a service that some women provide for men, which essentially means they act like your girlfriend. They spend more time with you. It's more like a date, as opposed to getting it in and getting it out — no pun intended."
The reason both women were attracted to the project was in large part due to the way Christine was portrayed, "like a man," as Keough says. "What I loved about Christine is she's a character you don't often get to play as a woman because characters like her get scrutinized. She likes sex, she's controlling, she's kind of selfish. She might be a sociopath, she doesn't really have friends. She's not one of the five roles for women — a wife, a hot girl, or whatever else," the 26-year-old actor says. "She's complicated. She's not that likable, and that's what different about her. She's a more human character."
In writing Christine, Seimetz wanted the character to feel different than other millennial women portrayed on television today. "Whenever sex is associated with a female character it's perceived as a weakness or that it's so sacred to her. Or it's used to show that she's f*cked up, as opposed to just liking sex, and showing that it's totally normal to like sex. She's unapologetic about it. You don't see women in television who are like 'I like sex. So what? Let's move on.'"
Keough herself had no hesitance to sign on to a project where regular nudity is required. "I don't have a problem with nudity," she says. "I dunno, I just don't, so that part wasn't difficult. Figuring out how to view sex in the way that Christine views sex was difficult."
Aside from being open about her sexual preferences, Christine is fairly close-lipped, mysterious, and rarely wears her emotions on her sleeve. Female-led shows like HBO's Girls, Comedy Central's Broad City and Inside Amy Schumer, and FOX' New Girl all feature outspoken female leads who have no problem spouting their emotions. Perhaps these characters, whose problems are more accessible to a young female audience (I don't know anyone juggling an internship at a law firm and a career in prostitution), are more relatable. But according to Seimetz, relatable is overrated.
"Television went so far down the relatable rabbit hole that I don't really relate to those characters anymore," Seimetz says. "But in film and now television you can transcend what it means to be relatable. We created a character that transcends relatibility. I don't know if that word even applies. It's so observational."
And Keough agrees. "This is a character who is so internal. She's not an emotional basket case. She's not self-indulgent about her feelings all the time. She's not a hot mess. She doesn't need to talk about her feelings or emote. She's a different breed of woman."
The Girlfriend Experience will premiere Sunday, April 10 on Starz, and all 13 episodes will be available on Starz Play and Starz On Demand starting the same day.