Riley Keough on ‘American Honey’ Director Andrea Arnold: ‘She Captures Life’

Riley Keough
Neil Rasmus/BFA/REX/Shutterstock

Filming “American Honey” was as wild and unpredictable as the movie itself. For Riley Keough (a veteran of last year’s best picture nominee “Mad Max: Fury Road”), it was a singular experience to work with British auteur Andrea Arnold on the very American road trip saga. Keough plays Krystal, the no-nonsense manager of a “mag crew,” a group of teens who travel town to town peddling magazine subscriptions to make money. The story is told through the eyes of Star (Sasha Lane), who joins the crew at the invitation of Jake (Shia LaBeouf), the top seller and Krystal’s boy toy. The triangle gets complicated, to say the least, and as Keough explains, she never knew what would happen next.

“I heard that Andrea was making a film and I was a huge fan of hers already. I tried to do everything I could to have the opportunity to be in the film. I knew what it was about because I was given a news article, but there was no script.

“I auditioned, but Andrea had her own way of doing things. I don’t know what she was thinking or exactly how she was doing it — I didn’t have a script or a character, she had in her mind what she was looking for. We spent a lot of time together going through scenarios together.

“When I got the role, we had a conversation about who [Krystal] was. From there it was about staying true to that person no matter what the script threw at you. You’ve got to know everything about yourself to be yourself, if that makes sense.

You can’t be asking questions about [the character’s] past when you’re in the moment. That was figured out but not necessarily in the film, though it is a little bit if you look for it.

“Krystal is a product of her environment, in the sense that she’s been doing this thing for a long time and she’s got her hustle figured out. Everybody on that journey was kind of a lost soul. All the characters were searching for something in their lives.

“I didn’t have to go to the South and hang out with one chick who’s like Krystal. I spend time with all kinds of people in my life, in all different types of situations, and that’s something I’ll never not do. I think sometimes actors get to a place in their life where they’re not experiencing life any more. I think I understand different types of people.

“[For research] I know Shia spent time with a mag crew. I was working six months straight before ‘American Honey,’ so I didn’t get to go on the road with a mag crew, but I did a lot of research. I watched videos and visited websites where they talk, looked at their Instagram accounts and Twitters, to get a sense of it.

“We’d get our sides the day before or the day of, it’s not like we were thinking everything through and preparing. It was really fun, it allowed you to feel the closest to not filming a movie as I think you could.

“We were totally in the dark and [Andrea] was writing our lives for us. It was like having somebody writing your future, day by day. She was constantly changing things depending on different dynamics and things.

“At the time we weren’t watching what each other was shooting. … I literally didn’t know what the movie was about until Cannes when I watched it.

“We do our thing and she stays out of the way. To be honest I don’t even remember the presence of the camera — it was kind of like [the camera was] Star for the whole movie, it was like this part of her. It wasn’t your normal situation. Robbie [Ryan, the DP] and Andrea stayed kind of quiet, they were trying to exist through Star.

“Andrea’s filmmaking is pure honesty, you really feel it in that place in your soul where you’re always trying to feel things. You feel so many emotions in the movie when you’re watching it but there’s no crazy melodrama. Not every day is full of drama. It’s the subtleties of life that she captures so well. She gets these moments that are not sticking to the movie format of act one, act two, act three, and then it resolves. She captures life.”