Many people struggle to leave their work life at the office. Christine Reade revels in bringing it home.
As played by Riley Keough (“Magic Mike”) on “The Girlfriend Experience,” a 13-episode drama series premiering Sunday (April 10), on Starz, she’s a second-year Chicago law student and new intern at the prestigious Kirkland & Allen law firm who embraces her sideline as a high-priced escort to the rich and powerful.
But Christine -– or Chelsea as she’s known to her clients –- doesn’t provide just sex for money.
For her rate of $1,000 an hour (with a two-hour minimum), she provides what is called the girlfriend experience or GFE, which means talking, listening and providing emotional support in addition to the physical intimacy. In essence, playing the role of a girlfriend.
Christine was introduced to the world of transactional relationships by Avery (Kate Lyn Sheil, “House of Cards”), her friend and classmate, while Jacqueline (Alex Castillo, “Rookie Blue”) is the booker who supplies her with a steady stream of clients.
At her day job, Christine learns the ropes at the side of David Tellis (Paul Sparks, “Boardwalk Empire”), a power lawyer with a secret, whose professional fortunes are intertwined with those of fellow partner Erin Roberts (Mary Lynn Rajskub, “24”).
The series comes from executive producers Lodge Kerrigan, Amy Seimetz and Steve Soderbergh, on whose 2009 independent film of the same name the series is based. Keough, who researched the role by talking to a woman who provided such a service, told a recent gathering of TV critics in Pasadena, Calif., that she was attracted to the character’s unconventionality.
“It’s not something you’ve really seen as a sort of lead character on a TV show,” she says, “because … I wouldn’t say she’s extremely likeable or morally correct or you know, she’s very controlling and kind of manipulative and kind of selfish and likes sex. It’s more of a character you’d see for a man … .”
Christine’s ability to keep the physical and emotional separate is illustrated in the opening episode, where after picking a guy up at a bar, she tells him in the throes of passion, “I like you.” Later that night, after a round of lovemaking, he reciprocates with the same message, only to be met with a dismissive “thanks” and a quick kiss on her way out the door.
“The one thing I was having a hard time understanding,” Keough says, “was being able to have sex with no emotional connection. And I sort of started to understand that the more sex scenes that I did, which was interesting, how it could be just a sort of physical thing. Because that’s not what it is for me, but that is what it is for Christine. So that was difficult in the beginning, but I sort of wrapped my head around that as we went along.”