"Is it a sausage?" a Time magazine writer asked in 1956, reviewing Elvis Presley's debut as a movie star in "Love Me Tender." "It certainly is smooth and damp-looking, but whoever heard of a 172-pound sausage, 6 feet tall?
"Is it a Walt Disney goldfish? It has the same sort of big, soft, beautiful eyes and long curly lashes, but whoever heard of a goldfish with sideburns?"
Presley's granddaughter, Riley Keough, may have big Elvis eyes, but she has not had to endure harsh treatment from critics for her performance in her first motion picture, the fact-based rock-and-roll saga "The Runaways," now in its third week at Malco's Ridgeway Four and Studio on the Square.
"It was my first audition," said Keough, 20, in a phone interview from her Los Angeles home. "I got lucky."
The 5-foot-7 Keough -- the first of Lisa Marie Presley's four children and a veteran fashion magazine and runway model -- is sympathetic and convincing in the role of the frustrated Marie Currie, whose love and loyalty become tainted with envy as she watches her little sister, Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning), and Cherie's new friend, Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart), find fame and heartache in 1970s all-girl "jailbait" band The Runaways.
Although Keough appears in the film only intermittently, she is the story's fourth major player, behind Fanning, Stewart and Michael Shannon (who plays the band's sleazy manager, Kim Fowley). It's no surprise this professional clothes horse is comfortable in her character's vintage Southern California fashions, in front of director Floria Sigismondi's camera; what's impressive is the maturity and working-girl normalcy Keough brings to the movie's least glamorous if arguably most attractive character. (In the film, Kim Fowley taunts Cherie by calling Marie her "better-looking" older sister.)
"I got to spend a lot of time with (the real-life) Marie, and she was happy with the performance, and that's all I really cared about," Keough said. "We still keep in touch."
Born in Los Angeles, Danielle Riley Keough is the first of the two children Lisa Marie Presley had with her first husband, musician Danny Keough.
Lisa Marie next married pop star Michael Jackson, then actor Nicolas Cage; with her fourth husband, guitarist Michael Lockwood, she gave birth to twins in 2008. "It's massive!" Keough said of her family.
Growing up with such famous connections, "There were definitely things I got to experience that normal kids don't experience," Keough said. "I traveled and got to do so many incredible things as a child, because of my family situation. I don't have any bad childhood memories, actually."
Embracing her status as pop-culture royalty, Keough posed in 2004 alongside her mother and grandmother, Priscilla Presley, for a Vogue magazine cover by famed photographer Annie Leibovitz. She admits, however, that the Presley connection, for all its advantages, can be a double-edged sword. "It makes me feel like I won't be taken seriously, sometimes."
Occasionally teased as a kid because of Elvis, Keough said her awareness of her grandfather's popularity and significance "has been pretty much a constant thing my whole life, from the day I was born. I was definitely interested in it when I was younger; I would ask a lot of questions. I'd go through times when I was really curious."
Now, however, she said she can't pick a top Elvis song because "I'm sort of biased -- it's sort of hard to have favorites." Growing up, she was a frequent visitor to Graceland with her mom, especially at Christmas. The trips to Memphis have been less frequent in recent years, however.
Despite the often dismissive early reviews, Elvis became one of Hollywood's top box office draws, and now is generally regarded as a solid actor saddled with unchallenging scripts. Keough said this isn't a cautionary example for her because she is under no pressure to accept movie roles.
"I mostly just think, 'What kinds of movies do I want to do?' I love making movies. I mean, I want a family, and to be happy, but I hope to continue making movies."
She said Dakota Fanning was an on-set role model, even though Fanning is five years younger than Keough. "Watching her was helpful, because she's just so professional, even in between takes. I didn't really know anything about 'marks' (the designated place on a set where an actor is supposed to stop for the camera) or anything, so I learned by watching her."
Keough described herself as "naturally introverted and shy," which might surprise anybody who's seen her Victoria's Secret modeling poses. She said her shyness doesn't extend to posing but to the more intimate requirements of acting, particularly the audition and rehearsal processes, which require others to watch, critique and perhaps even reject your work.
"I did theater in school, but I was so shy. ... Acting class terrified me. So I've tried to do without it."
Whatever she's doing, it seems to be working: Keough already has finished her second film, "The Good Doctor," which promotes her to a lead character, opposite Orlando Bloom and Taraji P. Henson.