Lily Gladstone and Riley Keough investigate a chilling murder
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Lily Gladstone and Riley Keough investigate a chilling murder
Lily Gladstone, right, and Riley Keough in Los Angeles, April 15, 2024. The actors are co-stars in “Under the Bridge,” a new true-crime series based on a teenager’s brutal killing in British Columbia. (Amy Harrity/The New York Times)

by Alexis Soloski

NEW YORK, NY.- “We’ve been teenage girls,” Lily Gladstone said. Which means that Gladstone and her co-star, Riley Keough, know what teenage girls can do.

In “Under the Bridge,” a limited series now streaming on Hulu, Keough and Gladstone play a writer and a cop investigating the 1997 beating and murder of Reena Virk, a 14-year-old Indo-Canadian girl. Six teenage girls and one teenage boy, many of them Virk’s classmates, were eventually convicted.

The case has inspired plays, poems, documentaries and several books, including Rebecca Godfrey’s 2005 literary nonfiction work “Under the Bridge,” which gives the series its shape and name. (The show also relies on a memoir by Virk’s father, Manjit Virk.) Though Godfrey died in 2022, before filming began, she worked closely with the show’s creator, Quinn Shephard, on its development. Keough, who also produced the series, plays a version of Godfrey. Gladstone plays Cam, an invented character, a Native law enforcement officer who was adopted as a child by a white family.

While “Under the Bridge” centers these women as adults, it includes scenes of the same characters as teenagers, drawing lines between the girls they were and the women they are.

This month, Keough, who was filming in London, and Gladstone, who was in Seattle, met for a video call. In an hourlong chat, they discussed girlhood, violence and making a true-crime series that sidesteps sensationalism. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.

Q: What were you like as teenagers?

LILY GLADSTONE: Whenever I meet anybody from high school, “Oh my God, you’re the same person” is pretty much what I hear. That version of Lily really built the foundation for who I am now. She had this sense of where she wanted to go. She cracks me up a little bit. Riley, I get the sense that you had a lot of energy, though I don’t want to say you were ever too much to handle because you don’t really have that vibe.

RILEY KEOUGH: Well, my parents would have said differently.

GLADSTONE: Mine, too. They say there’s a reason I’m an only child. But I feel like if I was your teacher, I would have been like, “She’s going to do some pretty awesome things.”

KEOUGH: I needed that teacher. I would say that I was always very sensitive and kind. The kids that maybe didn’t have friends, I always wanted to sit with. I had that instinct. But I had a wildness in me, too. I’m an adventurous spirit. I wasn’t a teenager who was a very big problem or anything. I just loved life and I wanted to experience it all.

In my heart, I am the same person. But it’s been a confusing journey. It’s funny that I’m an actor because I never wanted attention. I never wanted to stand out. Over time, I’m just more comfortable being myself.

Q: What drew you to the series?

GLADSTONE: Honestly, the first spark was hearing that Riley was attached. From there, I had conversations with Quinn and Samir (Mehta, the showrunner) into what kind of meaning could be found in a senseless act of violence. Having just come off another “true-crime” piece (“Killers of the Flower Moon”) that self-indicted sensationalism and looked at the people that were affected as well as unearthing some of the systemic issues that create these scenarios, I was really interested in this one because of how it indicts all of us in what was happening around Reena Virk.

It was really clear to me that this was another opportunity to have a nuanced conversation about the systemic failures of law enforcement. When you’re making a true-crime story but being self-aware about it, you can go on a journey with your audience and have a conversation about these things in a way that didn’t happen at the time.

Q: Were you surprised that teen girls could be capable of something like this?

KEOUGH: No, no, not at all.

GLADSTONE: We’ve been teen girls. Not that we necessarily have the ability to do something like that. But certainly we were teenagers with other teenagers. Teenage girls are some of the most powerful people on the planet. And anybody that’s got that much power has the capability to be an ungrounded wire with it.

KEOUGH: That can be a really volatile time for the human spirit.

GLADSTONE: Identity formation with a big old shot of hormones.

Q: Having made this series, do you understand why the girls did this?

KEOUGH: Every human being is different. For one kid, the answer could be psychosis. For another kid, the answer could be trauma. For another kid, the answer could be substance abuse or peer pressure.

GLADSTONE: I was 11 years old in 1997, just a shade younger than these kids. Two years later was Columbine. Back then, people were blaming the music kids were listening to, violent video games, whatever scapegoat they wanted to. I just remember getting so frustrated when people would blame music — I liked Nine Inch Nails when I was that age.

KEOUGH: I liked Marilyn Manson at the time.

GLADSTONE: I remember thinking it was bull. Like, nobody’s really looking at who these people are.

Q: Does female violence manifest differently?

GLADSTONE: I remember having an awareness of how girls will fight to the death, and boys just fight until they feel better. Girls scratch. They pull hair. They kick. They bite. They go at it until there’s intervention.

KEOUGH: But again, it’s case by case. It could be to impress the cool girl in school, or it could be that something’s going on at home.

Q: Why is your version of Rebecca so drawn to this story?

KEOUGH: I don’t think she knows. There’s something that grabs her. She feels like she’s there in that moment for a reason, then she decides to start writing about it. Rebecca inserts herself into a situation that she does not need to be in. There is a massive amount of privilege in being able to do that, and that is hard for Cam to watch. It’s Cam’s duty to be there, whereas with Rebecca, it’s a little confusing what her agenda is.

Q: What attracted you to Cam, Lily?

GLADSTONE: This sense of being a woman in a man’s world and also being an outsider. Cam represents a lot of conversations that are not in the book itself but that were worth including. The murder happened just by tribal land. The bridge connects the municipality to a reserve. So inherently, there’s a First Nations presence in the story. I thought it was a brilliant construction to have a First Nations, adopted cop, who feels compelled to Reena in a way that becomes clearer and clearer to her.

Q: What was filming like? Did the landscape inform the show?

GLADSTONE: The landscape, culture, people. There’s a really strong First Nations presence — the art on the buildings, the faces in the streets. That was a helpful thing for Cam because she grows up knowing that she’s Native, but she doesn’t know how to engage with it. The climate, it’s overcast a lot of the time, but it fluctuates almost hourly. Some days it feels like California, some days it feels like the British Isles. So there’s this unpredictability and moodiness.

KEOUGH: I really get affected by the location I’m in, the deep earth and the nature. So that must affect the way that I’m playing a character.

GLADSTONE: You were cold the whole time.

KEOUGH: I was freezing. So that was a character choice.

Q: This is a terrible crime, committed by young people. Should anyone be defined by the worst thing they’ve done?

GLADSTONE: Individuals are such a conglomerate of everything that’s happened to them — their environment, circumstances, ability. A lot of conversations now are about restorative justice. I’m really happy that there are several examples in our series.

KEOUGH: There has to be a road to recovery for human beings. Reconciliation has to be an option. We have to try and move toward empathy and understanding and compassion and away from shame and harsh punishment, because I don’t think violence is ever the solution. (But) if people are committing horrific crimes, there should be repercussions.

GLADSTONE: Even if a person’s worst action doesn’t necessarily define them, worst actions do define the world for everyone else.

Q: Do you think that the girls you were would be proud of the women that you are now?

KEOUGH: I’m proud of Lily!

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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