How Lily Gladstone and Riley Keough’s Instagram Friendship Led to ‘Under the Bridge’

Writer Rebecca Godfrey’s 2005 book “Under the Bridge” was a nonfiction investigation into the beating death of Reena Virk, a Canadian girl of Indian descent who was bullied and then killed by a group of teens in 1997. Its Hulu limited series adaptation, whose producers and creators include Quinn Shephard and Samir Mehta, gives the story a twist by introducing Godfrey as a character and adding a fictional indigenous police officer, Cam Bentland, while focusing on Virk more closely than the book could do.

“Daisy Jones & the Six” star Riley Keough plays Godfrey, who died of lung cancer during preproduction, and also produced with her partner, Gina Gammell. Lily Gladstone, fresh off her Oscar nomination for “Killers of the Flower Moon,” plays Bentland.

What made you want to do this project?
RILEY KEOUGH: Well, I read the script for the pilot and was a bit hesitant. I think it’s really important for me to put things into the world that I feel are contributing to society. And sometimes this genre can be a little like, “What is the point of telling this story?”

But I then had a conversation with Quinn and Samir and we talked about my own experiences with friends or people I knew who had been in situations like this or who had been incarcerated. And they were very open to themes that were different than I’d seen in true crime shows, like empathy and forgiveness. So Gina and I came on. It was our first time fully producing a television show.

Lily, why did you want to do it?
LILY GLADSTONE: Initially, I leaned away as it was another genre piece of true crime. What made me lean back in was taking a meeting with Quinn and Samir and knowing that Riley was attached.

I wanted to work with Riley forever. We’ve had a professional admiration for each other for a long time, to the point where it was just kind of funny that we hadn’t actually met in person. She started following me on Instagram back in 2018, the year after we were both on the indie circuit with “American Honey” and “Certain Women.” So we had this social media friendship, and then Riley reached out to me asking about Native crew for (Keough and Gammell’s Native American-themed) “War Pony.” She’s such a compassionate person and artist, and she does really deep dives into things. She’s not afraid to fall on the sword of her own privilege to elevate these conversations.

Vritika Gupta as Reena Virk in
Vritika Gupta as Reena Virk in “Under the Bridge” (Bettina Strauss/Hulu)

And then I talked to Quinn and Samir about how the lens that they were going to explore this crime through would be very compassionate and centered on Reena. The worst aspects of the true crime genre can be the sensationalism — the way we often get hung up on the drama of the trial and therefore make the perpetrators almost celebrities. It seems to erase the humanity of the victim. It felt like this was an opportunity to bring the conversation of restorative justice, which originates in indigenous Canadian communities, to the States, where we very much need it.

In my paradigm, empathy is at the heart of all of it. This series takes the opportunity to humanize Reena and to have very nuanced conversations about every character around her. It becomes a larger allegory for these systemic things that marginalize people to the point that they’re the ones that are most vulnerable to becoming victims of crimes like this. And the truer you are about what the crime is about and what led to it, the closer we can maybe move toward having difficult and necessary conversations if we’re going to create a society that’s safe for everybody.

Was it grueling to be in that space for so long, where both characters are dealing with past trauma and there’s a murdered girl at the center of the story?
KEOUGH: Certainly, yeah. The tone is heavy, but there was so much care and love and respect that the tone was also very kind and gentle on set. When you’re telling someone else’s real story, it takes you out of your own problems a bit, because you’re trying to do this person justice. (Pauses) But yeah, it was heavy.

GLADSTONE: I think everybody was there in such a compassionate way, and everybody had a different experience in how they felt Reena in this. It was cool to see so many people communally agree that they felt her there. So regardless of whether you want to call it supernatural, just the fact that people would feel her tells you that their hearts were in the right place and centered around some real compassion for who she was.

With “Daisy Jones” and “Killers,” you’ve both had recent periods where your visibility went up significantly. Have the past couple years changed what you’re looking for from here?
GLADSTONE: I mean, I’m ready to do a comedy. (Laughs)

KEOUGH (Laughing) Honestly, me too. I need some lightness, for sure.

This story first appeared in the Limited Series issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine. Read more from the issue here.

The post How Lily Gladstone and Riley Keough’s Instagram Friendship Led to ‘Under the Bridge’ appeared first on TheWrap.