Turning something like The Girlfriend Experience into a TV show, as Starz is doing with a series it announced today will premiere April 10, seems a weird thing to attempt. Steven Soderbergh’s 2009 film about a high-priced call girl is wisp-thin, mostly serving as a comment on the financial crisis of 2007-2008 and as a window on the rich and powerful from an unusual point of view — Sasha Grey’s GFE escort — than anything approaching a complex story.
Starz’s television series, executive produced by Soderbergh, along with Amy Seimetz and Lodge Kerrigan, both of whom wrote and directed all the episodes, has grander ambitions. The 13-episode series — which CEO Chris Albrecht said today will roll out weekly on the cable channel but will be available all at once on Starz Play and Starz On Demand in the U.S. — expands on the original premise, almost approaching thriller as a genre as it tracks law student/intern Christine Reade (Riley Keough) as she enters the world of transactional relationships. (See the trailer below.)
What the film and series do have in common, however, is that neither are interested in judging or condemining the choices made by their respective main characters. “What was fun about this show,” said Soderbergh during today’s The Girlfriend Experience TCA panel, “is that she sort of remains mysterious… [and] the bottom line is whether or not it is [permissible], it’s happening. The goal,” he continued, “was to present an accurate portrayal of someone who has made these choices. None of us were interested in editorializing.”
Star Riley Keough was attracted to the part for similar reasons. “It’s a different [role], not something you see as a lead character on a tv show,” she said, meaning a female character who isn’t very likable or morally upstanding, who is selfish and controlling. “It’s more of a character you’d see for a man, which is kind of what drew me to the show.”
As for why Soderbergh is bringing the series to television, he cites the possibilities and opportunities for storytelling, which he says is why he’s recently begun to focus on television instead of film. “I like the long form,” he says. “In the case of this, Riley playing a character over the course of six and a half hours…. you have time to let things breathe a little and let things develop. When you combine that with the atmosphere creatively that exists on television, which is one of real excitement and enthusiasm and just fearlessness… if you’re interested in telling stories, [television is] a really good space to be working in.”