There’s something to be said about an actor who seemingly plays the same role. Some would call this typecasting, a way for Hollywood to pigeonhole an artist in a box. Every great actor goes through it. Pacino. Deniro. Denzel. Even Halle. They all battled that stigma until the world realized that it was not the roles that defined them; it was their own personal charisma that defined their roles.
Keke Keyana Palmer is a teenager whom some would say is already a veteran. Many would dispute that, but there’s no denying that she is one the fastest budding stars in Hollywood. Yet all of her movie roles share that one commonality, that one trait that will stick with her through her whole career: her feistiness. Barbershop 2. Madea’s Family Reunion. Akeelah and the Bee. The Longshots. The directors of those four movies saw the same “something” in her that brings their story to life. And at 15, she is making people realize that her personal charm will remain palpable, no matter what role she takes.
This is where Palmer—the youngest actor ever to be nominated by the Screen Acting Guild for Best Leading Actress—will probably be quick to tell you that she has a long way to go. She has acted alongside Academy Award nominees, Angela Bassett and Lawrence Fishburne (“That was so cool,” she understates), and remains as decorous and deferring as they come.
Her upcoming releases include the 2009 Lionsgate drama “Shrink”, in which she is cast alongside Kevin Spacey and Robin Williams, and her own television show on Nickelodeon, “True Jackson VP”, in which she plays a pubescent burgeoning fashion mogul. Right before stepping on the set for her show, Keke chatted with Clutch about life, her career, and dating in Hollywood (hint: Momma Palmer isn’t having any of it).
Clutch: Keke, what’s going on?
Keke: Nothing much. I’m on the set for my new TV show on Nickelodeon called True Jackson VP.
Clutch: How long have you filming for that?
Keke: Um, this is the first episode after the pilot.
Clutch: How is the television industry different from movies, or is it different for you?
Keke: It is different, probably because the show is in California, where I live. It’s a lot more stable for me. I know what I will be doing and when I will be doing it. It’s much easier than movies because there is more structure in doing television. It’s not as organized doing movies.
Clutch: Where are you originally from, Keke?
Keke: I am from Chicago, the suburbs outside of Chicago called Robbins. It’s down past the Southside.
Clutch: How did you get started in the business?
Keke: When I was nine, my parents took me to an audition just from reading it in the newspapers, for the role of Nala in The Lion King off Broadway. I went down to the top 15, and then I was out. I was upset, but at the same time I was like this was cool and I want to try it again. My parents saw that, and said “We can put you in it and if you really like it, maybe you can do it.” I said, “I wanna do it, I wanna do it!” So they got me an agent and I got my first audition, which was Barbershop 2, playing Queen Latifah’s niece and . . . I got the part.
Clutch: [As an actor] Do you find yourself missing the typical things that a teenager enjoys, or is that something that you’re taking in stride?
Keke: Sometimes I do miss it, but most of the time I’m like “Hey, I’m doing so many good things and securing my future and having fun right now.” Hopefully, I can have a normal senior year, like a regular 18 year old. But if that doesn’t happen I think that I will be all right because I’m doing a lot of great stuff right now.
Clutch: Do you engage in typical adolescent activities of teenagers?
Keke: I go to movies and hang out with friends, hit up amusement parks, kick it at my house. Things like that.
Clutch: Do you plan on attending college?
Keke: Of course. I want to attend Howard University.
Clutch: Who is your support system?
Keke: Definitely my family and friends.
Clutch: Do you have any big brothers in the industry who look out for you?
Keke: A lot of people [in the industry] say they’re my big brothers, but we don’t really talk that much. Just mainly my family.
Clutch: Is your support system keeping you from dating?
Keke: [Laughing]. No I can’t date until I’m 16.
Clutch: You’ve won many fans in Akeelah and the Bee. How much of that spelling expertise did you keep?
Keke: I’ve always been really good with spelling and memorization. I think I kept a lot of that stuff. It’s not that it was necessarily easy, but it was easy for me to learn it. I think if somebody gave me some words, I can learn them again at the same rate.
Clutch: How do you feel about playing an icon like Roxanne Shante? Is there any pressure in playing someone who is so important to an entire culture?
Keke: Right now the producers are still trying to get financing for the movie, but yes of course there is always pressure when portraying a real person. That is why I trained so hard to play Jasmine Plummer in The Longshots. I wanted people to believe that I could be a quarterback. I can’t wait to start learning her style, I looked her up on the Internet just to hear her voice and I must have listened to her music for a few hours without even noticing that so much time had past, I really want to play her in a movie, it would be amazing!!!”
Clutch: When a stranger walks up to you, what is the most common thing that you hear?
Keke: Akeelah. Hey Akeelah! [Laughing].
Clutch: What do you say? Do you cringe?
Keke: Nah. I say hey back (chuckling). The people that are working on a show that handles the talent, they call me Akeelah too. They’ll say, “Akeelah, would you like a cup of water?”And I answer, “No, I’m fine.” I love it actually.
Clutch: What are your ultimate goals in Hollywood?
Keke: I want to become worldwide, like Will Smith or Michael Jackson. Internationally known.
Clutch: What’s your favorite movie?
Keke: Love and Basketball. And I used to run from it. I used to always say “No, I don’t want to watch that. I don’t know about that.” And I remember when I was over my friend’s house and she was really into basketball. She said, “How about Love and Basketball?” I told her that the movie is dumb. She asked, “Girl, have you seen it?” I said no, and we ended up watching it, and I LOVED IT.
Clutch: Tell me about your music. How big of a passion is that to you?
Keke: Music is my first passion ever. I have been doing it for a long time since I was little, so it’s definitely a big part of my life.
Clutch: You know I have been resisting the urge to call you Akeelah all interview. So I’m going to let you go now.
Keke: See I told you! And I would have answered you too. One time, an interviewer called me Akeelah the whole interview, and I just let her call me Akeelah. It’s makes no difference to me.
Photo Credits: Credit Gavin Bond/Nickelodeon