Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Interview: Keke Palmer

She's thrown footballs with Ice Cube. Practiced spelling with Laurence Fishburne and Angela Bassett. Been Samuel L. Jackson's daughter -- and Queen Latifah's niece. Acted as protector for William H. Macy. Done guest spots on television powerhouses like "E.R.," "Law and Order" and "Cold Case." Been directed by Tyler Perry, twice. Sang a song on the "Night at the Museum" soundtrack.

Oh, and also released an album on a major label, been on "The Tonight Show" and currently stars in her own television series.

At 16, Keke Palmer is just gearing up.

Her latest effort is the ensemble drama "Shrink," which debuts Sept. 29 on video. The film co-stars Kevin Spacey, who plays a slovenly Hollywood psychiatrist with a wicked pot habit. As a troubled teen who ditches school to go watch old movies, Palmer is assigned to therapy sessions with the shrink, and they discover an unlikely connection.

Palmer sat down for a phone interview from her home in Los Angeles. Fast-talking, smart and chirpy, Palmer gives her take on what it's like for someone from the Facebook/YouTube generation to grow up a star.

Christopher Lloyd: You had a lot of scenes with Kevin Spacey. How was it working with him?

Keke Palmer: Awesome. I didn't know much about him before I got the film, and my Mom was like, "You have to see some of his work." And then I saw all of his work, and said this guy is unbelievable. I was really excited .... That was such an honor for me. It was just a pleasure working with him. I acted off of him and watched him.
It was kind of crazy, because the whole time I was doing the movie I thought he really dressed like that! Then I realized he was just being the character. When I saw him at Sundance, he was dressing really nice.

CL: How'd you get involved in the movie, since this role of Jemma, a troubled teenager, is different from the roles you've done before.

KP: I did a movie, "Akeelah and the Bee" with Lionsgate, and after that they've been really fond of me, and we've always had a good relationship. When this movie came about, Michael Burns -- one of the producers of the film -- wanted to see me in it. He said, "I have this great role for you Keke, and I think you'll like it." And that's pretty much how it came about.

CL: Your character in the movie is an old movie nut, skipping school to go watch classic films. Have you ever done that?

KP: Never skipped school. By the time I left school (for private instruction) I was in 5th grade, I guess that's what, 10 years old, 11? So I never did any skipping of school. But I love movies, all type of movies from any time. I was just telling my mom the other day I want to see "Rosemary's Baby." So I love all types of movies. And I think it's a really cool idea (Jemma has) to put all her movie tickets on the ceiling! That was pretty awesome.

CL: What was it like playing this character that was very cut off and in her own world?

KP: I just kind of had to tap into her feelings, and somebody who had been through so much would have had that type of personality where they're kind of cut off from everything else and don't want to be close to anyone else. ... And I felt a little bit of teen energy coming in with her mother's death.

CL: Tell me about the relationship with the screenwriter character, Jeremy, played by Mark Webber. At one point he's kind of stalking you and it was a little creepy.

KP: You know as a viewer, what he's doing it for. He's just trying to get to know the person he's writing about and it's not necessarily a friendship that comes about. But Jemma being who she is -- her mother has just passed, she loves movies, she doesn't really have much to lose, she's kind of free but not stupid. So when he comes up to her and asks her to go to a coffee shop with him, she's like, "Ehhhh." But at the same time, she's like, "Sure, why not. It's not like I have anything going on, and here's someone actually taking an interest in me."

CL: Let's talk about "Akeelah and the Bee." You were the star of the film, and that's a pretty big responsibility when you're -- what, 13 when you made that movie?

KP: 11.

CL: So was that at all scary or daunting to be the star of this big Hollywood movie?

KP: I think the older you get, you realize that type of stuff. But when you're a kid it doesn't really matter. When you're 10 or 11, that's right about the time you realize what's going on around you. I hadn't completely got it yet. ... I was just myself and tried my best and hardest, not thinking about any negative things -- like, "This could be terrible" or "I could totally suck!" (Laughter.)
When you're a kid, you don't realize how big everything is. I was just thinking I was glad I got this part, and it's so cool, I get to work with these great actors and have a great time.

CL: You first got noticed singing in your church. So how did you get your first film role, in "Barbershop 2"?

KP: I was reading in the newspaper about auditions for "Lion King" (the stage musical) and that's how I first got hooked into acting. Then I got an agent, and my second audition was "Barbershop 2." At first I couldn't get an audition because I was a newcomer to the business. The casting director wanted somebody who knew what to do. So my mom sent her a tape of me singing and doing the lines, and the lady just really loved it. She asked me to come down and do the scene in front of her, and then in front of the director. And I got the part!

CL: So did you plan to be a singer, and acting is something that just happened?

KP: When I was a little, I never really thought about how I was going to go about it, but I always wanted to be a singer. That was the one thing I did that I knew I was good at. I sang at church and people liked it. When my parents told me about "Lion King" auditions, I had to think, and I had to act and sing and do dancing. That was how I discovered something that was different than just singing, but I liked it just as much. I didn't know if I was good or bad at it, but I had gotten pretty far in the auditions. That's when I said, "Mom, I want to do more of this, whatever it is."

CL: You've worked with some amazing actors, people who have been nominated for Oscars, or won Oscars -- Spacey, Laurence Fishburne, Angela Bassett, William H. Macy. Were you ever intimidated by these actors?

KP: My mother always told me in this business you have to listen and pay attention and to take direction. So I always would be ready to learn, and always listen when they told me stuff. Even if it was just something that would help me in life, I've always been very inquisitive, asking questions. ... But I never was really intimidated because I didn't realize how big everything was. Now looking back, I'm thinking, "What was going through my head?" (Laughs.)

CL: You have a lot of other things going on, too. You've got "True Jackson V.P." on Nickelodeon entering its second season, and I saw your first album, "So Uncool," was released in 2007, and a second one is in the works. You're pretty busy!

KP: Yeah. I've been doing a lot of work, and I'm just going to keep pushing it out there. I'm just doing the best work I can, whether it's in singing, or in comedy or in drama.

CL: Do I have it right that your parents left their jobs to move out to California for your career?

KP: Yes. Now that I think about it, it's like, "What were my parents thinking?" (Laughter.) They must have really believed in me. Everything is going so good, and they have never stopped believing in me, ever. Even when I have dry spells and there's nothing going on, they have worked with me. I don't know many parents there are that would do that!

CL: Do you think about moving out on your own?

KP: I'll definitely keep my parents around for guidance. They'll help guide my career forever. But I'm moving out when I'm 18. I gotta get outta the house! They know that -- I've told them every day of my life! "I'm moving out of here, y'all!"

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