Keke Palmer is just 20 years old, but she has a resume that could belong to someone twice her age.
Born in Harvey and raised in Robbins just south of Chicago, Palmer has been working steadily since facing off against Queen Latifah as an 11-year-old in "Barbershop 2: Back in Business." In 2006, she starred in "Akeelah and the Bee" and "Madea's Family Reunion," and also headlined Nickelodeon's "True Jackson, VP."
Palmer has a lot going on these days, too. She has a new album coming out, plays Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas in "CrazySexyCool: The TLC Story" and does a ton of talking on the new series "Full Circle," premiering at 9 p.m. CT Oct. 9 on DirecTV's Audience Network. Written and directed by playwright Neil LaBute, the 10-part series focuses on 11 characters who are somehow all connected. Each episode takes place in a restaurant and focuses on a conversation between two people.
Palmer plays a young woman whose gay brother killed himself after being bullied when a famous comedian speaks ill of him online. In one episode she confronts the comedian, Jace (David Boreanaz), whom she blames for his death. In another, she takes on Cliff (Devon Gearhart), one of the high-school boys she suspects bullied her brother.
Bullying, both online and in person, is an issue Palmer has spoken out against in the past. She was interested in the project because celebrities' influence on Twitter or Facebook hasn't yet been the subject of a drama.
"It really is a big deal with social media," said Palmer, who has more than 1.3 million Twitter followers. "And you as a celebrity also need to understand the power that you hold because if you say someone's an idiot, nine times out of 10 if you have a lot of fans, everyone's gonna believe that person is an idiot, too. So you have to be really careful of what you say."
The dark story and the intense focus on the actors—because nothing else happens but their conversations—made the project especially challenging for Palmer.
"It was monologue after monologue after monologue," she said. "This was my first time working or even knowing about Neil LaBute's work. So I was definitely in for a surprise."
It was a far cry from her experience on "CrazySexyCool," which airs at 8 p.m. CT Oct. 21 on VH1. The biopic allows Palmer to show off both her acting and singing talents. She performed TLC songs as a child, she said, and was thrilled to be able to meet and hang out with Chilli before the project began.
"We actually became very close and we had some sleepovers at her house and everything," she said. "She was very open about ... how it was in the group and some of the things that happened that maybe weren't in the script."
"CrazySexyCool" wasn't as emotionally draining as "Full Circle," Palmer said. Physically, however, she had to be in great shape for the role.
"I was like working so hard on the abs," she said. "She's known for being sexy and for her abs, so I worked like crazy."
Palmer and I talked more about her projects and how she got started in acting. Read more after the "Full Circle" promor and the list of Palmer's current activities.
What are you ...
... reading? I am reading "Heaven is for Real."
... watching? "Catfish," I love "Catfish."
... listening to? Drake's new album "Nothing was the Same." I love it.
... browsing? necolebitchie.com
... playing? I play "NBA Jams." And I also play "Tekken."
... working on? Right now I'm working on this movie called "Brotherly Love."
How it was taking on Angel? I hear you were a fan of "Angel" when you were younger.
Yeah, definitely. I was just like, "Oh man, this is Angel!" I was like, "I always think about you from 'Angel'" and stuff like that. You know, I've kind of gotten good at keeping my starstruckness under wraps. Like I grew up watching this guy, so it's fun.
It was hard to take on this script, there was so much. So that alone was difficult and something I had to get my head around. And then as we started working together, it was about allowing those beats to find you and not making them forced. Because we are sitting there and we aren't moving at all it's just a conversation, we want to make sure that we get all the levels and we keep people wanting to watch. ... So I had to really learn the line as best as I could, get my memorization down to the most perfect T, and then just allow the words to hit me naturally.
David is so patient—he was so patient with me and he allowed me to have those moments, as I allowed him to have those moments. It was just really good to work with someone like that because we both allowed each other to let the moments happen naturally.
It was really kind of stripping acting down to its most basic sense, right?
Oh my gosh, yes. There's nothing else going on but the words coming out of your mouth. When I first started acting my mom always taught me to make sure I knew all my lines and be respectful of the writers' work because words mean everything. That was definitely what I needed for this. With this type of project you really have to know how to respect the words and respect the lines because they mean everything to a scene like that.
This project fits in with your recent work speaking out against bullying?
Well, I'm not gonna lie. When I first auditioned for this I didn't actually have the script. So I didn't really know what it was really about, they kind of kept it under wraps type of thing and I had just auditioned for what I thought was a very light, witty type of role where it's gonna be kind of funny type of thing.
And then when I read the script I realized it was something so deeper than that and that's when I developed the understanding and appreciation and how valuable something like this is in our time. Because you talk about the bullying, you talk about the cyber bullying, but you never talk about it from a celebrity standpoint. Sometimes you don't realize how much weight you hold just because people want to hear what you have to say, especially a comedian.
I just thought that was really important for people to watch that and people to see that. And just to realize how heavy your words can be sometimes. I mean you can delete something but somebody can screenshot it and it will live on forever. That moment, you've never will live that moment down.
Did you find it to be a very different experience than anything else you filmed?
Definitely. It was much different and challenging than anything I've ever done before. That's the really good thing as an actor when you can handle situations where, you know, that's what you want. You want to go to a new project and always be challenged or to be offering something new. That's exactly how that felt. I felt like wow, this is really – if I could do this, I could do anything type of thing.
I imagine filming "Crazy Sexy Cool" was a totally different experience
Yes. Much different, definitely from a standpoint of being a fan of it I was just so happy to be a part of the movie. I'm just so anxious. But I feel really good about it. I think people are gonna like it a lot.
It gets to combine both your acting and singing talents. Was that fun?
Yes, so much fun, so much fun. People get to see me in a different light. Like I said, it was such an honor to be playing someone like Chilli and being a part of the group TLC, so I'm so excited.
I see that you worked on a stage show at a Chicago tourist destination when you were very young. What was that?
Oh, you're talking about American Girl Theatre. I did it for a short time. That's so funny that you found out about that. Wow. I did it for a really short time and I actually never got to do a show because we moved to California shortly after that. My mom made the decision, "We need to do more; I want to give her an opportunity to do more." And thank God she followed her heart and her faith because things went forward from there. But yeah, I did American Girl for probably like a month of getting ready and just getting ready for the performance and all that type of jazz.
How did you decide so young that this was for you and this is what you loved to do?
My parents were reading in the newspaper about Lion King auditions and it was like a Sunday. So they were like, "Do you want to go down, it feels like something fun to do? We know you like to sing." And I was like "Yeah, it seems like fun for me."
So I went down and that's when I kind of first discovered acting. It was then that I knew that was something that I wanted to do. ... It was fun for me. I don't know, it made me really happy. And I've always been the type of person that's like I don't care how hard it is. If it brings me joy I want to try it, I want to go for it.
It was not long after that my mom got me an agent in Chicago and I did "Barbershop 2." And then soon after that it was like half of the year and then we decided to move to California.
Your parents must have been really supportive and behind you all the way?
Oh my gosh, it's like crazy how supportive my parents have been of me. It's just like it doesn't even seem real when I think about it now being an adult. I realize what they did was really unbelievable.
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