Keke Palmer Sings! From Her Guatemalan Boyfriend to Her Virginal Image
Young actresses like Keke Palmer are needed in Tinseltown to balance the ratio of debauchery and benevolence that tends to lean more toward Lohan than Loretta. There’s a saintliness surrounding the newly turned 18-year-old that could make non-believers in Gen Y convert with ease. Expectantly, Keke--born Lauren Keyana--stars in the upcoming Warner Brothers effort Joyful Noise as Olivia, the coming-of-age daughter who’s striving to refresh old choir hymns and anxious to date.
On a recent Monday, I spoke with the Akeelah and the Bee star to pull back the layers on her “good girl” image. Audiences witnessed the Illinois-born Interscope Records signee come to life alongside Laurence Fishburne and Angela Bassett. Since that first lead silver screen role, Palmer has found a way to stand out in supporting parts and parlay her success into her own Nickelodeon-housed sitcom True Jackson VP. Spreading love to the Disney sect as well, she also carried the made-for-TV film, Jump In!
It’s not hard to imagine the über modest teenager as the second coming of Oprah, Queen Latifah or Raven-Symoné. With a few notable awards under her belt, a debut album and sights on a beauty venture, the idea of building her own moneymaking empire is not far-fetched. Most anticipated is the shedding of her typecast present to create an invigorating, Oscar-worthy future.
Luckily for us, audiences may soon get a chance to see the transformation. In her forthcoming role in Virgin Mary, a tale about two friends vowing to cast off their pristine virginity by age 18, Palmer and fellow young Hollywood starlet Abigail Breslin intend to upset their pleasant onscreen images with a bit of dark realism. Although we won’t catch a glimpse of Keke’s inner rebel until this year is long gone, we’ve pulled up a seat, grabbed the popcorn and anxiously watch Keke’s real life coming-of-age story.
Your first thoughts once you landed the movie?
Creatively, this is perfect for me because I’ve always been looking for a movie where I could sing or show that ability of mine because have always known me as Keke Palmer the actress. You know, with me coming out with an album soon, it just seemed like a perfect fit. Then also, I’m Keke Palmer the little Akeelah and the Bee [actress]. People know me as that young sweet girl, and though that’s who I am, I’m growing up. I’m 18 now, and that’s the same thing that my character is going through. She’s still that sweet, young person, but people always want to treat her like this little kid, but she’s ready to grow and come her own person.
It is definitely something that you’re going through in real life, as well. Now that you’re 18, how does it feel?
I actually hate being 18 because you're not anything. [Laughs] You're not a grown adult, but you're also not a teenager. It's such a confusing age, and I just can't wait until I'm out of it, honestly. But this is where you learn and you grow and you realize who you really are.
Trust me, it’s quite a journey. One thing that stood out to me was your dad’s attendance at the cover shoot. Do you appreciate have your family so involved and hands on with what you do, or do you yearn to spread your wings and do your own thing?
No, I’m happy when they’re with me and are there to protect me and be aware of the things I have going on. They know more; they’ve experienced more. Although they’ve never experienced acting, having them here is a safety blanket and I appreciate it. They don’t handicap me, but they’re good to have around.
Of course, it’s a healthy support system. I got a chance to speak with him for a bit, and it seems you come from a strong, close-knit family. How has that molded you in dealing with the always naughty and sometimes nice lifestyle of Hollywood?
My family has always taught me to have morals, be a good person, you know, that whole thing. But at the same time, when I’m acting, it’s not like I’m going to turn down every role. Like, I said I would an intimate scene if it didn’t show my whole body. It’s not like I just won’t do this or I just won’t do that, but if they can change it in a way where it could be fitting for me, then that’s okay. I’m not going to break down and do a topless scene or anything like that, but I’d probably do an intimate scene if it was like Sanaa Lathan and Omar Epps in Love and Basketball. That was classic. That wasn’t like overt or anything like that. No, I don’t want to be typecast, but I don’t want to do things that I look back on and say, ‘Well, why did I do that?’
Is there a dark side or a rebel inside you that’s dying to get out in a character role?
Of course, of course! I probably would do something like [The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo]. I don't know if I would show my boobs—that’s so scary to do—but, at the same time, you didn't feel like that girl was a slut. When I saw it, I just thought brilliant, brilliant, brilliant! You can never say never because there may come a part that does the things that you say you don't want to do, but in a way that doesn't make you seem a certain way. There's always some type of an exception.
With this Joyful Noise in particular, how was it working with Queen Latifah who has worked with you before?
Amazing! I’m older now; we go to talk about more. I got to know her as a person versus a little kid working with an adult. I got to know her, [and] it was really inspiring.
I’m glad you mention that because, honestly, what she’s doing now is exactly what many can see you becoming.
I just want to keep going, and take all the things that I’ve learned. When I look at Michael [Jackson], everything that he’s learned from watching James Brown or when he watched Sam Cooke or the Temptations or Jackie Wilson, he took it all and that’s what created Michael. Nothing is completely original. You take the things that inspire you and you create them and turn them into you. You know what I mean? So, I take all those great things around me and I mix them up with me and create something great hopefully.
And how would you parlay your success into other ventures as Queen Latifah did?
I always think about what people like most about me. If you look at Rihanna, people love her for her clothing, for her style. If she came out with a clothing line, that would be extremely fitting. Who wouldn't want to buy clothes from Rihanna? So, for me, people love my hair. I would love to come out with a hair extensions line. That's something that I've really, really been thinking about because people always ask me where did I get my hair. People trust my opinion in hair and they would buy it from me.
Something you're looking at doing soon?
I would have to start now and hopefully it would be out in the next two years.
Now, your co-star and love interest in the film is played by Jeremy Jordan. In your real life, would you ever date outside your culture?
I’ve thought about it. It always seemed so difficult to me because I want to be understood culturally. When I’ve had crushes on other cultures, sometimes they don’t understand. They don’t get my jokes; they don’t get who I am or my family or anything like that. It’s not like I don’t find white guys or [other cultures] attractive, it’s just I want to be understood.
My boyfriend now is Guatemalan and Black, and he was raised by his mother who is Guatemalan, so he’s the only Black person. It’s culturally different, but I realized I can still find a way to understand [them]. Even though everyone is speaking Spanish around me and I don’t understand it, his mother is so kind and open that there’s not a problem. I don’t feel like I’m an outsider.
Hmm, this is the gentleman all over your Instagram! [Laughs] How did you meet him?
One day, Patrick [Johnson, Jr.] came to the set of True Jackson VP, and he brought Rodney, my boyfriend, with him. My mouth dropped when I saw him, and I’m just like, Keke, control yourself! [Laughs] I was 15 years old at the time, and he was 19, so we didn’t talk or anything like that. I just always had a huge crush on him. Then when I was like 17, I talked to my parents ’cause my mom was like, ‘If you want to date somebody, I guess the oldest age would be 21.’ I just couldn’t believe that she said that to me. It really almost made my heart skip a beat because I always liked him.
Aw, so this was the classic crush. Butterflies in your stomach, hands sweaty crush?
Yes, girl! Everything like that. I was head over heels for him. We had this meeting with my dad before we could date and then my dad said, ‘You guys have to wait four months before you could date alone.’ Like, we’d go on group dates, but we couldn’t go on dates alone until six months before my 18th birthday.
With you being Miss Keke Palmer -- and 18 now--, how are you dealing with the groupie love?
Oh yeah, I love it! Seriously, I do. Whenever I see the love on my Twitter page or something like that and they tell me that they love me or they're going to marry me, I always just say it back. [Laughs]
Tell me a little about you upcoming role in Virgin Mary and working with Abigail Breslin?
We haven’t started to film it yet, but I’m very excited because this is something new for me. People have always known me, as I said, as Keke Palmer the “good girl.” In this movie, I’m not necessarily being a huge slut, but my character is just that. She’s like, ‘I’m a sex enthusiast. That’s who I am,’ but the reason why I chose this film was because it’s different from what everybody knows me as. This character spoke to me because she was funny, [and] she was likeable. Even if I didn’t play the character, you would immediately love her because she’s just lovable. It’s almost like [Draya] on Basketball Wives LA. People can say whatever they want about her, but you like Draya because that’s who she is. You either like her or you don’t. No fronting, no nothing.
What’s your take on young women losing their virginity and making a pact about it?
I hate to say, ‘This is not what you should do’ or anything like that. At the same time, any of the choices you make, you have to be happy about them later on. When I think a pact, it just seems rushed and you should do things on your own time. I never put an age on anything. If you’re 16 and you lose your virginity to somebody and you really truly loved them at that time, then who am I to tell you that you were wrong? If you look back on that in 20 years and you say, ‘That guy deserved that from me,’ then that’s the issue? There are a lot of women that are 20-year-olds that lost their virginity and they look back and say, ‘What a big mistake!’
It’s not about age.
No, it’s about the person inside. Whatever decisions you make in your life, especially a big decision like that, make sure it’s the right one for you.
I agree. Now, musically, where are you right now?
I’m in the middle of everything. I’m almost finished. Hopefully, I’ll be able to have a single out within the next three months. That’ll be ideal, but we’ll see. I’m recording and excited. It’s a mixture of R&B and hip-hop. Like, right in the middle. It’s not too R&B, not too pop.
Lastly, tell me about your New Year's Eve. Did you get your midnight kiss?
Yes, I did! My first one ever.
Photographer: Justin Hyte
Stylist: Heidi Roman
Hair: Cynthia Alvarez
Make Up: Brandon Zimoyer
Top, $195, Loza Maléombho; available at Oxosi.com. Shorts, $325, Halston; available at bloomingdales.com. Necklace, $340, Lizzy Couture; lizzycouture.com.
Dress, $115, Blaque Label; available at lulus.com. Franklinton Arrow Bangle (left hand), $150, Bernard James; available at Oxosi.com. Infinity Bangles (right hand), $88, & Gwyneth Bangle, $185, Melinda Maria; melindamaria.com. Shoes, $350, Brian Atwood; available at bloomingdales.com