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"After I did the auditions
...I told her I wanted to act for real."
"Parts of me are in every single character."
"None of my other roles have been as independent as this."
"You can expect singing and dancing and lots of fun!"
"It tells me that my job is done - that I've done something really, really good."
"I want to at least be nominated for an Oscar. That's my total dream!"
Keke Palmer  

Interviewed by Mark Sells
April 2007

At 13 years of age, Keke Palmer is one of the finest young actresses around. There was her sentimental turn as the abandoned young girl in "The Wool Cap." Her beautifully uplifting performance in last year's hit, "Akeelah and the Bee." And now, one of her most challenging and dramatic roles, as Samuel L. Jackson's daughter in the upcoming mystery/thriller, "Cleaner."

Believe it or not, Keke's first breakthrough came in "Barbershop 2" just two short years ago. Given only a few lines in the film, she convinced producers, agents, and actors alike that she had special something. And it was that special something that led to "The Wool Cap," starring opposite William H. Macy. The role earned her an NAACP Image Nomination and a Screen Actors Guild Nomination and made her the youngest actress to ever receive such praise. Along the way, Keke would appear in a variety of TV shows and movies from "Cold Case" to "ER" to "Jump In!" All leading up to her first major role as Akeelah Anderson, the triumphant young speller in "Akeelah and the Bee." Some of the industry's highest accolades followed - a ShoWest Rising Star of the Year Award, an Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture, and nominations galore.

"When people meet me...they think that I'm quiet like Akeelah. But they're surprised to find out that I'm really funny. I like joking around." Fun being the "key" word because this fun loving up and comer is not only energizing film with her natural talents, but the music scene as well, with a debut album this summer. Making a lot of noise and having a lot of fun doing it, Keke Palmer is seriously gifted.

Reel Questions, Reel Answers

At your very first audition for "The Lion King," you were 9 years old. After that, how did you convince your family that acting was in your blood?

Well, my parents asked me if I wanted to go on "The Lion King" audition because they knew I liked entertainment. And after I did the auditions and my Mom thought I did a good job, I told her I wanted to act for real.

And so, she got me an agent and I booked my first job in "Barbershop 2." Which was a sign to her, telling her that I really could do this kind of thing. It wasn't just me. It was producers and other people telling her that I'd be good at it.

Both of your parents were former actors (Black Ensemble Theater). Have they influenced you at all?

They actually met in college while doing theater. But they never really talked to me or my sister, Loreal, about it. And so, when I started to act, and my Mom started to help me with my lines, it was kind of a surprise to me. She was really good!

Getting a SAG nomination is a highlight all in itself. And getting your own ring tone is pretty cool too ("All My Girlz"). At what moment did you feel like you made it? Or do you feel like you've made it?

I don't think feel like I've made it. When I think of what I do, I think it's just me acting. Like when fans come up to me, it's always a surprise to me - that people actually watch my movies. And while I'll say, "Thanks for watching my movies," it's always a surprise. I'm just doing my acting and that's it. It's just fun for me.

"Akeelah and the Bee" was one of my favorite films from last year. What do you remember most about the film and the experience?

I remember being with all the kids, which was a great time. And I learned a lot of words! (Laughs).

Some of the great young actors today, like Dakota Fanning and Keisha Castle-Hughes, have this natural ability of making their emotions so visible, so accessible. And you do this as well. How do you prepare for your roles? How much of Keke is in your characters?

Parts of me are in every single character. Whenever I prepare, I just try not to get in one specific way. Because if I get stuck in one specific way, I know I won't be able to change it up when the director or the writer wants me to. So, I just practice and learn my lines and once I get there, I can change it up - however I want to do it.

I just try my best to get my point across and make sure the character is shown the way it's supposed to be.

Why should we watch "Cleaner?"

You should watch it because it's an amazing movie! It's a murder mystery that has a lot of twists. And it'll be a fun to watch because it's a movie that I haven't done before. For my fans, if they want to see something different with my acting, then this is the movie to see. It's really good.

What was it like playing Samuel L. Jackson's daughter?

Oh, it was amazing! He's so funny and nice, he reminds me of one of my uncles. He was cool.

How different was it working with him than working with William H. Macy or Laurence Fishburne?

They all taught me things that I didn't know before I met them. And were helpful in different ways.

Mr. Jackson was kind of comedic. He always taught me things in every scene, especially how to feed off his energy.

And Mr. Fishburne and Mr. Macy were like mentors to me. Mr. Fishburne always taught me to stay focused and to always listen to my parents. And Mr. Macy taught me that you don't always have to move around in a scene. Like, if you have to be mad, you can be mad and be completely still. You can do it with your eyes, without being overly physical.

How different is this role from the others you've played?

This role is a little more intense because my character's been through a lot more than any of my other characters. Mainly because her mother has passed away. And she's kind of independent and on her own because her father is away a lot. So, she cooks dinner. She cleans the house. Kind of like a motherly role.

None of my other roles have been as independent as this.

What was your favorite memory from the making of "Cleaner?"

One of my favorites was when Mr. Jackson bet me that I couldn't talk for an entire day. And I love to talk! It was so hard not to say anything! And when I did it, I was so proud of myself.

My other favorite moment was on the last day of the shoot. Mr. Harlin, our director, gave me a Mac computer. And I almost cried. It was so sweet.

Your mother didn't want you to be stuck with Keke (a kid's name) for your entire life and so, she named you Lauren. Will there be a time when you think you'll revert to Lauren Keyana Palmer?

Yes, I think when I get older, I will change over. But I may get to a point where I keep Keke for singing and Lauren for acting. I think I might do that.

So when you're accepting an Academy Award, which name will they announce?

Lauren Palmer. It just sounds like an Academy Award winning name, doesn't it?! (Laughs).

Your debut album is coming out in August. And you're doing what I call "The Tiffany Tour," by performing in malls across the country. What can we expect from the album and the tour?

You can expect singing and dancing and lots of fun! Stuff that you can dance to and have a good time with. And I think teenagers and adults will be able to relate to it.

I think my voice will shine through on the album. And while a lot people know that I can sing, my dancing may be a bit surprising to people who see me on tour.

You've performed with Queen Latifah, Brandy, Kirk Franklin, and then some. Who are your past and present musical influences?

Beyonce, Aaliyah, Brandy, TLC, Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson, Michael Jackson, my Mom, Chaka Khan, etc. There's a lot!

In both film and television, who is your favorite character you've portrayed and why?

I think the most fun I've had with a character and the most different character I've played so far is Nikki from "Madea's Family Reunion." She was such a bad girl and it was fun because it showed that I could do comedy as well.

With your singing/acting career taking off, where do you hope to be in 10 years?

I hope that I continue singing and acting. Those are my passions. And maybe one day grab an Oscar and a Grammy.

I want to at least be nominated for an Oscar. That's my "total" dream!

Who do you most admire or aspire to in the film industry and why?

I aspire to be like Angela Bassett. I'd like to have that kind of career and do the kind of work that she's done.

What would your fans be surprised to learn about you?

That I'm goofy. When people meet me, because of my movies, they think that I'm quiet like Akeelah. But they're surprised to find out that I'm really funny. I like joking around. Almost like a comedienne. I'm really outgoing. And I'm a Virgo! (Laughs).

Lastly, what's the one thing in the whole world that makes you happiest?

When my fans come up to me and tell me that I've helped them through my movies. Or they're really happy that I'm doing movies and look up to me because I've done something good with my acting or my career.

It tells me that my job is done - that I've done something really, really good.

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