When you’ve been working in the industry since you were a kid, you know the interworkings of Hollywood like the back of your hand. This knowledge has enabled Hustlers actress Keke Palmer to cultivate a distinguished and multifaceted career at just 26-year-old. An actress, singer, and morning show host–Palmer can’t be placed in a box.
Though she began her career in films like Akeelah and the Bee and on shows like Nickelodeon’s True Jackson, VP–as an adult, the veteran actress has starred in everything from the musical Joyful Noise to the gritty drama, Pimp. Now, in addition to the critically acclaimed Hustlers, Palmer is lending her voice and her opinion to the morning show, GMA3: Strahan, Sara and Keke while continually working in entertainment.
All of this hasn’t deterred Palmer from continuing to seek out movie roles or becoming the face of the most hilarious viral meme of 2019 –“Sorry to This Man.” At #BlogHer19 Creators Summit, STYLECASTER sat down to chat with Palmer about the most terrifying thing she’s done in her career, how she’s remained so positive amid #cancelculture, and what compels her to say “yes” to a role.
“I think at home, my mom always encouraged me to be myself,” Palmer reflected on how her upbringing shaped who she is today. “She encouraged me to be true, to not let other people’s perception of me be the perception of myself as a woman, as a Black woman, as a Black person, and as a young person. She always made me feel like I could defy whatever those odds were. Growing up in the church, I think that’s a place where many people can find their voice. That sense of community that I saw very early on, it always made me feel like I had that foundation that I could stand tall.”
Though she rebelled a bit as a teen–this foundation has enabled Palmer to remain grounded in the public eye. “My parents really kept me protected when I was younger, I think from getting too into the Hollywood scene,” she reflected. “Of course, I dibbled and dabbled. As I got older, I’d go to more parties, have fun –but when I was a kid it was like, no party, no hanging out, no, nothing. Later, I was able to see more of that Hollywood world. I defined what that was for me and created that balance for myself in my life. I was like, ‘OK, you know what? I don’t want to be totally outside of everything, but I don’t want to be totally in everything, so let me do a little bit mixture of both.’ So I attribute a lot it to my family and what they allowed me to do growing up.”
Though much of A-list celebrity life is shrouded in smoke and mystery–Palmer’s authenticity is one of the most refreshing things about her. “I think I realized early on that it was the only way that I would survive,” she said thoughtfully. “I’ve been in a situation where I’ve worked, and I felt like, OK, am I being stifled? Am I not being fully myself? I think as a traditional entertainer, and specifically an actor, you’re always playing so many different characters, and I think as a kid when you grow up in that way it becomes difficult to kind of define who you are. It’s like, ‘OK, I’ve played this person, but what do I like?’ I attribute a lot of my ability to transform out of that or evolve out of that through social media. I was able to show more of who I was, and I was able to create my own voice. Whether people responded to it or not, it felt really liberating, and I just continued to follow that wherever that took me in terms of my passion and my career.”
Leaning into her true-self and blocking out the noise led Palmer to the scariest thing she’s ever done in her career. “I shaved my head when I was about 22,” she said. “As a Black woman, there are so many ideas of how you need to have your hair to look professional, and many of them include perming it, straightening it, weaving it– whatever. I love those things too, but I think what happened growing up and it constantly feeling a burden, it’s like I stopped really caring about my own hair. Eventually, I said, ‘I’m going to shave all of it off.’ So when I cut my hair, it was very scary, but it was liberating, and it was a hugely transformative time for me when I did that.”
With Hustlers and over thirty other credits under her belt, we felt compelled to know how Keke decides to choose her next projects. “I go with what I feel,” she explained. “It’s a lot of different things. Do I care about this character? Do I feel like I can add to this character? Can I make this character come alive? What is the project saying? If I can say proudly why I wanted to be a part of it no matter if it’s dark as Pimp was or if it’s as risque as Hustlers. I always want to be able to say whatever I’m doing; this is why. As an artist, I want to be able to know that my voice was a part of it.”
Hustlers is currently in theaters.