Whether it’s acting, music, writing books or being an overall boss babe, Keke Palmer is a role model for aspiring female creatives with a dream. The Chicago native known for R&B hits like “Bossy” and “The First Crush” made her big-screen debut as a child star in 2004’s in Barbershop 2: Back in Business and had a memorable turn in 2006’s Akeelah and the Bee. Since moving to L.A. from Chicago, she has landed multiple roles in television (Fox’s music drama Star and the Ryan Murphy show Scream Queens) while maintaining her music career.
This week the 25-year-old proudly walked the red carpet at the premiere of Pimp, produced by Lee Daniels (Precious, Monster’s Ball). She plays the film’s title character, a hustler wrangler named Wednesday who takes over business for her father (played by DMX), and whose life changes when her girlfriend Nikki (Haley Ramm) hits the streets. Pimp life is, of course, dangerous and complex, and Palmer conveys the struggle dramatically. According to director Christine Crokos, Palmer had to undergo an intensive physical transformation, which included working out, shaving her head and getting her mind right for the intense role. Palmer says being able to escape into someone else’s body was both freeing and exhilarating.
Select friends, family and media gathered at Pacific Theaters at the Grove Wednesday, Nov. 7, for the film’s premiere, and L.A.Weekly was able to catch up with Palmer and ask her about her experience on the film and how it reflects her life. She also shared info on other ventures to look out for in the new year.
Pimp opens in select theaters nationwide and on demand today.
L.A. WEEKLY: What makes you most excited about Pimp coming out?
KEKE PALMER: I’m excited to see people’s response to it. I had so much fun filming it and also, it was so much passion invested in it for me. I just really want to see what people get from it. It’s art. I feel very proud of it, so I’m excited to see their feedback.
What was it like portraying a struggling female pimp, and how much did it relate to your own life or career?
I think it relates to my life in many ways. Of course, in different matters, as I’m not in the pimp industry. But just struggling to gain respect and feeling like, “Am I making the right move? Am I making the right choice?” Kind of being in a position where — with my industry, it’s not very stable either. You never know when a good day is going to be your last, so that pressure and that anxiety to make it work and make it last is totally something that I can relate to.
What was the dynamic like working with Christine Crokos and Lee Daniels on the film?
Lee came on board a little bit later. Working with him has been awesome because he really loves the film and understands the film, and also wants it to be seen. So his involvement in that area has been just magnificent. In general, him just embracing me as a young talent has been awesome as well. I’ve gone on to do more work with him since then, so I’m happy about that.
And Christine — this is her baby. Working with her on this project was a long process — from when I was 18 or 19 until now at 25. We’ve grown to really love each other. I think it was very special to both of us, and we both put our best foot forward. She’s a Virgo, I’m a Virgo, we work hard.
Do you like making music or acting more?
I love both but I think I really love when I can do them together. I love working on Star. I love doing Broadway. I love when I get the opportunity to do them both.
You also released the track “Better to Have Loved” last month. Talk about your state of mind creating that one.
It’s pretty much just who I am. When I’m working with Tasha Couture, Kay So and A. Lex — those are some of my main producers I work with back in Atlanta — I just talk to them. We talk about real stuff. So for me, I’m the kind of person that at the end of the day, it’s better to go for it than to not go for it at all. I think that about relationships, about jobs, about everything that you make of your life. If that’s what you decide you want to do, then you might as well go for it no matter what happens.
What can we expect next from you acting and music-wise?
[Epix drama] Berlin Station season 3 is coming out. And then also, my album comes out next year. I have a movie coming out next year as well, with Jay Pharoah and Katt Williams. It was cool. [Williams] was so dope. We had good times. Hanging out at the trailer, just kicking it.
You also released a book last year called I Don’t Belong to You: Quiet the Noise and Find Your Voice. “I Don’t Belong to You” was also a song. What was your intention with that?
That book was just about my coming-of-age story. It’s not a memoir but it’s definitely a moment of my life, of just realizing that I don’t belong to anybody’s ideas of who I am. Nobody else has to, either. Your identity is flexible. That’s a bad thing and a good thing because whatever’s not working for you, you can change in yourself and your life.