Keke Palmer Says ‘No’ Proves There’s ‘Only One Jordan Peele’

TORONTO, ONTARIO – SEPTEMBER 07: Actor Keke Palmer poses for a portrait during the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival at Intercontinental Hotel on September 7, 2019 in Toronto, Canada.
Gareth Cattermole/Contour/Getty

“[Peele’s] the point is to continue the narrative of black people in spaces they have always been in, although… they have not always been represented in those spaces.”

From acting to singing to reality TV, Keke Palmer does it all. “I’ve always been drawn to people who did multiple things,” Palmer said. Newsweek, claiming artists like Jamie Foxx and Queen Latifah were early inspirations. Now she’s dated Jordan Peele’s highly anticipated movie Nope (22nd of July). “When people think of get out or Jordan’s work, they can sometimes focus on, ‘Oh, this is a think piece on Blackness.'” She says there’s always an element of that, but “They’re not always on Blackness ,” and Nope is a perfect example. It’s part horror, part sci-fi, part thriller, and part comedy. “His choice to put black people first is simply based on his perspective of who he sees in his story.” Since her early days as a child actor, Palmer says the quality of work she receives has only gotten better. “To have evolved to the point where the variety of people I work with is at this level, I think it’s only going to bring out the best in me.” Concrete example, alongside Daniel Kaluuya in a film by Jordan Peele. “There is only one Jordan Peele.”

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If a movie could get an Oscar for a trailer, Nope would win hands down. Did you have that reaction when you first read the script?

I did it. It was so many things. With the trailers, there are two different versions that set two totally different tones. When I was reading the script and going on this trip, I thought it was a lot to take in, in a good way.

What makes this movie different from other alien horror movies?

I’m into any type of horror, honestly I love horror. All that stuff. I think what takes us away from being that kind of movie is the incredible characters. Often people take cheap photos with it. They don’t really tap into what you can really get across when you mix horror with a big character, a big overall theme. So I’m excited for others to see how the core elements relate to the real things the characters go through. Things that are strung everywhere. It’s really awesome and well done, in my opinion.

You, Jordan Peele and Daniel Kaluuya together are a perfect combo. What was it like working with them?

Working with Daniel was amazing. He’s a really graceful actor. He’s also a really nice person. I learned working with him, he really takes his time and is easy to respond. He’s just open to experience. It’s fun when you walk in with him and you can just play. He is very supportive. And then Jordan is very, very connected to his work in a real way. It’s very laid back, but at the same time very punchy. It’s also collaborative, although he obviously wrote it. He’s the kind of person who relies on the people he works with to hold himself accountable. I think he’s a real leader in that regard. And it shows in the way he communicates to us. I just felt like I understood him in a way that maybe I don’t always understand everyone who directs me. Even though I had very good directors, it’s just different.

Can you explain the title and maybe how the film is also a bit comical?

I think the comedic element of it, the way Jordan puts it in his work, or the way I interpreted it in this movie, is that it’s just the real raw answer. Often times, things are funny in crazy scenarios, simply because that’s how our human mind processes them. When you’re doing horror, you really have the opportunity to get a good movie, because you’re going to have some lighthearted moments and light things because that’s how people are going to deal with traumatic experiences. There really is an opportunity to have fun with it and make a great movie. So I think Jordan is still taking advantage of that. That’s why when we watch something from him, we get comedy, we also get drama, we also get scared. We get everything.

Jordan Peele really elevated the horror genre.

The only other person I know who has been able to do this is Steven Spielberg with Jaws. Even when I look Titanic, and it’s James Cameron, it’s like it’s a romance, but it’s also kinda awful and a bit of a drama. I think in my mind, [Jordan Peele] is right up there in that class of people where they don’t just make movies. They make movies.

The way you ride these horses also has that Western feel. Have you ever worked with horses?

Without saying too much, I will say that I was not afraid. My experience and relationship with the horse throughout the movie was definitely on par with what I could handle. I’m not afraid of horses and was excited to know who would see black people with horses. Because it’s not something you see all the time. And I think that’s also useful. When people think of get out or think about Jordan’s work, they can sometimes focus on “Oh, this is a thought piece on Blackness.” I think more than anything his work definitely has elements of things, but they’re not always about Blackness. His choice to put black people first is simply based on his perspective on who he writes about, who he sees in his story in his films, and basically normalizes black people right on top. The first stuntman was a black man on horseback. It’s mentioned in the movie. So I think his point is to continue the narrative of black people in spaces that they’ve always been in, although we haven’t always been represented in those spaces.

We’ve seen you grow as an actor since you were a kid. Do you fancy projects like Nopeare you moving towards more nuanced roles?

I do. And I think, more importantly, the material I have access to has also just progressed considerably. Do not disrespect my previous work as I am very proud of all my work. There is only one Jordan Peele. There is only one Disney Pixar. To have evolved to the point where the variety of people I work with is at this level, I think it’s only going to bring out the best in me.

This transition from child actor to adult actor is often bumpy. Was there someone you looked up to as a child as an example?

Sure. All of these people aren’t from my time, but my mom used to talk a lot about Judy Garland or Sammy Davis, Jr. Obviously, I grew up loving and knowing Queen Latifah, and looking up to Jamie Foxx and people like that. I always searched and found people who did several things. I’ve always been attracted to people who do multiple things. And that, in turn, I think is what made me feel very confident to do a number of things.

Legendary, a reality competition series celebrating queer ball dancehall culture, just ended on HBO Max and it was so good! How fun was it and why was it important for you to do it?

I loved participating because obviously I always wanted to go to a ball, but it’s not easy to get into it. And I know some queens honey, but I haven’t been invited to prom yet! So I’m going to have the opportunity to go to a ball. And I’m actually going to be part of that world in this competition and be able to have a seat at the table and be a judge. I want to make sure I’m on point. I want to make sure that I give constructive criticism to children. So I was honored to be in space. It’s iconic. I remember the first time I looked Paris is burning. Just like wanting to be part of this world at that time. It’s my audience, so I felt very comfortable.

How do you try to connect with your audience through your social media?

I try to connect with them through the different creative ways that I like to work. I like to use humor to talk about things I want to talk about. And I can be a dramatic person in my mind, the way it comes out is very humorous. And I know humor is a great way for us to laugh at things that scare us, worry us, and offend us. So I use humor on my social media to be able to talk about things I really want to talk about, or express concepts and themes and also be able to create and entertain. It is also a place of freedom. For me coming from the traditional world of this industry, I was able to have the freedom to speak or share my art in a way that I would have been limited to having to go through someone else to be able to do so. So now I can do it at my expense, and it goes directly to my audience and my fans. I use it to have fun, to say something, but I hope it’s entertaining as well as to create and be able to get behind the camera and show people what I can do outside of being a talent.

Listen to H. Alan Scott’s full conversation with Keke Palmer on Newsweek’s Parting Shot. Available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts. Twitter: @HAlanScott