Keke Palmer, who is best known for her work in Akeelah and the Bee, Joyful Noise and the critically acclaimed TV movie Abducted: The Carlina White Story, is now back in a big way on the small screen. She stars as Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas in the VH1 television movie, Crazy Sexy Cool: The TLC Story, which airs October 21. From preparing for that role to her friendship with Bobbi Kristina Brown to navigating Hollywood, Palmer spoke candidly to BET.com about her journey in show business.
You bear a strong resemblance to Chilli, but you almost didn't get the role in the TLC TV movie. Can you tell us about that?
Initially they had the idea to hire complete unknowns to star in the movie. I was a little sad about it, but I let it go because I thought it would be cool for other people to get a chance. But as a kid, people always used to tell me, "You look like Chilli from TLC." So it wasn’t a surprise for me that the filmmakers thought of me as her. And then when they called me back a few months later and asked, “Would you play the role of Chilli?” Of course, I was down.
Did you speak with the real Chilli about portraying her in the movie?
Chilli and Tionne ["T-Boz" Watkins] were both very involved in the process of making this movie, even down to the choreography. They would both help teach us their dance steps. Chilli was very open about things in her life that weren’t in the script and it helped things make more sense for me. I really appreciated it. To hear what she went through in her own words made it easier for me to play her emotionally.
Tell us about your friendship with Bobbi Kristina Brown. When did you guys first meet?
We first came into contact on MySpace, randomly enough, when I was about 13 or 14 and we just became friends. She’s a very nice girl and we would talk back and forth. Then, I hadn’t had a chance talk to her when her mother passed. But later I saw her at the Think Like a Man premiere. I was really glad to see her and she was doing pretty good. We had a chance to talk. But we go in and out of losing touch.
How is she and what do you think is most misunderstood about her?
I think she’s doing okay. Any of the young people who seem like they are having bad press you have to take into account that they are living their lives out in public. Imagine if half of the things you did that you’re not proud of were blasted over the Internet? Then, suppose you could never live it down? And do you know how it must feel to be berated constantly because of it? The industry is hard. But you can’t really get a feel for it unless you are in it.
Many young stars have struggled in the entertainment industry. What has helped you to stay trouble-free in Hollywood?
I’ve been able to stay good because of my family and keeping God first. If you don’t have God in your life, how are you going to navigate through this world? Also, I never got too caught up in the fame and the money. There’s also temptation everywhere you turn. But at the end of the day, I got into this industry because I love it. I love music and I love acting. I always keep that in the forefront, not all the other distractions around me.
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(Photo: Mark Davis/Getty Images for HBO)