Keke Palmer got her first taste of professional acting when she landed a small role in 2004’s "Barbershop 2: Back in Business," proving she could hold her own alongside movie titans like Queen Latifah, Ice Cube, Cedric the Entertainer and more. That role led to several guest spots on TV shows like "ER," "Strong Medicine" and "Cold Case," but it wasn’t until she landed the lead in 2006’s "Akeelah and the Bee" that the world really began to take notice of the wunderkind poised to become young Hollywood’s next formidable triple threat.
She released her debut album, "So Uncool," on Atlantic Records at age 14 following her popularity from TV and film, and is currently the recipient of six awards including two NAACP Image Awards. With so much accomplished at a young age, the now 16-year-old Palmer remains grounded and focused on her blossoming career. Her latest project is the lead role on Nickelodeon’s 'tween sitcom entitled, "True Jackson, VP." The show revolves around a young girl who suddenly comes into tremendous responsibility when she is made the vice president of a top fashion company. It’s not a coincidence that Palmer’s real life mirrors the latest fictional character she has chosen to play. Like True Jackson, Palmer handles responsibility and plans to maintain a positive image while staying out of tabloids. She is progressing in her TV and movie roles as a growing young woman and guiding her career above and beyond her wildest dreams.
Here, the young diva chats it up with BET.com about balancing movies, music and the key to avoiding negativity in a tumultuous industry.
How did you end up getting the lead role in "True Jackson, VP"?
I had just heard about the part and didn’t want to do it at first because I thought it would take away from me doing the movies, but when I read the script -- it was so good. The writers wrote funny jokes and it wasn’t all physical comedy, it was comedy that adults would like as well and that’s what made me want to do the role. So I auditioned for the part and landed it.
How was it transitioning from doing movies to being on TV?
It was weird but at the same time it was something I really liked because I was stable. I knew when I was going to be home and I had structure. With movies, sometimes you’re out of state for whatever time and always away from home, so this is cool. I like the stability.
Talk about your character True Jackson. Who is she and do you learn anything from the characters you play?
Yes, I do. True can handle a lot. She’s the vice president of a huge fashion company. She has this big job but she always seems to handle it, especially with the help of her friends and family, which reminds you that if you have good people supporting you, then you can do almost anything. From other characters I’ve played, it’s about living your life and being positive. That’s something that kids can look at -- being positive and being a good person.
You talked about being nervous taking this role because it would make you seem like a kid now that you’re growing into a young woman. How are you transitioning from being seen as a child star to a young adult actress?
I think it just comes with the connections that you make and the roles that you develop for yourself. I make sure that I do classy stuff that goes with my age. I’m not trying to grow up too fast so when I go back to doing movies again, it will be stuff that normal teenage girls can relate to.
You co-wrote the "True Jackson, VP" theme song. Did you co-write on your album too?
Yeah, I co-wrote some stuff on my album but with the "True Jackson" theme, this is something that I did pretty much on my own. Some of it was with another writer, but this is something that I felt confident about and I’m so proud of it.
Even adult pop singers rarely write their own stuff, so how did they come to trust you with that?
It depends on the producers I work with. Some just want to do it on their own so that they can do it quickly, but others that I work with want me to be a part of the project and so they let me write. It just depends on who you’re dealing with.
How do you stay focused when it comes to balancing being a TV actress, movie actress and a recording artist?
I’m just so used to it that it’s part of the process. I know how to switch it on and off whether I’m going to the set or to the studio. It’s like second nature.
You seem to handle fame and success well. How do you avoid negative headlines in the tabloids?
People that want to be in the tabloids will get into the tabloids. I just stay home and don’t go out much. My personality is not an introvert but that’s how I am as far as going out to parties. I just stay in my house and hang out with friends.
The paparazzi seem to prey on young Hollywood, especially with situations like what happened between Chris Brown and Rihanna. How do you think they handle themselves in the aftermath?
I think they’re handling it the best they can. Rihanna took her time and came out saying what she had to say and so did Chris Brown. I think they handled it well.
Are you dating right now?
No. I am, well, I haven’t been able to date but I can.
You’re more career-focused, huh?
Yeah, unfortunately [Laughs].
[Laughs] Do you have any advice for young people on how not to end up in negative situations, especially when it comes to abuse?
Don’t depend on a guy for your happiness. You have to live your own life and do your own thing. That’s when good things come around -- when you do your own thing and you’re not worried about a man. It will happen in due time.
I spoke to some older Black actresses who feel that it’s hard to find roles in Hollywood. How do you feel about that when it comes to the jobs you’re up for?
It’s really hard because there’s not a lot of specific roles out there for us and when there are, they give them to someone who is well known. But, once you get up there and move forward, then you should start making your own movies and developing your own jobs. There’s not always going to be something out there for you, especially not a positive role, so once you get up there and start being well known, you can’t just think projects will come to you. You have to start doing your own projects because if you don’t, you’ll miss out and eventually your fame will be over.
"True Jackson, VP" airs Saturdays at 8:30 p.m. (ET/PT) on Nickelodeon.