We’ve watched Keke Palmer grow up on screen, playing charismatic kids in movies like Barbershop 2, Akeelah and the Bee and her own Nickelodeon series, True Jackson, VP, for which she won an NAACP award. Now 18, the knockout beauty from Illinois stars in the original musical Rags, a contemporary twist on the Cinderella story that casts her as a pop superstar named Kadee Worth, who befriends a music-loving orphan (Max Schneider, How to Rock).
Having premiered last night on Nickelodeon, the movie will repeat Wednesday at 6 PM. BET.com spoke to Palmer about her thriving acting and music careers in an exclusive interview.
What attracted you to Rags?
First, that it was a musical because I love music and I love singing. Also, I like how it shows that just because someone looks like they have it all, they still deal with the same things you do. You should never look at somebody and say, "I wish I had their life," because you never really know what struggles they’re going through.
Kadee has a fabricated image, an arranged boyfriend, and is under pressure to sing certain songs. Do you relate to that?
Yeah. In this industry you always come across a situation where someone wants to turn you into something you’re not and you just have to make a stand and say, "This is what I will and will not do," and let people know, because people will push your buttons.
This is your first project as a producer. How did you like that aspect?
It was very different for me and difficult because of all the things you have to think about and all the problems you have to solve, and I’m not used to having people wanting to know my opinion outside of my character. I didn’t want to be this bratty kid telling adults what to do, but at the same time it was my job to say what I think. I came on board when Rags already existed, but I want to develop projects from the ground up next time. I would feel even more proud to know I was there for it all.
Do you have a favorite song on the soundtrack?
“Me and You Against the World,” the duet with Max.
How about other recording plans?
I did a new version of “We Are Family” for the Ice Age: Continental Drift soundtrack that’s available now on iTunes, and I have a mix tape coming out in June.
In Ice Age, which comes out July 13, you voice the teenage mammoth Peaches —Queen Latifah’s daughter. It’s your third movie with her. Did you get to record together?
No. They do it one person at a time. I think she did some of her part when we were in Atlanta on Joyful Noise. I’d done voiceovers before, but this one called for a lot of different efforts. I had to sound like I was falling off a cliff, hitting my head and bouncing into my crush’s arms. It really made me open my imagination to get that out.
What’s your favorite role to date?
Well, my most memorable one would be Akeelah and the Bee, because it made so much of an impact.
Now that you’re making the transition to older roles, what’s your plan — is Broadway a dream for you?
Yes, if it was the right project, because it takes so much time. I would like to do a music person’s story, a bio. I’ve wanted to do Aaliyah forever. But I don’t want it to always be like, "I’m singing again in a movie." I’d like to work with Will Smith, Halle Berry, Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep — I love her. I sometimes want to do totally different roles. I don’t always want to play wholesome. But I’m taking it slow going into that adult stage.
Are you dating anyone?
Yes, I have a boyfriend. He’s not in the business — and that’s on purpose.
But does a non-actor understand about your crazy schedule and all the travel?
Yes and no, that’s a tough thing. When you date a guy outside the business he may not understand that but it’s something they can get used to after a while. It comes with time.
What are you proudest of so far?
I’m happy with who I am inside. I’d hate to have accolades and all that and not really be happy with who I was. So I’m really thankful for my family and for the support system that I have for being the person that I am today. I’m proud of who I am.
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(Photo: Christopher Polk/Getty Images)
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