Keke Palmer is a creature of Los Angeles. When she arrives at the headquarters of ShoeDazzle, a subscription-based shoe service that she is currently paid to endorse, she's wearing a pink sweatsuit covered in glittery stars. Keke settles in a small white office space with three publicists and a photographer. She recognizes her as one of several camerawoman who have shot her on red carpets since she was a child actress in films like Akeelah and the Bee, and hugs the photographer. (As much as conservatives whine about Hollywood elitism, stars regularly interact with working-class paparazzos.) Within a few minutes, Keke says the phrase she has claimed as a catchphrase: "That's the gag."
She has acted for over a decade in Los Angeles, but Keke has finally decided to ditch town. Later this year, she will move to Atlanta, where she plans to record more music. Although she has quit Scream Queens, she will continue to act in the CIA spy series Berlin Station in Germany. The move is more about re-centering herself, and who can blame Keke after her hectic few months in Los Angeles?
Fans have criticized Keke for outrageous social media posts. After attending a party, she learned singer Trey Songz had filmed her without her consent. "You cannot use someone's 'likeness' without their permission," she tweeted. "Casing point of female disrespect in the industry." ("Babygirl buggin. Point blank period," he tweeted in response.) Wendy Williams told Keke she should have known better, and Keke responded to her face: "The gag is you wasn't there!"
Keke sits down with Broadly to discuss her move, the effects of being a child star, and why she is proud to attend therapy sessions to deal with LA.
BROADLY: Why are you moving to New York?
Keke Palmer: It's away from Hollywood, but I can still do my work. I would love to live in New York, but the only thing is I don't know what I consistently do everyday. In Atlanta I would be in the studio every day. It's a different kind of energy, but it's not LA where it's all Hollywood all the time. I've been working in the industry since I was so young. Now I'm at a point that I do want something that will force me to kind of calm down—not calm down, but to give me a break because I'm such a workaholic.
Many child actresses quit. Why did you decide to continue acting?
I don't know my life any other way. I don't know what else I wanted to spend my time doing.
You are always on set or recording yourself on Snapchat. Is it exhausting to always be recording?
Being on tape can be exhausting, and that's why depending on the person you are, you'll fluctuate on the activities. When I don't feel like talking, you won't see me on Snapchat much. The moment is not exhausting, but the taping it can be.
Are you careful about what business projects you take on?
Absolutely I am. I'm seeing [Fit Tea] everywhere. I'm thinking, 'What kind of cash do you guys have? You're on Proactiv's plan! Y'all giving out, no offense." But for me [endorsement deals mean] working for somebody that's going to give me a great product and also make it accessible and good for the kids. I'm about aspirational and relatable. With the 2017 ShoeDazzle collection, it's all about what the girls want, what the people want.
The reality is that I'm a human being. It's not an easy gig.
As an actress, do you see yourself as a performer who plays a character, like Viola Davis, or are as someone who plays a version of herself, like Emma Stone?
I think I'm both. I'm very thankful for the time I spent doing children's work, because that's what helped me be able to know how to do that. I just did a movie titled Pimp where I played a pimp—a lesbian pimp at that. I love being able to do that, but at the same time, I [enjoy] doing [Scream Queen's] Zayday, who says, "That's the gag" just like Keke Palmer says.
Why did you decided to own "That's the gag" as your catch phrase?
Comedy is something that I definitely want to do. I've done it throughout my career, but I think I want to try stand up. [Wanting to try comedy] and at the same time having regular dealings in life that were irritating to me, coupled with the culture I'm surrounded by, created "That's the gag." Whenever a bad situation happens to me, I try to bring the positive out of it. When I add the sass to [the bad situation], that creates what the gag is.
You have a varied career from comedy to action shows to serious drama. What kind of parts have you turned down?
I turn down roles that I don't feel any connection to or that I feel undercuts the message that I'm trying to give as an African American person in the world. Not that I'm saying I'm the only African American person in the world, but African American images are so blah some days that it does become an overpowering thought in my mind.
Do you think it's unfair that you have to represent your group as a minority?
I don't think it's necessarily unfair per se, but there is a certain amount of pressure. You have to be yourself and do what you want to do. I'm a strong believer that not everyone is Muhammad Ali. Some are Michael Jordan.
Are most of your friends in the entertainment industry or are they a bit of both?
I think it's a bit of both. I have friends that even if they're not in the industry, they are of it: Their father is, their cousin is, they hang around. That's a part of being in LA. You're never going to meet anybody that isn't related to the Hollywood or entertainment scene.
And that's why you're going to Atlanta.
I need a break!
How do you stay self-aware in Los Angeles?
My parents really just kept it real good for me: nice and tight growing up. I also traveled a lot. These last years, being 18 to 23, have been so overwhelming. I was an adult and exposed to Hollywood as it really was, and it was a lot to take in and shocking. It was just too much for me. I find peace and solace in yoga, meditation, prayer, and also talking to a therapist. These are things that never really seem normal in our society, which is why everyone feels so weird talking about them, but the reality is that I'm a human being. It's not an easy gig.
Why do you think so many stars refuse to discuss seeing a therapist?
It's not normalized in society as a whole! California just doesn't count. CA and NY are places that I wish people would not be so closed off about what they're about. If more people in the Midwestern and Southern cities knew of those things, we would all be on the same page.
Do you think that contributed to Donald Trump winning the election?
He was able to say stuff like that because those people don't understand branding. They don't understand what it's like to license your name to a building. They think you actually have work to create that building from the ground up to say, "Trump Tower." You could just walk in and the tower [said] "Boom Boom Tower," and then you put your name on it, and they think you build that from the ground up.
What did you think of Moonlight winning amidst all the political news?
Duh Moonlight should have won! That's the first movie that has really displayed an African American male within the hip-hop culture dealing with his sexuality. I couldn't believe that a movie like that was even being made. Even though we know that gay don't look a specific way, for some reason people really think that gay looks a specific sense. I loved that [Moonlight's main character Chiron] was not what you're typically trying to call gay, but at the same time was showing the true dynamics that he struggled [to deal with].
People think I do things to be extra.
What do you think is the best part of your job?
Being able to express those things through creativity.
And the worst part?
The fame. It really stops you from being able to be seen in a normal way. I'll be dating a guy, and he will just be spooked by his perception [of fame].
Do you ever date normal guys?
Or he's not very popular or well known. It's not even a situation where we have to go to the mall and everyone is screaming at me. They will literally get spooked to a point where it's like, "I can't do anything about you being spooked about your opinions or feelings about me being famous!" That's a real battle.
What's the biggest misunderstanding about you?
People think I do things to be extra, but the reality is that we live in a world now where you can see who I really am outside of my character. When I was a kid doing movies, I was a kid: You didn't know me. With Instagram and social media, I have the opportunity to be myself and to show the people that are looking up to me that it's OK for them to be themselves. And it has nothing to do with me wanting attention. It all has to do with me shining my light.