Keke Palmer Talks ‘Hustlers,’ ‘GMA’ and Stripping With J-Lo
Keke Palmer’s had herself one hell of a Hot Girl Summer—and the Disney Channeler turned Scream Queen star shows no signs of slowing down. In August, she was tapped to join Sara Haines and Michael Strahan as a cohost on ABC’s Good Morning America third hour. Her boppy new single “Twerk N Flirt” dropped just in time for Thotumn. And Hustlers, her highly-anticipated stripper-scammer movie, is generating Oscars buzz even before it hits theaters on September 13.
Despite a crazy-tiring schedule (up early for GMA, long days promoting Hustlers) the 26-year-old pop culture multi-hyphenate is bubbly as can be when she visits the ELLE.com offices to chat about becoming the freshest face in talk show television and what it was like stripping alongside her “inspiration” Jennifer Lopez.
You’ve been a television actress, a singer, a master meme-maker, a runway model, a silver screen star, and now a morning show host. You’ve worn so many hats already, and you’re just 26!
I think it’s because I started so young. I’m very grateful and I think even if I were to stop today, I’m very happy with what I’ve been able to experience. It’s been a whirlwind, for sure.
Palmer walking the runway for Christian Cowan at New York Fashion Week.
Speaking of whirlwinds, how did the new GMA3: Strahan, Sara and Keke gig come about?
I went on the show as a guest, and then executive producers Hilary Estey Mcloughlin and Rory Albanese were like, “Hey, do you want to come hang full-time?” And I’m like, “Uh, yeah!” I love this job, because it actually gives me a kind of consistency in my life, and a sense of normalcy.
I have to say, I think our definitions of normalcy differ.
Girl! You’re right, you’re right [laughs]. But what I mean is it’s really like the closest I’ve gotten to a corporate job. Like, I’m waking up in the morning, and then I’m off. One of the best parts about this job, too, is that it really feels like a full circle moment because it’s something I’ve always wanted to do and it’s at ABC, which is [owned by] Disney, where I started [my career].
Palmer filming the music video for her single on “All My Girlz” in 2006.
*KEVIN WINTERGETTY IMAGES
Jump In! was actually my all-time favorite Disney Channel movie. How did you manage to stay grounded as a child-actor and singer?
My family. They really had to work overtime. Like, [they made sure] I had normal friends that weren’t always in the industry. They also made sure I didn’t feel like I had to overextend myself to this industry, which as I got older became a battle I had to handle on my own as an individual. I really appreciated them more because of how they protected me.
I DON’T HAVE TO BE A PART OF EVERY PARTY, EVERY MOMENT.
It’s also just about trying to find balance, just like with anything… I’ve realized that, okay, I don’t have to be a part of every party, every moment, everything. I can do my job and I can go home. That’s what helps me to maintain some type of a normal mindset and not get too caught up in the entertainment world.
Palmer at the Toronto International Film Festival Hustlers premiere.*GEOFF ROBINSGETTY IMAGES
In Hustlers you play a dancer named Mercedes, which required a lot of training and preparation. Were you able to find any of that me-time while filming?
When I did my first guest spot [on GMA], I was actually filming Hustlers, and I remember being like, “Fuck, we filmed all night and now I got to get up in like two hours to go to do GMA.” But I was having so much fun doing it all, despite…having that crazy schedule.
You’ve said as a teenager you had a fascination with stripping and even went to clubs with your friends.
I was just really curious! I grew up seeing Blac Chyna, who came from a strip club and became a pop culture icon, so the stripper thing was not like so odd or weird to me. For me, at 18, it was just like a curiosity, like what is a strip clubs like? People are always talking about those jobs. I’m always hearing about them in a song, so I had an interest in what the scene was like. And it’s very similar to the music scene. For me it was just trying to see where the actual party was at, like I’m going to hang out with my homeboys and this is where we’re going and then it just became a part of my lifestyle for a while.
Do you still go to strip clubs?
I don’t want to say I outgrew it, because I’d still go now, but in the time when I was having fun with my friends, and I’m older now! But I still admire [strippers] I know, like Chyna. That’s the thing with strippers, I admire them because… to be in that element, you have to have a lot of courage and a lot of confidence. Guys respond differently when you’re dressed like that. The energy that they put off and that they give to you, you have to be able to handle them. I find that a lot of the women that have been in those positions have such a dope strength. They will just be and live in that space. I don’t know if I would be able to handle that type of energy, guys coming at me like that. I really admire that inner power and strength that they have. They are some of the strongest chicks you’d ever meet.
Hustlers cast at TIFF.*KEVIN WINTERGETTY IMAGES
What was the most surprising thing you learned about stripping while filming Hustlers?
Everybody thinks they’re going to go into the club and be Blac Chyna or be Ramona, who was Jennifer Lopez’s character. But there are a lot of girls that go to the club and don’t make any money. In people’s mind, it’s like, “Oh you’re a stripper, you’re making a bunch of cash on the first night.” But that’s not true, it’s just like any other job. You have to figure out what your vibe is, what your name is, how to demand that stage, how to demand the attention. With stripping being so glamorized, a lot of people have ideas of getting into it and think it’s going to be one thing, but it’s not all just making a bunch of money. There’s a lot of hard work, long nights and dealing with energy that, man, you may not be prepared for.
It looks like you and Jennifer Lopez had a lot of fun making this movie together. What’s your relationship like?
She’s a girl’s girl and I’m a guy’s girl, but I’m also a girl’s girl too. I adore her… She’s very open and welcoming and I think that’s why we have a good vibe. She has been such an inspiration for sure. Not only does she have a great career, but she also has family, you know, she makes time for her kids, too, just as much as she makes time for producing and acting and doing music.
Speaking of music, what were you playing on set to get into character?
I love “Freak Nasty” by Megan Thee Stallion, really anything by her is so good. And anything from City Girls. A couple of my records, too, definitely, “Twerk N Flirt.”
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.