Lightyear star Keke Palmer talks to Melan Magazine about her career, why she speaks out about health issues and which three people she would invite for the best dinner party ever.
Woman of the moment Keke Palmer is starring in two of the most highly anticipated films of summer 2022, Disney Pixar’s Lightyear and Jordan Peele’s Nope. In 2022, her 20th year in the entertainment industry, her star continues to rise with ever more high profile roles and greater visibility.
In 2020, she became the first Black woman to host the MTV Music Video Awards. The award-winning actress was also included in Time Magazine’s list of ‘most influential people in the world’ in 2019. Her 11 million followers on Instagram would agree.
In her latest film Lightyear, (released on 16 June) Keke plays Izzy Hawthorne a young ‘space cadet’ desperate to live up to the legacy of her grandmother Alisha Hawthorne, the commanding officer and best friend of Buzz Lightyear, played by Uzo Aduba.
Speaking to Melan Magazine during the press junket of Lightyear, Keke talked about the importance of authentic representation, fangirling Uzo Aduba, why she speaks so openly and honestly about dealing with Poly Cystic Ovaries Syndrome (PCOS) and lists the three people (past and present she would invite to the best dinner party ever.
Watch the trailer: Lightyear
Read the full interview with Keke below or scroll down to watch the full video on YouTube.
Melan Magazine: We saw on your Instagram that you described getting the role of Izzy as a full circle moment since you first saw Toy Story. Who was your favourite character back then?
Keke Palmer: My favourite character was Woody… I genuinely remember being like “I love Woody!”… I loved that he seemed very down to Earth. The thing about Buzz, that we also looked into in Lightyear, is that Buzz is a little too into himself, he’s cocky and while back then, Woody had his moments too, I felt like I could relate to Woody a little bit more and he had a southern vibe to him, he felt very familiar to me growing up in the Midwest.
How did you feel about joining such a well-loved movie franchise?
Very excited! Although sometimes there can be nerves when you come in on an already established [franchise]. But the way that they re-introduced Lightyear and the way they introduced the character, and this storyline is something that I never expected. Essentially, we’re getting to be Andy. This is why Andy had the toy Buzz, because he had watched the movie ‘Lightyear’ and so I thought that was a really creative way to get us back in the world of Buzz.
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Izzy is afraid of space, she has Astrophobia, do you have any irrational fears?
I have irrational fears like “what if I don’t ever evolve?” Mines are like very obscure. ‘What if I never evolve, if I never grow; that’s what’s scary to me. Or when I overthink. If I overthink too much, ‘Oh my gosh can I stop overthinking, but I can’t stop overthinking because I’m overthinking! So, little things like that! [laughs].
We loved the film’s central theme of ‘living in the moment’ and not postponing your happiness to a distant future. Can you give us an example of when you did that recently?
I feel like I’m living in the moment right now. It’s something that I actively try to do with my life. Especially as you start to get older you start asking yourself, ‘what is life really about?’, ‘what really is happening?’, ‘how do we find joy?’, ‘what are the priceless things that life has to offer me?’.
For me, in the last five years I’ve really worked to focus on ‘what’s happening right now?’ so that I can enjoy every moment. This is my 20th year in the industry and I’m so excited about Lightyear, so excited about all the things that have been happening and the sacrifices made for me to get to this point. I feel very much in the moment.
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When it comes to meeting the cast, were there any fangirling moments?
There was lots of fangirling for me when it comes to Uzo [Uzo Aduba played Alisha Hawthorne her grandmother in Lightyear]. I love her and we had a lot of fun hanging out and doing a lot of press together. I mean being with her made work very fun and now I’m trying to figure out how we can do something else together.
What was the best thing about filming this movie?
It was getting to see Pixar at work. Aside from being a performer in the project, I got to see it from a filmmaker’s point of view, how they collaborate with one another, how they come up with their storylines, how they work to get the concepts. That was really invaluable. One could wait years to get that kind of opportunity and see the work up close. For me, I really enjoyed that, and I learned a lot as a storyteller.
We were impressed with the animators’ attention to detail, particularly regarding Izzy and Alisha Hawthorne’s natural Afro hair and hairstyles. Do you think they did a good job?
I felt the same way. When it comes to representation, we don’t want it to feel like they just threw on some Black skin. We want to know that they took time to understand the features, the look and make it specific. Their hair, get the coils in there, don’t give Alisha, the grandmother and the granddaughter the same hairstyles when they are from two totally different times! I feel like they really took the time to take all of that into account. It means something. They took the time and they wanted to get the representation correct. That means a lot. It’s important.
From your point of view, why is authentic representation in movies important?
Because without authentic representation it is really difficult for people to see themselves in these spaces. What I mean by that is if you’ve never seen a Black teacher, a Black astronaut, never seen a female president, it is kind of hard for you to imagine yourself in those spaces. So, the more representation you have across the board, people are able to see themselves in these prominent places and they are able to see themselves in the world living freely. Limitless, boundless.
Do you think we have turned a corner when it comes to more positive representation of Black people on screen?
Yes, I like to think that we have. We can look back into the past and see people like Sidney Poitier or Morgan Freeman and so many other names, Angela Bassett, Queen Latifah; they have pushed and ushered and made sure that within their works that there was positive representation. Not even just in front of the camera but behind the camera, bringing more positive narratives and normalising Black people and people of colour in leading roles and positions, like Jordan Peele. So, I feel very happy about where we’ve come from and into the future and beyond. I look forward to all the ways that we continue to push the envelope with telling our stories.
We love how you keep it real when it comes to talking about dealing with PCOS and how it affects your life. What inspires you to do that?
It was very shocking to me that for women of colour, health care can be a mess. When you also think about all the complications that women of colour face when it comes to going to the doctors and getting the proper information, people finding things at the right time, and having a healthy life and existence. I just felt like ‘okay’, I need to say this so that people can find new ways to advocate for themselves because I had to advocate for myself to find out things that I needed to find out pertaining to my health. That was a big part of it. It was just me saying ‘hey y’all’ get into how much it took for me to find out this information.
We need to remember that people in entertainment are people. I think we live in a space and time where a lot of people overvalue attention or being a ‘celebrity’, but for myself, I just love to perform, fame and popularity just happen to be a side effect of that. It can be cool sometimes, but it can also be a hindrance. And the biggest hindrance is that it dehumanises you. So, I think also for me, it’s a way of reminding people that I’m human at the end of the day, we’re all going through the same things and while my career is something that puts me in the public eye a lot, I don’t take that for granted and I’m aware that I am still just a person trying to get through it at the end of the day.
Okay, some lighter questions now. When travelling long haul, what three things can you not live without?[laughs] My charger, my cell phone or some kind of communication [device]. Also, some type of home sake, so like a pillow or a bear or blanket that can remind me of home.
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What would we find you doing on your day off?
On my day off you’ll find me binging a show. In my bed, hanging out, on Uber Eats or Door Dash eating up a storm and watching and kicking my feet up! Right now, I’m so crazy into Succession. That show has me in a chokehold. I am up all night watching it. It’s like Game of Thrones but in a different era. Such a good show.
What three humans, past and present would you invite for the best dinner party ever?
Definitely Whitney Houston. Me and her would be going back and forth like ‘Ms Girl… Ms Girl, Ms Girl’ [laughs]. Aaliyah because I would love to talk to her about the Y2K era and how she feels about being a pioneer, what she thinks about how everybody is constantly recreating her image and brand over and over again. The last person would be Walt Disney so that I can ask him: ‘so tell me, how did you do it?’ [laughs].
Watch the full interview below: Melan Magazine Interviews: Keke Palmer
Disney /Pixar’s Lightyear is released in UK cinemas from 16 June 2022.