“I wish you could see what’s going on right now!” Keke Palmer exclaims over the phone. She’s in the back of a car, having just finished a taping for a late-night series. There are fans everywhere, vying so loudly for her attention that Palmer’s team is trying to block the windows with bathrobes so Palmer can focus on the task at hand: talking about Nope, Jordan Peele’s latest cinematic spectacle.
In the extraterrestrial horror film, Palmer plays Emerald, an extroverted animal trainer who, along with her brother, OJ (Daniel Kaluuya), runs a legacy company training horses for Hollywood shoots. Emerald is bouncy and high-energy, flirting and networking her way across any room. But she switches gears when something extraterrestrial appears in the sky, determined to get a shot of it and get famous along the way. It’s a comment, Peele has said, on humanity’s obsession with spectacles.
Palmer, as reviews have noted, is spectacular in the role. It’s is her latest high-profile performance, following her turn in Lorene Scafaria’s critically acclaimed Hustlers and coming before her role in Aziz Ansari’s Being Mortal. But for Palmer, performing is second nature. She began acting at 11 years old and never stopped, starring in everything from the family drama Akeelah and the Bee to the Nickelodeon series True Jackson, VP, to the Facebook Watch series Turnt Up With the Taylors, which earned Palmer her first prime-time Emmy in 2021. (Which is to say nothing of the robust other half of her career, which includes hosting talk shows and game shows, releasing music, and becoming a walking meme.) Nope has already launched early awards-season speculation for Palmer, who is, frankly, “having a little bit of a hard time processing it.”
“I’ve been doing this for so long, [but] this is still a very new experience in terms of the scale of this film and the attention that it’s getting,” she says. “But I’m going along with it.”
Vanity Fair: You worked with Jordan Peele on Key & Peele. Had you kept in touch over the years, or was this your first reunion with him?
Keke Palmer: Nope was my reunion with him. I had not seen him at all since then. My management told me that his people had called saying, Hey, Jordan wants to talk to Keke about his next film. He gave me a light pitch of what the story actually is. I was following it and understanding it, but I was really excited to read the script.
How guarded was the script? Does someone messenger it and take it back the second you’re done?
They have a new application where the script literally deletes the moment you’re done reading it. I remember one time, I screenshotted a scene for reference to ask Jordan about it. And literally the moment I screenshotted it, it canceled my whole account.
They’re not messing around.
They’re serious about the script! Like, damn. I immediately apologized to Jordan. Like, I swear I wasn’t trying to send it to somebody! I just wanted to screenshot a reference.
Was there any special meaning behind the name of your character, Emerald?
You know, I never asked about the choice of her name. But everything Jordan does is intentional. Nothing is by accident, so I’m sure there is a reason why her name is Emerald. I mean, you think about the concept of spectacles and the fact that one of the lead characters’ names is OJ. That, in reference to spectacles and what we exploit as far as stories and pop culture, could not be any more connected.
There was that story going around about how many takes you did to nail your opening monologue. I loved your tweet where you were like, “To nail it? It’s called an embarrassment of riches.”
Oh, my God, it’s so funny that you just said it because Jordan just texted me saying, “I just told someone today how each of your safety speech takes was flawless.” That’s so random that you just said that right now!
I know people don’t understand all the time how film works, but I wear that as a badge of honor because it’s actually not easy to do 14 takes back to back to back. To give options. You know what I mean? Especially when it’s a monologue. I’m just grateful that I still have the stamina that I had as a kid. I really think I owe that to Disney and Nickelodeon. Working with a large corporation at that age, I had to do a lot of things repetitively, whether it be marketing or whether it be [acting]. My ability to be consistent and to give variation comes from all those years of training as a child.