Born Lauren Keyana Palmer, you may remember Keke from her performance in the critically acclaimed, award-winning film Akeelah and the Bee, but Keke was far from wet behind the ears when she starred in her role as Akeelah Anderson.
As a small child growing up in Robbins, Illinois, Keke showed her parents Laurence and Sharon Palmer that her performance skills packed a lot of power when she belted out “Jesus Loves Me” in her church choir.
In their home recording studio, Keke’s mother Sharon helped Keke harness her vocal abilities, and both parents were dedicated to taking her on auditions and helping her to perfect her acting skills. In 2004 Keke landed her first big role in Barbershop 2: Back in Business playing the part of Queen Latifah’s niece. At this point, it was more than apparent that Keke had star-potential, so the family left behind their newly purchased home and their secure jobs to head to California.
Keke’s accomplished resume includes a role on the CBS series Cold Case, a national K-Mart commercial, and even a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination for her role in Wool Cap. She is currently the youngest actress to ever receive a nomination in a Lead Actress category. She has also won the 2007 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture for her role in Akeelah and the Bee. She also co-starred in the highly-rated Disney Channel Original movie Jump In.
Though her acting career has blossomed, Keke considers music her first love and has signed with Atlantic Records. Her newest album “So Uncool” includes an ode to her Chicago roots. The Palmer’s decision to leave the Chicago area in pursuit of Keke’s dreams turned out to be a good one, but they were definitely challenging times. In his interview with Children In Film, Laurence Palmer talks about the challenges of being a Power Parent.
INTERVIEW WITH LAURENCE PALMER
CIF: How did you/do you school your children?
LP: We came to California in November of 2003 and home-schooled our children under the Illinois guidelines for a semester until we found out about the California program Options For Youth, which Keke still attends and our oldest daughter Loreal graduated from this past spring.
CIF: What are the challenges of dealing with a school-aged child who is also working?
LP: Keke is a very social kid. Our main challenge with her is finding time where she can socialize with other children. We make sure she gets to some birthday parties, skating parties and movie outings with her friends. My wife Sharon or our 18 year old daughter Loreal or I accompany her depending on the outing and the other parent’s participation.
On Getting Started in Show Biz
CIF: What actors inspired your child (in her work) or you to get her into this field?
LP: Keke was inspired by Brandy, Rave, Tia and Timara Mowery and Kyla Pratt. My wife and I were professional theater actors in Chicago and I think that helps us in understanding her desire to do this and how she approaches this business.
CIF: How many auditions did you go on before the first job?
LP: Keke’s first audition was for the Lion King in Chicago. She made the Saturday cut and on Sunday, out of 400 kids, she made it down to the last 15 before she got cut. For a kid who never had an acting lesson and only did a couple of school plays, we thought that was great. After that we got her an agent. Before we signed with the agent she auditioned for American Juniors where she won a trip to California and made it to the top 33. Her first audition with the agency was for Barbershop 2 and she got the part!
On Working in Entertainment
CIF: Does your child want to be in entertainment for her whole life or does she want to do something else as an adult?
LP: Keke has a desire to eventually produce and direct after she finishes college, but now she wants to do this, and as long as she keeps her grades up she can. She can also say at anytime that she’s done with acting and doesn’t want to do it anymore and we will take her out of the business.
On Parenting a Child Actor
CIF: What is the biggest mistake you’ve made as a parent in entertainment?
LP: Nothing comes to mind – Keke’s only been in the business for four years and we are still learning the business. We usually try to adapt and adjust to the situations that come into our life. Years from now I’m sure it will be easy to answer that question.
CIF: Are you ever afraid that your child will fall inline with the negative image of child stars?
LP: I would have to say yes. We just continue to go to church, pray together and remain parents. She has to follow our rules and she has to respect her older sister and she has to be an example to her younger brother and sister.
CIF: What advice would you give other parents just starting out?
LP: I would advise them to always remain parents. Kids can not play on sports teams with bad grades or bad attitudes and they should not be allowed to act if they display those same qualities. As a child you don’t have the right to act – it is a privilege. As parents we have to let our children know constantly what is right and what is wrong. We must teach them to respect themselves and others.
On Children In Film
CIF: What is your current relationship with Children in Film? Are they/were they a good resource for you?
LP: When Keke was auditioning for American Juniors, we were introduced to Children In Film because we had to get a work permit. Twenty of the top 33 kids were going to be on TV, so all 33 kids had to have permits because the top 20 would be notified by mail and would have to start work upon that notification. My wife and I continue to use Children In Film’s services for obtaining our work permits as well as for a resource for some child labor laws and guidelines and any questions we have that we think they can help us with.