Only 22 years old, Keke Palmer has already worked with some of TV’s biggest titans — Seth MacFarlane (Family Guy), Shonda Rhimes (Grey’s Anatomy), and Tyler Perry (Tyler Perry's House of Payne) — not to mention starring in her own Nickelodeon series, True Jackson, VP. But all of that was just preparation for her debut in Ryan Murphy’s latest hit series, Scream Queens, FOX’s comedy-horror series about a group of college co-eds terrorized by a team of serial killers.
Playing Zayday, an ambitious freshman pledge of the notorious Kappa Kappa Tau with her own political agenda, Palmer is also finding herself a potential recruit of the co-creator’s ever-growing roster of actors, who recur in his ever-expanding list of TV projects. She, like many before her, found herself clamoring for a part in a show she knew little about.
"I was going through a breakup when I started binge-watching American Horror Story," Palmer says, revealing that she quickly became hooked on Murphy's world. "It's awesome to get to work with someone like Murphy because you get to stretch. Looking at the stuff Sarah Paulson gets to do, I was like, 'Wow — look how lucky she is.'"
Her desire to work with him paid off. Not only is she stealing scenes from her co-stars — returning Murphy favorites, Emma Roberts and Lea Michele — but she’s also holding her own opposite acting veterans, Jamie Lee Curtis and Niecy Nash. Palmer and Nash, in particular, have developed a welcome rapport as the show’s two primary African American characters defying the odds of the horror genre's stereotypes.
Now at its halfway point, a fervor of theories have developed around the show as fans try to figure out who is stabbing, sawing, and gutting his (or her) way through the sorority. But even Palmer has no idea who the murderer is — just that there’s plenty of more twists to come. “We don't know who we're rooting for; we don't know who the Neve Campbell is yet,” she says, hinting that there are still plenty of secrets to uncover. "These characters really unravel."
While the fate of Zayday — or Palmer’s future on the anthology series — is undetermined, the actress has already lined up a number of projects that will no doubt keep her on Murphy’s radar. She’ll appear as Queen Latifah’s niece in Barbershop 3 and return as the voice of Peaches, a young mammoth, Ice Age: Collision Course.
Most notably, in January, Palmer will take on Marty Maraschino in FOX’s highly anticipated production of Grease Live. It’ll be her first step back into the theater following her Broadway debut as Ella in Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella. "I loved that experience," she says, wanting another opporunity to explore that world. Admittedly not as well versed in the 1978 film as many of her peers, who grew up on it. However, Palmer is excited to put her stamp on Marty’s solo, "Freddy, My Love," which has been added back to the production.
And given that Murphy likes actors who can both scream and sing, maybe it’ll be enough to keep Palmer around if Scream Queens returns next season.
Scream Queens airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on FOX.