Keke Palmer was 19 years old when she read a script for the part of a hard-edged young woman in the film “Pimp.” But at that age and point in her career, not long after breaking out in the indie film “Akeelah and the Bee,” she was still only offered “children based stuff” and couldn’t even get an audition with writer and director Christine Crokos for the role.
As she explains in this documentary clip “Making the ‘Pimp,'” exclusively on TheWrap, it took Palmer completely transforming her mindset and body over the course of three years to prove she was mature enough for the role.
“I did a lot of research within myself, because I knew I would have to go very deep in order to take on such a role like this,” Palmer says in the doc. “I would have to face a lot of my dark truths to be able to reach that point of understanding and having empathy for this life that Wednesday had no choice but to be in.”
“Pimp,” executive produced by Lee Daniels, is an urban love story set in the Bronx about a struggling female pimp named Wednesday (Palmer). After her father leaves, she’s left to pick up the tricks of the trade and look out for her prostitute mother and her girlfriend.
Palmer knew she had what it took to play the part, even if Crokos originally felt she was too young. So she went back to her hometown and met with women in her aunt’s hair salon — women, she says, who “maybe weren’t pimps but sold something.” She then gave an improvisational performance while in character as Wednesday and sent a tape that ultimately landed her the audition.
“Even though I didn’t know when the movie was going to get made, in the back of my mind, ‘Pimp’ always was living,” Palmer said, explaining how hard she worked in honing her character. “Even though I got the role when I was 19, and I was probably capable of doing it, those three years that it took to get the movie made really brought me into understanding what it would take to be Wednesday.”
Beyond just stretching herself as an actress, Palmer worked with a trainer to bulk up. She dramatically changed her hair and her look to make the character feel authentic. But no matter how different Wednesday might be from Akeelah, or her other characters, Wednesday is an extension of her personality.
“I’m acting as a character, but Wednesday is a part of me. That’s why I’m able to reach into myself in that way and pull her out,” Palmer said. “I’m not denying that she’s somewhere in there. I think that’s what it is to be a creative and what it is to be an artist — to know and explore those different shades of who you are. We’re not just one people. We can decide who we want to be at any given moment.”
“Pimp” opens in theaters in New York and Los Angeles today before expanding regionally, and it will be available on demand. Watch “Making the ‘Pimp'” exclusively above.