‘Nope’: How Keke Palmer Grounded an Out-of-This-World Horror Story

Watch star Keke Palmer discuss how she and filmmaker Jordan Peele figured out how to tell a sibling-bond story with sky-high stakes.

Keke Palmer stars in "Nope"

“Nope”

Universal Studios

Curated by the IndieWire editorial team, Craft Considerations is a video platform for filmmakers to discuss how they applied their craft to a recent work we believe is worthy of awards consideration. For this edition, we look at how “Nope” actress Keke Palmer collaborated with writer-director Jordan Peele to bring the funny, tenacious Emerald to life in the sci-fi horror blockbuster.

Keke Palmer was still learning just exactly who her “Nope” character Emerald was when she shot her memorable entrance, a rollicking run-through of how her family company has serviced Hollywood since the industry’s earliest days.

“It was so funny, because that was not in the original script. That was something that I ended up seeing five days before we started shooting,” the star told IndieWire. “I was just like, ‘When the hell did you put this in here?’”

Writer-director Jordan Peele trusted Palmer was up for the challenge as he had written Emerald, the ambitious sister of horse trainer O.J. (Daniel Kaluyya), who talks him into the deadly pursuit of an “Oprah moment” with an unidentified flying object as a means of salvation, with the actress in mind.

To capture Emerald, Palmer said she was “using the dialogue as a roadmap to tell us who the character is,” highlighting how the fast-paced set safety speech she delivers gives viewers a sense of her longing to be included in the family business, once headed up by their now-deceased father.

“She’s always wanted to be a part of the ranch in a real way, but never really was allowed to,” the actress said. “So she probably knows this speech that her dad did like the back of her hand. They went with him everywhere. And she’s performative just like her dad in her own way.” She added that the scene “only supports the evolution of who she becomes more, because she grows so far from that.”

To tap into another one of Peele’s reimaginations of the final girl trope, Palmer focused on staying present. “In acting, I don’t really over-rehearse anything other than making sure that I know my lines and my dialogue,” the actress said.

To convey horror in particular, Palmer said, “I don’t think you practice it. I think you feel it in the moment, because it’s also like a weird and insane scenario.” Palmer joked that, prior to shooting the film’s thrilling, desert-set climax, “I was running around crazy on the set. I was just running around crazy. I felt like Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. I was just jumping up and down and just trying to really get myself to maintain the adrenaline of what Emerald was feeling in those last 20 minutes of the movie.”

 

“Nope” was material that thrilled Palmer, who said she jumped at the opportunity “to do horror and make it real and make it grounded. But also make it aware of itself in some ways.” Though she does feel the past few years have had “some horror stories that show the glory of what horror can do,” she said “most of the time when we see horror now, we usually just go for the tropes, or for the the thrill, we don’t really use the monster as a metaphor for our real life problems.”

The human story that the UFO the siblings come to call Jean Jacket (after a previous horse young Emerald longed to train) brings out of Emerald is “her point of view is just connected to her family, her legacy, her need to find herself outside of it, to be validated as a person because she never felt validated at home and she feels like I just need a moment,” Palmer said. “The movie and her character is driven so much through that perspective until she realizes at the end that the person that saw me was really the only person that I needed to see me.”

Working with the Oscar-winning filmmaker was a turning point in a long career that started with child stardom. “It’s just a different thing when you have a director at the helm of something that equally is as detailed, serious, and cares, and wants to say something, and is emotionally involved with all his work the way that Jordan is,” said Palmer. “He just creates an atmosphere where everybody is just giving their best.” —Marcus Jones

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