Former Nickelodeon Star Keke Palmer Says She Felt “Trapped” As Child Actor
The Nickelodeon prodigy rose to stardom when she was just 15 years old.
Lauren Palmer has spent 15-plus years crafting her Keke Palmer persona and it traces back to her early childhood acting days on True Jackson, VP. In her November cover story for The Hollywood Reporter Next Gen issue, Palmer opens up about the time she felt “trapped” as a Nickelodeon child prodigy and how her ever-growing personality has manifested into two identities.
Palmer became a star at 15 years old. In 2008, around the same time as the birth of iCarly, Nickelodeon launched a new teen series called True Jackson, VP with Palmer as their lead. Within a year, Lauren Palmer and True Jackson were synonymous — and Palmer nearly hit rock bottom.
The moment came on a seven-day, all-inclusive cruise in which Palmer was paid to be on so long as she met with fans to sign autographs. While cruise goers were sipping on mai tais and enjoying the oceanic views, Palmer felt like she was stuck “in a SpongeBob suit that I couldn’t take off.”
“I was trapped. I couldn’t leave my room without someone coming up to me calling me True Jackson. What you are, to everyone, is just a character… just part of their experience,” Palmer recalled.
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In her later teen years, Palmer reveals she began experiencing anxiety, so much so that she fainted. When True Jackson, VP didn’t renew for a fourth season in 2011, Palmer left Nickelodeon.
Since then, Palmer has worked as an actress, producer, and singer. She even launched her own digital platform, KeyTV, in September 2022. She’s starred in blockbuster hits like Scream Queens, Hustlers with Jennifer Lopez, and Jordan Peele’s horror film Nope.
While Palmer’s career is going through a bit of a resurgence, she knows her Nickelodeon days helped propel her here.
“People don’t realize what it took to even get to the point where I could play that part,” she said of her titular character in Nope. “Nobody would have seen me playing that role if it hadn’t been for all the things that I’d done prior, so I’m proud of it for more reasons than one.”
She’s also proud of the balance she’s built between her public and private life. The Keke side of Palmer may be the one behind her Instagram account with 11.5 million followers and busting jokes and moves on the red carpet, but deep down she’s still Lauren Palmer.
“I’m a quirky artist, but I’m an artist, and it’s important for people to understand that Keke is just a part of who I am,” she explained. “It’s been a winding road of trying to figure out how to do what I love but also exist outside of this caricature.”
Rather, Keke is an amplified version of herself: “I’m just saying that I’m not like that all the time.”
“I’ve taken those flamboyant and interesting aspects of myself and learned how to use them in a space that has become a career for me. I’m Walt Disney. That’s Mickey Mouse,” she said.
Palmer isn’t the first former child star to come forward. Several other Nickelodeon and Disney Channel stars including The Jonas Brothers, Demi Lovato, Jamie Lynn Spears, Jennette McCurdy, and Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen have shed light on the grueling demands and work schedules forced on child actors. At what point is enough enough?