In Conversation With Keke Palmer – On Joining A Legendary Disney Franchise

Lightyear is the exciting origin story of Buzz Lightyear from the iconic Toy Story franchise. The astronaut who was originally voiced by Tim Allen, but is now voiced by Chris Evans in this latest movie. With his commanding officer Alisha Hawthrone (voiced by Uzo Aduba) Buzz is on a mission to escape a hostile planet and fix his mistakes. The result of numerous failed missions is that Buzz travels decades into the future. Buzz is now met by Alisha’s granddaughter Izzy Hawthrone (voiced by Keke Palmer) who is part of a comical group of volunteer junior patrol rangers. Buzz now has to let go of his initial mission and focus on a new collective goal.

I had the immense pleasure of sitting down with Keke Palmer. We chatted all about her experience joining the franchise and about true representation in film and animation.

(Source: Getty Images)


What was it like voicing a character in such an iconic franchise like Toy Story?

It was very surreal to be a part of this because I remembered Toy Story before I even thought about being an entertainer. You know, to me, it’s kind of one of those franchises that I was born into always knowing. So I was just so blown away that I got the opportunity to add on to a character such as Buzz Lightyear.

In the film Izzy has two grandmothers – Alisha and Kiko Hawthrone. Izzy’s family is such an amazing representation of being Black and also being queer. As a Black and queer person, it was really beautiful to see that depicted in a Disney movie. What was the importance of representation for you?

The point of representation is always to be able to show all people in these spaces. The representation that’s being expressed, it’s pretty much saying that these are the faces of the people that have always been a part of our story. Now, let’s show their prominence and let’s make sure that we acknowledge the part that they played in our stories. It’s the way that it’s always been. So it’s just about showing life as it’s always existed. 

One thing I really enjoyed seeing was the hairstyles. Izzy’s grandmother Alisha had cornrows and it was so nice to see that hairstyle animated.

You know Black women love to change their hairstyle. My favourite was when she had braids to one side and a little curly poof to the other side. Yeah, I was living.

If I saw this movie as a little black girl, it would have been monumental to see all those Black hairstyles on screen.

Exactly, I would have been like “wow”. As a kid, my mom loved when I had my little fro. I didn’t because I didn’t see any representation. I was like who else’s hair is like this? I agree with you, it’s great that they have different versions of Kiko’s hair in the film.

You could do pom poms, you could do half and half. You know that is important to show because it makes people feel seen.

Izzy overcame a major fear in the movie. She literally threw herself out into the deep end. Tell me about a time you overcame fear and had to push yourself out of your comfort zone? 

I’m always trying to overcome, not necessarily fear but I’m always pushing myself to do something so that I’m not afraid. Whether it’s saying how I really feel or setting a boundary. That’s probably the most difficult one for me. Realising that a part of being my very best self is setting boundaries. Fear and worries, come in all different shapes and sizes.

This film is a really beautiful depiction of teamwork and how collective efforts can make a big dream a reality. So how important is it for you to have a really strong team around you?

It’s everything to me. I feel like teamwork, it literally makes a dream work. No one person can make anything work. Everybody adds a piece to it. Growing up in filmmaking I think that’s what I love about it. It’s not just actors that make things happen. People run the cameras. The grips and the gaffers. It’s the cinematographer, it’s the craft lady. There’s so much that goes into making it work.

I really appreciate how they showcase leadership and define it in this film. It really is not always about you being the one person. It’s important to make sure that everybody gets their moment to shine.

I think collectivism is really important. Who are some really key people in your team? What roles do they play for you and how do they better you as an actor and a person?

I think there are so many people. In terms of my career, for instance, today, I don’t look this good on my own. I got some good genes but for makeup to hair to styling…I have Jordanna, Isaac and Justin. My publicist, Lauren, all of them have something to do with me being here on time and available for you today. That’s just my career. As a whole, we are talking about my mum, my dad and my siblings. All those people support me and are part of the effort in making Keke Palmer work. Teamwork is everything. I lean on my team. No one is better than the sum of their parts. 

What’s your favourite Disney film?

The Lion King because that soundtrack is crazy. And then in terms of newer Pixar films, I’d say Inside Out, especially as it pertains to mental health.

How do you want people to feel after seeing this movie?

First of all I want them to feel entertained. Storytelling, film, television…those things are meant to give us an opportunity to escape. Hopefully, after they escape in the film, they’re left with something that makes them feel hopeful. I think what I took from the film was gratitude. I immediately felt like, you know what? I’m at the right time for me. Like, I’m doing good. and I don’t need to be what anybody else wants me to be. I’m grateful for where I am right now.


Lightyear opens in all major cinemas on 17 June

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