In Akeelah and the Bee, Palmer plays a fantastic speller who reluctantly enters her school's first spelling bee which, of course, she wins. From there she's propelled into the highly competitive world of spelling bees, a world in which the youngster will not only be representing herself but her family, her school, and her entire community.
Landing the Role of Akeelah: On the second to last audition, it was the producers and Doug in a room and the casting director. We were all in there and there was a scene where I had to cry. I didnt plan on going in there crying, I just planned on doing the best that I could. When it got to the crying scene I was nervous so I just took that and changed it and made myself cry. I was like, Oh my god, what am I doing? But I didnt let that mess me up. I just kept on doing it and crying doing the lines.
When I shook hands with the producers, Doug stood up and hugged me and said, Thank you so much. When I got out of the room I told my mom he said thank you so much and that meant, Thank you so much for making it easy to give you the part. I believe that was what he was thinking. He says when I did that he had a huge weight lift off his back.
Palmer Doesnt Share Akeelahs Gift for Spelling: Palmer said shes good but not quite as good as Akeelah. My favorite subject is English. My worst is Math - and World History. I dont like them. In World History we learn about whats on the news and thats good, but to have to read those hundred pages, your eyes burn off. Im tired. When I auditioned for the movie Doug asked me if I read the script. I said no. That thing was like two hundred and twenty-two pages but, as the movie went on, he smalled it down and me and my mom and sisters read it together. I didnt read it all by myself.
Keke Palmer on Working with Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne: Angela Bassett, in one particular scene where I had to cry, she really helped me in that scene because I was trying to get that emotion out and [writer/director Doug Atchison] was like a couple of feet away from me. Angela came to me and said, Just think about if everybody who helped you had to leave you and then you have nobody to help you anymore. Those couple of words, right after that, I just started crying and Doug was, Roll it, roll it, roll it! Then we did the scene. I tell everybody that she helped me.
Palmer also had a great time with Laurence Fishburne who plays her mentor, Dr Larabee, in the film. It was like a teacher/student relationship. Hes the opposite of Dr Larabee. We had so much fun on the set. He joked like me.
The Kids of Akeelah and the Bee: Palmer shares the screen with a lot of other young actors in Akeelah and even got to kiss J R Villarreal in the film. Palmer said, We were laughing so much on that kissing part. They had us do it like 20 times before we even shot to get all of your giggles out because we were laughing. A lot of the kids in the movie, that was their first time so we had a lot of fun. Questions were asked and I was happy that I was able to answer them.
Preparing to Play Akeelah: My birthday came right around when Doug told me Id got the part. He gave me a lot of spelling bee stuff. He gave me the Spellbound movie and the 2003 National Spelling Bee. A lot of spelling bee stuff came up around the time I got Akeelah so I did get a chance to see the 2004 National Spelling Bee.
In the film, skipping rope is a trick Akeelah uses to help her spell words. The idea to insert that in the film was something writer/director Atchison picked up from watching real spelling bees. When he watched the National Spelling Bee, a lot of kids did some things, explained Palmer. Some wrote on the back of their number to see how the word was spelled or kicked their foot or did semi-circles. So Doug had to make something that was normal for the spelling bee but also subtle so people would know that it was something that nobody really does. I thought it was a smart thing to do and really worked for the movie.
So how easy is it to spell a word while youre skipping rope? Palmer said, It was pretty easy for me. Im tall and had to swing the rope over my head really hard [and] sometimes it would hit the bushes and stuff like that, but it was pretty easy to do it.