“I had to start by first digesting her as a character outside of ‘Grease’ the musical,” reveals Keke Palmer as we chat via webcam (watch above) about her role of Marty in “Grease: Live.” First produced on Broadway in 1972, “Grease” was later turned into a wildly successful 1978 film which still ranks among the highest grossing movie musicals of all time. So for Palmer, filling one of the iconic Pink Lady’s high heels was a daunting challenge.
“I had to stop looking at my ideas of what I interpreted from the film, and instead approach it how I would approach any new project that I get in my lap,” she admits. “Through that, I was able to develop my character, and then also find similarities in the original character, because of course the material is the material, but the way in which I express it is my own.”
What Palmer saw in this high school senior circa 1958 was, “a youthful immaturity which came off as maturity.” She explains, “She’s the one who has all the answers because she knows how to do her best impression of an adult. That’s kind of like how all of the characters in ‘Grease’ are: they’re little version of who you were as a kid, exaggerated in the show. That’s what I felt like the truth of Marty was: she’s a young girl who feels as if this is what it means to be a woman, like all of us do when we reach those ages.”
As for the challenges of doing a live television broadcast, she says, “I’ve had the pleasure of doing theater before, and one of the beautiful things about it is that you get to do it a million times, and you get to make it better each time. You get to play games with yourself and figure out how you can bring more emotion to this scene and more excitement to this moment, and all of that stuff. With ‘Grease,’ we couldn’t do that, because we only get to do it one time. That was one of the most anxious parts about it, because you just want to make it perfect. But at the same time, there is no perfect, so you’ve just gotta do your best.”
Palmer reaped a SAG Awards nomination at the age of 11 for the TV movie “The Wool Cap” (2004). And her lead role in “Akeelah and the Bee” (2006) earned her a Critics’ Choice bid for Best Young Actress. Will an Emmy Awards nomination for “Grease: Live” be next?