For 20-year-old Nickelodeon alum Keke Palmer, the role ofTLC member Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas is something she’s been preparing for since she was a tiny tyke in overalls. “I’ve always loved Chilli, since I was a little girl,” she tells VH1. Palmer’s impression of the group’s sexiest member takes center stage in CrazySexyCool: The TLC Story, in which she portrays the baby-haired beauty over the course of the best-selling female R&B group’s 20-year span in the spotlight. But as a fan, she’s just happy to spend time with one of her idols.
VH1 caught up with the ladies who’ll be playing Chilli, Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, and Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins during filming in Atlanta. Check out what Palmer had to say about choosing how to portray an artist she’s always admired, and what kind of future female group could possibly compare to TLC.
How much of a role has Chilli had in your performance and how much have you talked to her about the role?
I’ve talked to her about every big moment that’s happened in the movie with my character. She’s been very open and honest–[she] even [talked to me] about events that happened prior, [saying] that it would help me have a better understanding of the emotion that she was feeling at that moment.
Was it intimidating to step into someone else’s life?
In the beginning it was extremely intimidating. I was like, “I hope she likes me.” Especially coming from not only an actress but a fan, it’s like, “I really hope she likes me and I hope we can get along.” We ended up hitting it off like the first weekend. After the first week or so it was immediately good.
Is it nerve-wracking to perform in front of her?
No. Not anymore.
Has she been giving you feedback after scenes?
She’s very confident in my abilities. She says, “I know you’re gonna kill it” or “I know you killed it.” Because [the film] is so different, it’s over-dramatized, she likes to make sure I know what’s really going on and then I can go from there. She really just wants to give me as much information, because she knows that with that information I’ll be able to execute. I feel like she trusts me with it. The fact that she’s able to talk to me and we’re able to create this friendship, it’s awesome.
Has there been any disconnect between what you thought you knew about Chilli as a fan, and what you’ve learned from her during filming?
For the most part I thought she would be a fun, cool person. And that’s what she turned out to be: a fun, cool person. But how I want to play her is really important; I don’t want her to be played weak. There are a lot of things that happen in her life that someone could take as weak-minded, but she really was just a young girl trying to find her way. She was talented, yes, she was in a group, she was successful, but that doesn’t mean that [she was] experienced in every aspect of the world. You can be as wise as you want to be but some things you just have to go through, and she went through a lot on her own and didn’t have any help. The main thing that I want people to see in this movie was that she wasn’t weak, she was strong; she was able to get through all of that while being in a group and she didn’t go insane. You didn’t see her doing anything crazy in the media or anything like that. I want people to be able to watch the movie — [especially] the young girls that are going through what she was going through — and look at her and say, “Well if she can do it, I can do it.”