Don’t call it a fan theory, but movie lovers eager to crack the code of Jordan Peele’s “Nope” would do well to start at the beginning when it comes time to unpack the key elements of the filmmaker’s third film. Like, perhaps, the first trailer for the secretive alien invasion film, which opens with Keke Palmer’s character, Emerald, sharing the wild history of her family, the Haywoods, “the only Black-owned horse trainers in Hollywood.”
The high-energy monologue makes for excellent trailer material, cluing the audience into not only the Haywoods’ rich Hollywood background but Emerald’s outsized, quite chatty personality. It’s also the same way we meet Emerald in the film, as she comes sweeping into a movie shoot, eager to turn a run-of-the-mill safety meeting (that her brother, the far more taciturn OJ, played by Peele regular Daniel Kaluuya, can barely get through) into an eye-popping, fast-talking introduction of the highest order.
But that kind of performance, one that sets the stage for the rest of Palmer’s full-force turn in the film, takes work, as Peele was all too happy to explain in a recent interview with IndieWire.
“Very early in the movie, when we meet Emerald, she comes in as this real breath of fresh air, in that she saves the day and injects this energy into this safety meeting that she is giving to this crew of a commercial,” Peele said. “Keke came in and did, I don’t know, probably about 14 takes. Each one of them really very wildly different, uncuttably so. But just a tour to force, one of these things where you see somebody like, ‘I’m going to make this choice this time and go for it.’ There’s improv in there.”
He added, “I said, ‘Look, this is something you have to know like the back of her hand,’ which is the worst thing you could say to an actor who’s got to memorize a little monologue. You’ve got to know it like you’ve done it 50 times. And so she came in, the best kind of overprepared, where she was ready to go.”
How did Peele choose which take he used? Easy. “I chose my favorite take, but it was very hard,” he said.
The monologue shoot took place at the end of a long day of filming, and Palmer is still able to keenly recall the anxiety she felt in nailing it (and then nailing it again and again and again).
“I just remember it was the last thing that we shot [that day], and we didn’t have a lot of time to get it and I was like, ‘I better be on point,’” she told IndieWire.
Even scarier? Palmer said that the monologue wasn’t even originally part of the film’s script. “I don’t remember if that monologue was originally in there, but when it came, I was like, ‘OK, you’re putting me to the test, Jordan,’” she said with a laugh.
For Peele, it’s clear his star passed that test, and more, and he’s all too eager to tout Palmer’s work in the film to anyone and everyone. “Keke’s amazing in this movie,” he said. “Can I just say, so that everyone knows it, but it’s been one of the great joys working with her on this movie. Such a big part of it is both of us was pushing ourselves further and sort of making this agreement early that we’re going to go farther than we ever have gone. I would just say, everything you want Keke to be in your head, she’s better. She’s that and more.”
Palmer feels similarly in awe of Peele, telling IndieWire, “I’m obsessed with Jordan. No, seriously. He’s the coolest. I always say this, working with him and seeing just how humble he is, but also so obviously a genius, I’m like, maybe one day I could be a genius! Honestly, it’s something you’re born with or not, but he makes it seem so easy and natural. It really is incredible, honestly.”
So, will these two team up again soon? No doubt. “Let’s just say there’s more in the Keke- and Peele-averse that you will see,” Peele said.
Universal Pictures will release “Nope” in theaters on Friday, July 22.