'Scream Queens' Star Keke Palmer Talks Zayday's Political Ambition, Red Devil Theories

"Every time we see something big, we’re never quite sure if it’s really the end of it," the actress tells THR about how the show keeps the cast on their toes.
Hilary Gayle/FOX
Scream Queens

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Tuesday's episode of Scream Queens, "Haunted House."]

Halloween, naturally, provides the perfect backdrop for the horror-comedy of Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, and Ian Brennan’s new Fox anthology series Scream Queens. Tuesday's episode, as well as next week’s “Pumpkin Patch,” celebrate the holiday to the fullest — complete with a murder or two.

Continuing their adventures as amateur detectives, Grace (Skyler Samuels) and Pete (Diego Boneta) tracked down one of the “Waterfalls”-loving girls from the bathroom of horrors in 1995. They found an old, unstable woman living in a trailer, who is understandably messed up from what went down when her sorority sister died in the tub two decades ago. It turns out Dean Munsch (Jamie Lee Curtis), whose credibility dwindles with every passing moment, drove the girls to some creepy unknown location to bury the body and then made them all drop out of school.

Meanwhile, Chad (Glen Powell) and Hester (Lea Michele) bonded over being slightly psychopathic. (Click here to learn more about the cast of characters.)

Over in the Kappa House, Zayday (Keke Palmer) shook things up by announcing her intention to run for sorority president, which naturally riled Chanel (Emma Roberts), leaving her feeling murderous. Zayday's plan to host a haunted house for charity is ruined when The Red Devil’s victims — including Jan Hoag’s Ms. Bean, Ariana Grande’s Chanel #2 and even poor Coney — drop in dead and uninvited, and Zayday, clearly in over her head, is kidnapped by The Red Devil. 

Here, Palmer talks to The Hollywood Reporter about the episode’s haunting events as well as some of the influences for her character and what’s next for Zayday.

Zayday went from, in the premiere, not wanting to rush a sorority at all to now wanting to run for Kappa president. What do you think brought about that change for her?

She thought there was not any organization in the house. She became a part of the house to be with her friend, but now she has the determination — first of all, the reason why she’s at the school is because she wants to develop a background in politics. She wants to be somewhere that can influence change in whatever that she does. She wants to improve things naturally, so her personality and coming to the house and seeing the disrespect and seeing how there was no real structure, she then wanted to be a part of the change to improve that.

Do you think Chanel feels threatened by Zayday?

Yeah, definitely, because Chanel is confident and Chanel is cool and Chanel is all that, but she also can acknowledge that Zayday has all of those things, too. When she looks at Zayday, it’s similar to the way she looks at Grace. It’s like, ‘OK, I have to come at these girls in a different way.' Because they’re just as smart; they’re just as pretty; they’re just as cool.

Of all the characters, Zayday seems the most likely to be able to get out of a kidnapping situation like this. What can you tell us about what Zayday’s next move might be?

If you’ve seen Zayday, you can hope that she’ll find a way to try to get away from The Red Devil. Ultimately, she has things she wants to do. She’s not the type of person to quit, so we’ll just see how she comes out — hopefully it’s on top.

So all of the characters on this show are larger-than-life — Zayday included. But she’s also real. For you, what keeps her grounded?

I keep it grounded mostly just through the reality of the moment — reminding myself that with the comedy, things are funny when you truly believe. You have to be coming from a real place. Also, my character is very much inspired by Moesha, so I was really excited that I could implement some of that feel to the character that keeps the character her own strong entity inside of the entirety of the show.

Do you pull any influence from horror movies for this role or mostly just the comedic influences like Moesha?

I’m mostly pulling from comedy. When I came into the project, I told them that I’d really love the opportunity to get up close and personal with comedy, and that’s mostly been the area and surroundings of my character. There haven’t been any extreme callbacks to horror movies. Some of the characters will have more horror satire moments. For my character, I haven’t really had those kind of nostalgic horror moments, so I’ve kept it mostly within just comedy or drama.

As “Haunted House” makes clear, even when characters die on this show, they could always pop up again. Does that keep everyone on their toes?

Definitely. It does. It also just makes us all think, ‘Who’s really the killer?’ So many twists and turns have been developed in the show. People have gone, come back, been in flashbacks — we’ve had so many things going on in the show, because you know how [co-creator] Ryan [Murphy] does. So every time we see something big, we’re never quite sure if it’s really the end of it.

Does the cast bounce Red Devil theories off of each other?

Oh my gosh, do we? All the time. All the time. Every day, we’re like ‘so what’s the theory? What’s the new theory?’ We’ve had hundreds of them.

Since the actors are being kept in the dark about who the killer is, do you ever have moments where you think it could be Zayday?

Yeah, sometimes I do. But I don’t have an actual way for how to connect it to her. I have absolutely no way of knowing for sure. It’s so irritating for us! We want to know so bad. We’re dying, just like the people that are watching the show. We’re like, "Damn, when am I gonna know this?"

What’s your latest theory for who it is?

I don’t know if I can say, because the reason I believe what I believe is because of future episodes that I know about and have seen. I don’t know if I can say why, but I can say who. I think one of the primary killers could be Diego’s character, Pete.

Last week, Evan Paley said he thinks it’s Wes.

Yeah, my sister thinks it’s Wes, too.

Zayday goes all out with this haunted house. Are you a fan of haunted houses?

I am. I like to be a little scared. That's fun. I’ve always been into horror movies growing up. And as I got older, I didn’t want all the craziness in my mind just for the simple fact that it really does affect you sometimes like in your dreams and stuff, so I was like, "I’m gonna give that stuff a rest."

So what were some of your favorite horror movies?

My favorite horror movie is probably Nightmare on Elm Street and Leprechaun. I love those kind of movies. I like the theories of them.

You’ll be playing Marty in the upcoming production of Grease: Live. Do you enjoy live performance?

I do. I absolutely enjoy it. I was on Broadway for four months, and it was amazing. I played Cinderella, and it was so much fun. So this is going to be a little bit — I don’t want to say easier — but it’s not going to be as consistent since it’s one time, one time only. With Broadway or with anything in theater, you have to make sure that you’re very disciplined, so I need to get prepared for all of that.

Will it be nice to be working on something with a little less blood and screaming?

Yeah, it is. And there’ll be dancing and all that other fun stuff. It’ll be fun to get a little break.

Do you think Scream Queens could pull off a musical episode?

I think it could. With our trio [Murphy and co-creators Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan], absolutely. They could create something really funny.

Scream Queens airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on Fox. Who do you think the Red Devil is?