Keke Palmer on Modeling Her Career After Moguls: 'A Dash of Oprah, a Dash of Ron Howard'

"You never want to get stagnant," says Keke Palmer, who makes a splash this summer with roles in Disney/Pixar's Lightyear and Jordan Peele's Nope

After nearly two decades in Hollywood, Keke Palmer has built an impressive résumé that includes movies, television, music, books and Broadway.

The 28-year-old actress — whose latest project is voicing an aspiring space ranger in the upcoming Toy Story spinoff film Lightyear — tells PEOPLE she's emulating the careers of several boldface names.

"We got a dash of Oprah in there. We got a dash of Queen Latifah. We got a dash of Ron Howard. We got a dash of Jordan Peele. I'm trying to just hodgepodge it all. A little Dick Clark too. Maybe a little Desi Arnaz," she says. "Tyler Perry for sure. A little Walt Disney as well."

Speaking of Perry, who cast a young Palmer in his 2006 film Madea's Family Reunion, he tells PEOPLE that he remembers her dedication and drive back when she was a child actor.

"I'm a machine when I'm working," says Perry, 52, "and she was a kid and stayed in lock step."

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Mandatory Credit: Photo by Joel C Ryan/Invision/AP/Shutterstock (12984588l) Keke Palmer poses for photographers upon arrival for the premiere of the film 'Lightyear' in London Lightyear Premiere, London, United Kingdom - 13 Jun 2022
Keke Palmer. Joel C Ryan/Invision/AP/Shutterstock

Palmer's parents recognized their daughter's boundless energy early on and helped steer her toward Hollywood.

"I was one of those kids that was always bouncing off the walls, and I think my parents were like, 'She's a little crazy, but she's gifted. Let's try to figure out how to help her channel this.' For me, that was the entertainment industry," continues Palmer. "In this space, my crazy is welcome."

Indeed, over the past 18 years, since her first role as Latifah's niece in the 2004 movie Barbershop 2: Back in Business, Palmer has been an in-demand performer, acting in movies like Akeelah and the Bee and the Jennifer Lopez hit Hustlers, as well as television shows including the Nickelodeon series True Jackson VP and the Fox horror-comedy Scream Queens.

Now she's poised to upgrade from familiar face to household name thanks to Lightyear and the upcoming horror movie Nope, written and directed by Oscar winner Peele — to whom Palmer wrote, asking for a role.

"I definitely did slide into his DMs, but Jordan is, like much to be expected, not on Instagram all day and during the night. So he never even saw that direct message," says Palmer, who worked with the 43-year-old filmmaker a decade ago on an episode of Key & Peele.

Keke Palmer in Nope, written and directed by Jordan Peele.
Keke Palmer in Nope (2022). Universal Pictures

Though Peele never read the note, he coincidentally wanted to collaborate with Palmer again anyway. "Him continuing to see my work is what manifested my opportunity with Nope," she continues.

Palmer has made a habit of creating opportunities for herself by reaching out to folks she'd like to work with, including Insecure creator Issa Rae, who cast Palmer in season 5 of the HBO series.

When Palmer was growing up, her mom Sharon often repeated the phrase, "Closed mouths don't get fed," so the actress learned early on to "seize the day," she says.

And she's doing just that. Aside from her movie roles this summer, Palmer also served as a judge on season 3 of the voguing competition series Legendary on HBO Max and will host NBC's reboot of the classic game show Password in August.

"You never want to get stagnant," Palmer says of staying diversified. "I love all of the stuff."

Lightyear premieres in theaters June 17. Nope premieres in theaters July 22.

For more from Keke Palmer, pick up this week's issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.

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