By Veronica Mixon
November 10, 2002
Mekhi Phifer is one of the most exciting performer
among Young Hollywood today. After being cast
from an open called in Spike Lee's Clockers,
Phifer went on the star in the low-budget,
much-talked about Indie, Hav Plenty, the
popular Black romantic comedy, Soul Food
and the popular slasher sequel, I Still Know
What You Did Last Summer with Jennifer Love
Hewitt and Brandy. He quickly established himself
as a leading man playing the tortured Othello-like
star athlete in O and he recreated the
role of Gale Sayers for TV in "Brian's Song."
He can currently be seen each week as the arrogrant
sexy doctor, on TV's "ER" and as an
ambitious drug dealer in Paid in Full which
is currently in theaters.
The New York born, 26-year old actor has a son,
Omi with actress Malinda Williams (Showtime's
"Soul Food") and now makes his home
in Los Angeles. He spoke with me recently about
his new film 8 Mile, working with
Curtis Hanson and the mega-Hip Hop star, Eminem.
When did you hear about this project?
I heard about it early last year. They said there's
this movie where Eminem is going to be starring
in it and I said, why are you telling me? It's
with Curtis Hanson and I said, that's great but
what's this Eminem stuff? What do you mean? Does
he want to act or is he just doing this because
he's sold so many records? So, I wasn't really
excited but through some persuasion, I flew to
Detroit, tested with Em and I met him. After the
first five minutes, I said he's a cool cat. After
we read, I said he's serious about this. He really
likes this. Even as a novice, he had certain subtleties
in his acting that I knew this project was going
to be special.
Did you feel the passion for the craft in
The cat was doing the lead in the movie, he's
in every scene and he was doing the soundtrack
for the movie - all at the same time. He was never
late, always knew his lines, [there was] no star/actor
bugging out I'm quaking in my trailer bullshit.
It was just love. We had a great time. He was
a consummate professional and it was a pleasure.
What about your role?
I'm from the Hip Hop generation so I knew the
musical aspect of it. We hung out a lot to build
up the comradery of the friends. We spent a lot
of time together before rehearsal and we went
to a couple of Hip Hop battles.
As a former rapper, did you feel like jumping
[Laughs] Yeah, yeah. You always have a jones
for it in your bones for it. The hosting was good
because I was still on stage and shine. Did you
like the wig? I loved it. I never wore a wig before
in anything that I've ever done. So, that was
interesting to play with that.
Why is Eminem so popular?
Well, knowing the cat personally and being a
friend now, it's artistry. He doesn't walk around
with a chip on his shoulder. He's very family
oriented. He's got a lot of jokes. He's a funny,
funny cat. We spent a lot of time laughing and
talking slick. All of that other stuff - I guess
he lets his anger and whatever bottled up inside
of him in his music but other than that he's a
great family man.
What kind of impact do you think this movie
If you go into this movie to find out about Eminem,
then you're going to get a falsehood. A lot of
the traits are him. There's no question about
it. All the good shit and even the bad! I think
it's going to be a big movie. I think people are
going to be intrigued by the movie and see him.
Could you talk about the use of the N-word.
What do you mean?
When I say, "Negro please!" It's like a joke.
It's not to be taken that literally. We're like
brothers and if you know Proof - who was in D-12
- they were best friends. You know, Em never used
the N-word. Proof did and his peoples did - and
What was it like working with Curtis Hanson?
It was great. He was a great director. He's a
very calm, cool cat. I never heard him yell on
the set. He's always chilling, always feeling
good on the set. He's dope! You work a lot. Lately,
it's been very, very much non-stop. The blessings
are coming. And, I'm counting them and I'm appreciating
them and I try to put the best work out there
so that I can keep the longevity.
What other things are you working on?
I'm shooting a film called Honey and I'm
doing "ER." Paid in Full is out and this
film is dropping.
Do you enjoy working on a regular TV series?
I love it. I love it. It's a lot of fun, very
fast-paced and great actors on the show. There's
always something new going on.
Do you feel any pressure to excel past Peter
Nah, nah! His character is his character and
my character is my character.
Are there any actors you'd like to work with?
It's hard to say. There are a lot of actors that
I admire but I just want to work with passion
and people that are dead serious about doing a
You've made about 21 movies and now, you're
doing TV. Are you getting recognized more?
Yeah, when you do a show that pulls in 25 to
30 million people each week. That's big! It's
a lot of people and it's a different light that
you're shedding on yourself by being a doctor.
It's getting a little more hectic.
How has fatherhood changed you?
It's made me a lot more responsible. I've got
someone to really think about and plan for his
future. I've got his trust fund situation, insurance,
etc. It gives you a passion to really work towards.
Both your parents were actors. Do you think
he might decide to carry on in the family tradition?
If he decided on his own, I would discourage
him. If you want to express yourself that way
and you're serious about it, that's fine. But,
I would never put him in a movie and parade him
around. I want him to be a kid.
Suppose he wants to be a Hip Hop star?
That's good, too. There's nothing wrong with
that. Most people have a hard time finding direction
when they're sixty years old.
What do you do to relax since you work so
Sometimes, I like to go up to Palm Springs and
lay up, lounge out. Do a little dance, make a
little love, and get some massages and things,
you know. Travel. All work and no play isn't good.
How do you handle the experience when you're
the only guy who's serious about the project?
I worked with a couple of cats one time that
weren't serious. I never worked with them again!
You won't name them?
Nah, I won't do that to the cats. They're struggle
enough as it is.
Do you think you'll ever direct a movie?
Yeah, I definitely want to direct and produce.
Definitely! Ownership. I have a production company
called Ki-Kel Entertainment. I like doing things
where there are a lot of mystery, intrigue and
where the characters show the full gametes of
emotion. I like fast-paced stuff.
How did you start?
I went to an open casting call for a film called
Clockers with Spike Lee and I got the lead
What was your day job back then?
I was doing construction and going to college
for electrical engineering and doing music.
What did your parents say?
Well, Spike Lee says come do a movie. College
can wait. Everybody was supportive and they loved
it. It was an over welling experience for my family.
After Clockers, you must have had a
lot wide circle of "new" friends?
They tried but it's about who you let in. I've
got the same cats that I came up with. That's
who is in my circle and who I talk to every day.
Everything has to be organic.
Are you surprised that you loved acting?
Well, not really. I've always loved music and
I've always gotten a certain gratification from
being on stage or performing. I was a little surprised
- I love the film industry so much and I love
wardrobe, P.A.s and etc. and I was just amazed
that all these people work to make one movie happen.
What do you think of the recent recognition
of Black actors, i.e., the Oscar?
It's all good. That's always love. I think that
anyone who works hard and really puts himself
out there and they're adamant about not being
held down or held back and not being mental or
emotional or physically caught up in a certain
situation - that's a part of being grown and being
a responsible person. Denzel or Halle have worked
hard to be where they are.