Mekhi Phifer: On Call

Usually when you see an interview of an actor on your favorite website, you would assume they have something promote. A new movie? A new TV show? Hell, a new book even? Not here. Even though Mekhi Phifer always has plenty of things to publicize – ER’s fifth season, a new movie Slow Burn with Ray Liotta, and even his own record label- it’s his philanthropic endeavors that really caught our attention.

We tracked Phifer all the way to the gym, where he flexed his charm and his muscles, while talking to us about the great opportunities acting has afforded him. One of those opportunities is The Vine Group (TVG). While shooting episodes in South Africa for NBC’s long-running drama ER, Phifer decided to travel to Nigeria to visit schools that have received assistance through the TVG charity, on which Phifer serves as the Chairman of the Board of Trustees.

Obviously much more than a handsome face and a great actor, the now 32-year-old shot to fame after beating out hundreds of kids for the leading role in Spike Lee’s Clockers. Since then Phifer has consistently performed in films such as High School High, Soul Food and 8 Mile. Of course this is what we all know and love about Mekhi Phifer. But what about his recent messy and very public divorce? And what about Phifer being the youngest owner of the franchise Athlete’s Foot? You know we couldn’t talk to Phifer without asking the juicy questions too!

AllHipHop.com Alternatives: Tell us about The Vine Group charity and your recent trip to Africa.

Mekhi Phifer: It was amazing. The Vine Group is a non-profit organization; totally and completely independent. Not only do we give scholarships to African kids who are really trying to make it in this world, and make Africa and themselves strong competition for the rest of the world. We also build research centers, medical and pharmaceutical centers. And we’re providing computers and foreign exchanges programs, not just for the students, but for the professors who are out there, to come here and learn and bring back all those extra skills to their students. We provide books and all that stuff. It’s incredible stuff. I can’t wait to go back. [www.tvgusa.org for more information]

AHHA: Tell us about Black actors in Hollywood. Has a lot changed?

Mekhi: I think we’ve obviously made some advancement, but at the end of the day you still have to work a little bit harder, you know? You have to do more to catch a person’s eye. At the end it will make you stronger.

AHHA: Do you feel there are more roles for Black actors?

Mekhi: Well, yeah, this is my point. You’re going to get out of it what you put in to it. So it makes you work harder. There may be more roles but I haven’t seen anything that I’ve wanted to do this year. So as far acting is concerned, it’s the same old thing. I don’t think that it’s changed that much. I think you just have people that are coming up who are talented, and you can’t deny them.

AHHA: Is there more competition for roles now?

Mekhi: I never looked at it as competition. I never looked at one person in this business as competition. They are going to do their thing and I’m going to do my thing. I think I have a place in this business, and I bring something unique to my roles and characters. I’ve never been in competition, and I never had a snide look from another actor for being successful. It’s always been love and support.

AHHA: Ok, we’re going to name some co-stars and you have to say the first thing that comes to your mind. First up: Beyonce.

Mekhi: She was fun. She was like a little sister. We talked about acting and things like that and had a lot of fun. We played a lot of jokes; it was usually me being the victim. I like her work ethic a lot. I think it was one of the sexiest things about her- that she works hard, you know what I mean?

AHHA: Don Cheadle.

Mekhi: Ah, that’s my boy! We play poker a hell of a lot. We play at each other’s houses and things like that. We hang a lot, that’s my boy. Yes, of course a great actor too.

AHHA: Jessica Alba.

Mekhi: A lot of fun and a very pretty girl. She actually sought after me for the role in Honey, and I went and met with her and the director. I liked her instantly. It was the first movie I had ever done that was rated PG- for the kids. That’s a fun thing.

AHHA: Parminder Nagra.

Mekhi: She’s like a little sister. We all hang out; the entire cast of ER. We all eat, drink and party together. Parminder is great and super talented. I’ve seen Bend It Like Beckham, and Parminder could easily be as much of a star as her co-star [Kiera Knightley] in that movie. Parminder could definitely run circles around most of these chicks in Hollywood.

AHHA: Eminem.

Mekhi: Good guy. Total opposite of what the music says or what you would think. He’s such a compassionate dude. I came from the music world too, and if you’re talented, you’re talented. If you have that something, you have it. It’s not something that can be taught.

AHHA: What do you think of rappers in Hollywood?

Mekhi: You can watch a movie and tell who is killing a scene and who is enhancing it. I’m not trying to hate. I’m glad they have the opportunity to act from their hard work, as far as music is concerned. I would just say it’s like me jumping into the studio right now and trying to record an album. There are certain tools you want to have before you jump up in there.

AHHA: Are you going to go back to music?

Mekhi: Nah I’m not doing any music except for the record exec thing or something like that.

AHHA: Really? Can you explain further?

Mekhi: We have Facilitator Films which is my film company, and we have Facilitator Music also, where we do film scoring and all kinds of other stuff.

AHHA: Do you have any artists signed yet?

Mekhi: Yeah we got a couple of producers, and we’re in the mix of signing this [R&B] kid, so it’s in the works.

AHHA: Tell us about ER. Did they come after you?

Mekhi: Yeah. The suits over there had me come over and told me they wanted me for the show.

AHHA: Have you had any really gory scenes like delivering a baby? What was the worst?

Mekhi: Oh yeah, we’ve had all of that; anything you can think of. This is my fourth season, going on fifth. We’ve had so much stuff I can’t even remember everything we’ve done. When I first got there I cracked this guy’s chest open and manually pumped his heart, removed the lungs, stuff like that.

AHHA: Did you have to study for it? Hang around doctors or something like that?

Mekhi: Nah, we didn’t actually. My first day I just jumped into it!

AHHA: Is TV a lot different from film?

Mekhi: Yeah the pacing of it. We shoot a lot faster for TV.

AHHA: Are there any films coming up that you want to mention?

Mekhi: I got a film called Slow Burn coming out. It’s a mix between Devil in a Blue Dress and The Usual Suspects.

AHHA: You went through a pretty messy divorce. Are you and your ex-wife back on good terms?

Mekhi: Oh yeah we’re golden. We’re back on good terms.

AHHA: Are you single?

Mekhi: No, I got a girl.

AHHA: We hear you’re the youngest owner of an Athlete’s Foot franchise?

Mekhi: Yes, I owned six stores around the Los Angeles area, but I sold them. I’m looking into other business opportunities, a restaurant maybe, but I can’t really talk about it just yet.

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