Family & Companions
Mekhi Phifer's success story read like something from Hollywood's Golden Age. With little to no acting experience, Phifer landed a walk-on in an open casting session for the role of Strike in Spike Lee's "Clockers" (1995). After he won the part, his career as a powerful and versatile African-American actor of the hip-hop generation was off and running. Phifer would go on to capture the attention of critics and audiences alike with performances that cross all cinematic genres, from gritty urban dramas to heartwarming romantic comedies.
Phifer was born on Dec. 29, 1974 in Harlem, NY, along with a twin brother. Phifer's school teacher mother was instrumental in helping her sons avoid getting caught up in the "street nonsense" of Harlem.
For his first audition, Phifer walked 40 blocks to get a snapshot at a Woolworth's photo booth for the open-call audition for the adaptation of Richard Price's "Clockers," directed by controversial helmer, Spike Lee. Shockingly, the newbie beat out over 1,000 other young men for the lead role. The Harlem native received mostly raves for his searing debut performance and its success led to a supporting role in the Emmy-winning made-for-cable TV movie, "The Tuskegee Airmen" (HBO, 1995), starring Laurence Fishburne. Other roles followed, including in such projects as George Tilman's warmly received feature film, "Soul Food" (1997) and the fright flick "I Still Know What You Did Last Summer" (1998), co-starring Jennifer Love Hewitt, Freddie Prinze, Jr. and the R&B singer Brandy (incidentally, Phifer starred in Brandy's music video for "The Boy is Mine"). Next, Phifer went indie in the mystery thriller "An Invited Guest" (1999), which was the winner of the Audience Award at the 1999 Urbanworld Festival and the Grand Prize at the Acapulco Black Film Festival. He was drawn back into the mainstream with his role in John Singleton's uneven remake of "Shaft" (2000), starring Samuel L. Jackson.
Sadly, one of Phifer's most powerful performances, as the lead character Odin in "O," the Othello-inspired high school drama, fell victim to a bizarre socio-political phenomenon. "O" was shot in 1999 and it depicted a harrowing incident of violence and racial turmoil among high school students (inspired by its potent Shakespearean source material) that, unfortunately, mirrored a series of real-life shootings in high schools across the United States - most tragically at Columbine High School in Colorado. The distributor - scared that the film would be branded as offensive due to the interracial relationship and socially irresponsible due to the bloody killings - shelved the film. It was finally released in 2001 - and even then, without much fanfare, although critics roundly praised the film and the performances of Phifer, Julia Stiles and Josh Hartnett.
Phifer continued working in movies and on TV, giving powerful performances in MTV's alternative take on the "Carmen" legend, "Carmen: A Hip Hopera" (MTV, 2001), co-starring Beyoncé Knowles and in "A Lesson Before Dying" (Fox, 1999), opposite Don Cheadle, in which Phifer earned an NAACP Image Award nomination.
In June of 2002, he was honored by the American Black Film Festival, receiving the organization's "Rising Star" award. Things just kept getting better and better for Phifer when, that same fall, he began appearing on NBC's award-winning medical drama series "ER" (1994-2009). As Dr. Gregory Pratt, Phifer portrayed an arrogant intern whose over-confidence and tendency to do first and ask permission later, agitates the already chaotic ER. Making success even sweeter, at the same time Phifer was wowing TV critics, he amazed film critics for his co-starring turn in Curtis Hanson's highly anticipated film, "8 Mile" (2002). A story loosely based on the life of rapper Eminem, Phifer starred opposite the controversial rapper-turned-first time-actor, as David "Future" Porter - best friend to Eminem's Jimmy "B-Rabbit" Smith. In addition to enjoying the tidy box office from "8 Mile," Phifer was also pleasantly surprised to hear his name immortalized by new buddy Eminem in the film's Oscar-winning Best Song, "Lose Yourself."
In 2003, Phifer co-starred with Jessica Alba in the laughable urban dance film, "Honey" before diversifying his resume by appearing in several episodes of Larry David's improvisational comedy series "Curb Your Enthusiasm" (HBO, 2000- ) and in Zack Snyder's remake of the horror classic "Dawn of the Dead" (2004). In 2006, Phifer served as producer-director in "Puff, Puff, Pass" a humorous look at weed culture, in which he also starred.
More than just a pretty face on screen, Phifer was also a businessman of some acumen. The youngest owner of Athletes Foot, the athletic shoe store franchise in California, Phifer was the proprietor of six stores. Perhaps influenced by his numerous hip-hop/rap projects on screen, Phifer also found time to release a rap album, New York Related: The HF Project.
Director (Feature Film)
Cast (Feature Film)
Producer (Feature Film)
Music (Feature Film)
Acting debut, starring role in "Clockers"
TV acting debut in the HBO movie, "The Tuskegee Airmen"
Began recording a rap album for Warner Bros.
Had supporting role in the hit film "Soul Food"
Co-starred in the horror sequel "I Still Know What You Did Last Summer"
Guest-starred on memorable season-ending episode of NBC's drama series "Homicide: Life on the Street"
Had supporting role in "Shaft"
Played opposite pop singer Beyonce Knowles in MTV's hip-hop version of "Carmen"
Starred in "O" (filmed in 1999), a modern-day adaptation of Shakespeare's "Othello"
Cast as Dr. Pratt on the NBC medical drama "ER"
Co-starred as Future in "8 Mile"
Starred with Jessica Alba in the dance drama "Honey"
Starred opposite Ving Rhames in the remake of the 1978 horror film "Dawn of the Dead"
Appeared as Omar Jones on "Curb Your Enthusiasm"
Debut as a producer-director with "Puff, Puff, Pass" a hilarious look at America's weed culture; also co-starred
Played a dead man in "Slow Burn" starring Ray Liotta and LL Cool J
Produced the drama, "This Christmas"; also co-starred
Began a guest-starring arc on the Fox drama "Lie to Me"; became a regular cast member in the second season
Played Agent Ben Reynolds on "Lie to Me"
Joined the cast of the sci-fi series "Torchwood"
Nabbed a supporting role in "Divergent"
Played a recurring character on "House of Lies"
Joined the cast of the thriller series "Secret City"
Reprised the role of Max in "Allegiant"
Joined the cast of the fantasy series "Frequency"