Mekhi Phifer

Mekhi Phifer Biography.com

Actor(1974–)
Mekhi Phifer is an African-American actor whose first role was in the Spike Lee film Clockers, and who was featured on ER for six seasons.

Synopsis

Mekhi Phifer was born on December 29th, 1974 in Harlem, NY. During college, he landed a role in Spike Lee's film, Clockers. He then played in the Emmy-winning TV movie, The Tuskegee Airmen, starring Laurence Fishburne, and opposite Eminem in 8 Mile. In 2002, Phifer received the Rising Star from the American Black Film Festival, and began a six season run on ER. Phifer lives in Los Angeles.

Early Life

Actor. Born Mekhi Thira Phifer on December 29th, 1974, in Harlem, New York. Phifer was raised in a single-parent family; his father left his mother, Rhoda, when she was a 24-year-old college student. He often attributes his success to his mother's no-nonsense parenting style. "I never met my father," he says. "But my mother taught me everything. She laid a foundation of reading, writing, arithmetic, self-love, self-pride...she taught me to get out there and be the best I can be."

Phifer started acting at the age of seven when he played the Ghost of Christmas Present in a Harlem community center production of A Christmas Carol. Thanks to his mother's work as a schoolteacher, Phifer learned to appreciate his education. He excelled in school, and worked several after-school jobs in addition to his studies. He graduated from Lincoln Square Auxiliary Services High School in 1994, and was accepted into the State University of New York's electrical engineering program in New Paltz, New York.

Phifer's college career was put on hold, however, when the teenager auditioned on a whim for Spike Lee's upcoming film, Clockers (1995). Phifer walked 40 blocks to get a headshot at a Woolworth's photo booth for the open-call audition. The novice was surprised when he discovered he'd beat out more than 1,000 other aspiring actors to get the lead role. His debut performance in the film as "Strike" Dunham, a narcotics dealer embroiled in a murder cover-up, received positive reviews.

His success led to a supporting role in the Emmy-winning made-for-cable TV movie, The Tuskegee Airmen (1995), starring film icon Laurence Fishburne. That same year, Phifer released his first music album New York Related: The HF Project through Warner Brothers Records. While the album sold few copies, Phifer remained an avid music fan, making appearances in music videos such as Brandy's "The Boy is Mine," 50 Cent's "Many Men (Wish Death)," and "Don't Let Go (Love)" by En Vogue.

Television Roles

Phifer continued work on the small screen in a variety of capacities. In 1996, he played a recurring role in the television crime-drama Homicide: Life on the Street, and appeared on the sitcom, The Wayans Bros. He then played across Don Cheadle in a made-for-TV version of the classic novel, A Lesson Before Dying (1999), which earned Phifer an NAACP Image Award nomination.

Phifer also began making a name for himself on the big screen. After his success with Clockers, Phifer appeared in the comedy High School High (1996) starring Jon Lovitz; the romantic drama, Soul Food (1997) featuring Vivica Fox and Vanessa Williams; and the horror film, I Still Know What You Did Last Summer (1998) with co-stars Jennifer Love Hewitt and Freddie Prinze, Jr. In 2000, he starred across from Samuel L. Jackson in the remake of Shaft (2000), which quickly became a cult hit.

Hollywood Breakthrough

But Phifer's true entrance into mainstream Hollywood came in 2001, when he was cast in the contemporary remake of Shakespeare's Othello, O, with co-star Julia Stiles. In the film, Phifer starred as Odin, a modern version of the character Othello. Unfortunately, the film's plot mirrored a series of real-life high school shootings that happened shortly before the film was to hit theatres. Although critics praised the film and Phifer's performance, O entered and left the box office with very little publicity.

Hollywood took notice, however, and Phifer continued working in a string of movies and television shows. For his next performance, Phifer played opposite rap artist Eminem in the musician's semi-autobiographical film, 8 Mile (2002). The movie received both popular and critical success, winning an Oscar and receiving a Golden Globe nomination.

In June of 2002, Phifer received the Rising Star from the American Black Film Festival. Later that same year, he began appearing on Michael Crichton's award-winning medical drama series ER as arrogant intern, Dr. Gregory Pratt. He stayed on the show for six seasons, until his character died tragically from injuries sustained while helping a patient.

Phifer co-starred with Jessica Alba in the dance film, Honey, in 2003. Unfortunately, the film didn't do well at the box office, and critics panned the plot as saccharine. Undeterred, Phifer continued to demonstrate his diversity as an actor by appearing in several episodes of the HBO improv comedy series, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and in the modern remake of the horror classic Dawn of the Dead (2004).

The multi-talented Phifer started working behind the camera in 2006. His first project as producer and director was the satirical comedy Puff, Puff, Pass, followed by the 2007 romantic comedy, This Christmas.

In addition to his acting roles, Phifer works as an entrepreneur; he is the youngest owner of the athletic franchise, Athletes Foot, and runs six different stores.

Phifer has two sons: Omikaye, from his marriage to actress Malinda Williams, and Mekhi Jr., his child with fiancee Oni Souratha. He currently resides in Los Angeles, California.

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