The BBC hit Torchwood is crossing the globe, both by airing on Starz and by taking the story global . Mekhi Phifer joins the team as a CIA agent investigating the Miracle Day, where nobody is able to die. I caught up with Phifer after a presentation to the Television Critics Association for Torchwood: Miracle Day.
Crave Online: What does it mean to you to be the American voice with Torchwood?
Mekhi Phifer: I think it’s great. I think it’s a really great thing. I was really flattered when I was asked to do it. I know that they’d been trying to cast this particular role because the role is great. I always describe it as 24 meets X-Files. I get to do some really cool stuff, guns, shooting, all kind of crazy stuff. I know they’d been trying to cast it for months so it really pleased me that they asked me to be a part of it. I loved the series already so I’m a big fan.
Crave Online: You can imagine the CIA’s perspective on the Torchwood agency, but is there also an American perspective on a BBC sensibility?
Mekhi Phifer: Absolutely. That’s what’s going to be an interesting thing. Obviously we’re all working together because the world has to work together, but just seeing the different dynamics of American and British and hearing both the accents and everybody sort of bringing their own twist to the table.
Crave Online: How did you become a Torchwood fan? Did you wait for it to come on BBC America?
Mekhi Phifer: How I saw it was the script came across my desk. Before I read the script, they sent me a season, I think the first season of five episodes. They sent me five episodes and it was just awesome. I watched it all in one sitting, became a huge fan right there. Then read it and that took me over the top because I saw what they were doing with it and how much they were putting into this thing. We get to go shoot in London. It’s great.
Crave Online: You’ve played some agency guys before. What are the similarities and differences with Rex?
Mekhi Phifer: I was on Lie to Me with Tim Roth before. I played an FBI agent. FBI’s a lot more suit and tie. Even though my character’s unorthodox, he’s more by the book. CIA gives you so much room to breathe because it’s hard to define what a CIA agent does at all times. They’re international, they’re all over the place, it’s a very vast job description, which I love about that. Then having the freedom of that allows the character to go to all kinds of places. I’m really looking forward to exploring that, then being on cable as well gives us even that much more leeway than a network would give us.
Crave Online: Is Torchwood really pushing that?
Mekhi Phifer: Oh yeah. I think we’re really pushing the envelope on this. It’s guns, it’s rocket launchers, it’s blowing up helicopters. It’s the whole thing.
Crave Online: As far as Spartacus pushes it with boobs and penises?
Mekhi Phifer: I haven’t seen boobs and penises. Just by Bill [Pullman’s character] being a convicted pedophile is pushing the envelope, but there will be a lot of violence and graphic violence and things like that.
Crave Online: What is Rex’s learning curve finding out about these creatures and this organization?
Mekhi Phifer: You live your life and you think you know it all, you think you’ve seen it all, you think you’re alone in this world and all of a sudden this thing comes and hits you. It’s like you’ve been wrong and a part of his prowess in this thing is that he needs to understand this for himself. He needs to understand why this is happening, what’s going on. He does not like not being in control. This even that’s happening, one it totally messes up his mind that we’re not the only ones in the universe, but it also shows that he has to try to gain control again, and gain control of his life. He doesn’t like putting it in other people’s hands. He likes to be able to control his destiny. I think part of the arc and the journey will reveal itself in the middle, but I think part of the journey will be that he becomes less judgmental, less set in his ways and a lot more obtuse in his thinking. I think his public relations will be better because he’ll have to work with a lot of different people in a different capacity than he ever did before. This Torchwood team becomes a family. We’re the ones looking out for each other in this whole thing.
Crave Online: Have you been off the air at any time since ER?
Mekhi Phifer: [Laughs] Let me see, I finished ER, took a couple months off, then I did Lie to Me for a couple of seasons. Then right after Lie to Me I just finished two films back to back. I just started now so not long.
Crave Online: I’ve always wondered, did Eminem write the lyric “There’s no movie, there’s no Mekhi Phifer” before he cast you or after?
Mekhi Phifer: After. Actually he was doing three things at once. He was shooting the movie, doing the soundtrack and doing his album at the same time. So he had his regular trailer and then he had a studio trailer. So while we were in the middle of shooting, he said, “Yo, man, I wrote this song. I put your name in it.” So between takes we just went in the studio, heard it. It wasn’t mixed or anything. I said, “Oh, that sh*t sounds dope.” Who knew it would win an Oscar?
Crave Online: It would be a better story if he needed the rhyme and then cast you in the movie?
Mekhi Phifer: [Laughs] Nah, that wasn’t how it went down.
Crave Online: You’re in movies, you’re in television, you’re even in songs. What else can Mekhi Phifer be part of?
Mekhi Phifer: I have a lot of different things that I’m doing, production companies and things like that. I have basically an online film festival. It’s almost like the Facebook of film. It’s called Thirdreel.com. It’s a great tool for the industry, people in the industry, people that get their films rejected at film festivals or even if they win film festivals. It helps you get distribution. It’s a tool for the industry, insiders and fans alike, to see product and material that they would never see anywhere else.
Crave Online: Do you show the films online?
Mekhi Phifer: Mm hmm.
Crave Online: Is it a limited time like at a film festival, or throughout the year?
Mekhi Phifer: It’s suped up film festival. It’s 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. It’s a great tool, a great tool for filmmakers and a great social network. We have films on there from Brazil, from France, from Africa, from Canada. People are able to talk, they’re able to see the equipment that was used, they’re able to see the budget, how many days it took to shoot.
Crave Online: Can you get it on smart phones and iPads?
Mekhi Phifer: Absolutely.
Crave Online: Once someone’s accepted, do they stay on the site forever?
Mekhi Phifer: Yup and it’s totally free. We don’t own the property. You own the property. This is just a way for you to showcase, for you to get work. It’s a place for actors to submit their reels. It’s a way for casting directors to find new talent. It’s way for industry insiders, agents, managers, executives to find talent, whether it be a DP, a director, a sound person, set decorator, wardrobe, hair, makeup, locations, whatever it is. So check it out. I think you’ll get a real kick out of it.
Crave Online: What movies did you finish?
Mekhi Phifer: I finished a movie called Flypaper that premiered at Sundance this year, but I was in London shooting this. It’s myself, Patrick Dempsey and Ashley Judd, really cool movie. Tim Blake Nelson action thriller bank heist movie. It’s like Inside Man meets Pulp Fiction. This crazy sh*t’s going on trying to rob this bank and all the things go haywire. Another one I finished, Close Quarters. It’s a suspense thriller, myself, Catherine Bell, we’re part of a marine team and one of our people in our team get killed. This whole thing unfolds and it’s revealed who the bad guy is.
Crave Online: You’ve been in some huge films. Do people know you more from film or television?
Mekhi Phifer: It depends. It just depends. It’s funny how people can recognize you. You would think okay, here’s this 60-year-old woman but she’s like, “Oh, I loved you in Paid in Full” or “I loved you in 8 Mile” or “I loved you on ER.” It just depends.
Crave Online: With all the zombie movies coming out now, do you feel like you started it in Dawn of the Dead?
Mekhi Phifer: Yeah, we revamped it, that’s right. I think ours is still the best. I just thought Dawn of the Dead was a really good movie. I thought Zack did a great job. I can’t wait to work with him again. I love him.