(Photo by Ethan Miller / Getty Images)
An actor of considerable range, Mekhi Phifer has turned in fine performances in hits like ER, Dawn of the Dead, 8 Mile, Soul Food, and Divergent. Starting on Apr. 5, he stars in the new sci-fi action film Pandemic. Phifer is also a completely charming guy who, after bonding with me about often mispronounced first names, enthusiastically talked about five of his favorite films (and then some). Do his favorites match with any of yours?
My Cousin Vinny. No doubt about it. Classic movie, never have seen Joe Pesci or Marisa Tomei better. Everybody was great. The writing was great. It just goes to show you how character-driven movies are always the best, for me. I love character-driven, well-written, great storytelling types of films and I think that My Cousin Vinny just hit the nail on the head with everything. It’s one of those movies that, if I’m flipping through the channels, no matter what part it’s on, I can watch it. It’s just one of my favorites.
Probably some people will go, “Huh?” But I love the film Wag the Dog with Robert De Niro, and Dustin Hoffman, and Anne Heche. It’s a really good movie — sort of political parody I think, that sort of played on what Clinton went through and how they have to sort of trouble shoot, and try to spin the story in order to get him, the president, re-elected and things like that. And even though it was a fictional story, to me it rang really true. And that’s another one that’s very character-driven. I loved every one of them, from Denis Leary to everyone, Willie Nelson… I just thought it was very well done.
Another one of my favorite movies in the whole world is A Soldier’s Story. It was originally a play but this one stars Denzel Washington and David Allen Grier and Howard E. Rollins. [It’s set] in World War II, it’s about the racial divide in the army, but it’s also about a murder mystery, but then it also dealt with the social class differences, and so that was another one that — [Norman] Jewison directed that; he really hit the nail on the head. Very well written, very well acted, another movie I could quote from top to bottom.
Number four I would have to say is the best one out of all of them: Aliens. That’s just one of those movies that I think was so well done. It was ahead of its time. [James Cameron] was just ahead of his time — it was so well written, so well acted. I loved the extended version of Aliens because it shows just a little bit more that you don’t see and what they always show on television. The drones shooting aliens, a lot of things like that, which I thought was great. I just thought Ripley was never better — I thought Sigourney Weaver was never better — than [when] she was in Aliens. Now Alien kinda had a slow start; you kinda had to get into it. These guys weren’t really prepared for [the] alien — some kind of breakdown with the crew, [that] kind of like reminded me of a play. But Aliens just kinda jumped in feet first man, and just went for it, absolutely. And by there being so many of the aliens it just heightened the danger that they all faced. You sat on the edge of your seat, you know, scared to death. So, I really love that movie.
This is hard — to choose five — because there are a few in this genre that I really like, so I don’t know which one to pick. This is sort of going to be [from] an underworld, mobster kind of [genre]. So it’s either The Godfather II, even though I like all The Godfathers — I even like Godfather III; it’s just a different type of movie. But it’s between Godfather II and then also, there’s a movie that I did, and it’s not just because I’m in it — I love it — but it’s a movie called Paid in Full which happened to be a true story about these three drug dealers in the eighties who really made it big, and all this downfall happens. So I would have to put a couple of those in the fifth category. I would say Paid in Full, Godfather II — when Michael [Al Pacino] really grabbed the reins — and Goodfellas. And Casino — I was going to pick two of them, but I’m not. I would say Casino to me — I hated how Sam Rothstein got manipulated by Sharon Stone’s character in Casino. I mean, I just hate how he gets manipulated; that just gets ridiculous to me. I know it’s historic, but I hated that. So those are the three that I would put in as my fifth, in the genre of the underworld.
The top of that list, I gotta go with Francis Coppola, Godfather II. Just for the epicness of it. And usually sometimes movies are long for no reason, but it was long for the right reasons, which is very rare. Usually, you’re like, “You could cut out twenty minutes of that,” but for me it was all story. To me, if I had to choose, I’d go with the classic Godfather II.
Pandemic is now open in limited release and also available on VOD and iTunes.