Just barely north of 30 years old but with almost two dozen film credits already under his belt, "8 Mile" co-star Mekhi Phifer has earned a reputation as a veteran actor. Building on that Hollywood clout, the charismatic star now hopes a pair of projects will enter him into the rarefied ranks of black auteurs such as Spike Lee and John Singleton.
"It's called 'Easier, Softer Way,' " Phifer reported of his recently wrapped directorial debut. "It's a comedy starring Danny Masterson, Ronnie Warner, John C. McGinley. I have a small part in it."
The film, about two stoners who take on a tough guy named Mr. Big, has offered Phifer the opportunity to take all he's learned on set over the years and make it his own. "I've done over 20 movies, and I'm on the ['E.R.'] set every day. I'm around. ... I've just sort of applied [an actor's knowledge], it's nothing really hard about it. I think it's challenging in its own ways, just trying to make the best movie possible."
It is Phifer's second project, however, that is creating a uniquely powerful buzz around the movie industry. With plans to direct and star in a "Ray"-like biopic on the life of R&B singer Al Green, Phifer could become the next actor to reap the awards-season benefits bestowed upon Jamie Foxx and (if the buzz holds up) Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash in "Walk the Line."
"I'm putting that together, I'm very excited about it," Phifer enthused. "I've already met with Al Green — shout-out to Al Green, much love to him. I've always been an avid, avid fan of Al Green, his music, his legacy, and just really wanted to portray it to the world."
As Phifer puts together a script expected to include Green's '70s heyday, his religion-fueled decision to turn his back on the business, and a subsequent compromise to blend gospel music with his R&B trademark tones, the 58-year-old singer has been working closely with the star who will portray him.
"[Green] has full confidence, and he's like, 'Just do me right,' " Phifer beamed. "We're just creating the story that we're going to show to the public, because it's so much, and obviously he's still alive. So it's just finding the right story that has the most impact."
Unlike Foxx and Phoenix, however, Phifer will not be performing classic Green songs such as "Let's Stay Together" and "Tired of Being Alone" with his own voice. "Think of me as Angela Bassett in 'What's Love Got to Do With It,' " he revealed. "I'll be lip-synching; I'll be acting like I sing."
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