In his 22 years in Hollywood, Mekhi Phifer has achieved something even rarer than winning an Oscar. He’s a lyric in an Eminem song. Since he co-starred in 8 Mile, Eminem wrote, “It’s no movie, there’s no Mekhi Phifer,” in his song “Lose Yourself.” Now Mekhi Phifer is back on television in The CW’s Frequency, based on the 2000 movie.
Phifer plays Satch DeLeon, a cop who spans 20 years on the show. In 1996, he’s a detective on the force with Frank Sullivan (Riley Smith). In 2016, Satch is Frank’s daughter, Raimy Sullivan (Peyton List)’s lieutenant. He doesn’t know that Raimy can use a radio to talk to her father in the past and change history. We interviewed Phifer at a CW party before their presentation to the Television Critics Association. Frequency airs Wednesdays on The CW.
I know it’s no movie, there’s no Mekhi Phifer. It’s a TV show and there is Mekhi Phifer.
That’s right, you better believe it. Yeah, man. I’m happy to be here, having a great time. I’ve been doing this for 22 years. It’s nice to always have been able to remain consistent. I’m very thankful for that and to work on shows that I can be proud of, and films. This is definitely one of them.
I quoted the Eminem song at you. Do people say that a lot?
I hear it all the time, all the time.
As far as you’re concerned, are you doing a police drama because your character isn’t involved in the time travel?
No, but I’m affected by the time travel. The time travel is not so much like getting in a time machine and traveling as it is them communicating. So I’m very much affected by them talking to each other, but I just don’t know it yet. As of right now, I’m still in the dark that they’re talking to each other in the past and present.
In the pilot they establish that the Nightingale Killer lived because they changed the past, so how does the Nightingale Killer case proceed?
Well, your guess is as good as mine. They just gave us episode four and it’s still ongoing so that’s the serial aspect of our show. We’ll just have to see where it goes but I know I love reading the scripts because the writers really keep us on our toes.
Are there also new cases every week?
Yeah, new cases, there’s other things that we deal with. I know Raimy and I deal with some stuff and I know that myself and Riley deal with some other stuff as well. So it’s not just the Nightingale. There’s other things but the Nightingale is sort of our subplot throughout.
What are some other cases you have in the first four episodes?
In the first two, I can’t give too many spoilers, but the first couple are really just establishing the characters, establishing what’s going on and establishing how to save her mom from the Nightingale. As it goes on, other things start to happen.
Is it always a murder or are there different sorts of crimes?
It’s hard for me to say. Like I said, we’re only on episode three so as things come up, that’s probably a better question for the writers and their show bible.
Do you know Satch’s history on the force, how he became an officer and rose up to lieutenant?
Yes, and that’s going to be explored as well. We haven’t gotten there yet but the guy’s been on the force for 20 years. There’s probably going to be some secrets and some kind of shady dealings or something that’s happened in the past that could blemish his illustrious career.
How does it feel to see your older self in the present day?
My older version is like 52 so they put a prosthetic on and crow’s feet and salt and pepper my hair. I go from 32 to 52. It’s great. I’m getting paid to play. It’s a lot of fun to do it, to see the makeup and everything.
Had you ever played an aged up role before?
No, never done it so like I said before, that’s why it’s one of the things that’s always great to have a fresh take on things and do something fresh.
Is it an interesting dual role to play both timelines?
Absolutely. It’s not something that I’ve ever done before so it is nice to explore that as an actor and to do something that I’ve never done.
Have there been any mind benders so far dealing with the dual times?
I don’t know about mind benders, but it takes a little bit of extra care and thought when it comes to playing the character because as they change the past it changes the future. So just being mindful of the timeline of what’s the actual reality.
How did you approach carrying yourself differently and feeling older?
Just having a little bit more wisdom behind the eyes, moving a little bit more slowly, a little bit more deliberate in my movements, things like that.
What is Satch’s relationship with Frank in the past?
Frank is my best friend. Our families are like family. My wife and his wife are friends so we’re like family. Somehow we came up in the force together and we’re both detectives.
Are there different cases in the past than in the present?
Did he work different cases as a detective than as a lieutenant?
Yeah, I’m quite sure. As a lieutenant, he’s in his 50s so he’s not going to be necessarily out on the street tackling bad guys like he’s on the vice squad or something. There’s definitely a maturity that happens and an ease into the job so he’s not ripping and running so much as his older self, but still very much involved.
Did Satch support Raimy going into the force?
Yeah, I think so. I think so. In the version where Frank dies, I become sort of her surrogate father, her mentor. So as she’s coming through the ranks to become a police officer, I was definitely there to give her advice and to mentor her into doing what she’s doing.