Making the transition from actor to director seems easy, but in reality, its something that very few excel at. Seasoned vet Mehki Phifer ("Paid In Full", "Clockers", "ER") is taking his first stab at acting with his buddy flick "Puff Puff Pass": a story about two guys down on their luck, who are just trying to get their tiny classified ads business off the ground and find a place to watch "The Shank" ("The Shawshank Redemption").
We caught up with the Harlem, New York native and discussed his new film, his new company, and how he maintains his cool balancing both sides of the film industry.
MEN'S FITNESS: What originally made you want to dip your toe into directing? Is it something you've always wanted to pursue?
MEKHI PHIFER: Yea, definitely. I think it's a natural progression; I've been in the [entertainment] industry for a number of years and I want to accomplish a number of things. This directorial debut, [was done partly] for creative purposes and to be [within] in that realm. But as far as business is concerned, it's a catalyst for the beginning of our company. We wanted to brand our name and establish ourselves as moviemakers.
MF: You've been in critically acclaimed dramas like "Paid In Full", why a stoner movie as your directorial debut?
MP: I know [the movie] is sort of marketed that way, but its really not a "Half Baked" or "Cheech & Chong" kind of film. These two guys [in the film] happen to smoke weed, but it's really not about that. They're not on a weed mission; they don't even refer to weed in the script. These guys [smoke weed], but its really more about their bad choices.
MF: Are you afraid of any stigmas that might be attached to making this sort of film? If it becomes wildly successful, people might want another and you might become known as the "director of the weed movies"?
MP: Like I said, they DO smoke weed, but it's not your typical stoner movie. I don't think that it's going to mislead [people] at all. I think the name was catchy and it will attract people to the video store and check out how elaborate our cast is and just enjoy it. Everybody in the film [including Danny Masterson, "That 70's Show" and Darrell Hammond, "SNL] has been critically acclaimed for what they do.
MF: I'm sure that there have been many times where you had projects overlapping with each other. How did you maintain your focus when you're overrun with work?
MP: Just staying focused, loving what I do, and taking it seriously. Like the scene [in 'Paid In Full'] where I'm in the car talking about my little brother and I'm crying: that wasn't in the script, but I felt it needed it. And that helped transcend it from being another typical hood film.
MF: What are a few things that are essential, both mentally and physically, in being a prolific actor in today's media industry?
MP: Well, you have to know what's going on and what the people want. You don't necessarily have to follow trends; in my case I like to SET them. Also, talking with the right people and surrounding yourself with people who are of like minds. Its also important to stay serious about this business and not just try to do it for the fame. So, you know, just maintaining that focus.
MF: What's next for your company?
MP: Oh, man. Basically, we're in pre-production for about five different projects, action films, all kinds of reality stuff; we're in the mix.
"Puff Puff Pass" is being released directly to DVD and available May 9th.