Although he had almost no prior acting experience, Mekhi Phifer made a highly auspicious screen debut as Strike, a 19-year-old petty drug dealer in Spike Lee's gritty urban drama Clockers (1995). A veteran of the Harlem streets, Phifer got his break when he attended an open casting call with only photo booth pictures of himself to give to interviewers. Displaying a rare charisma and intensity that was perfect for the role of Lee's ambitious protagonist, the novice actor beat the considerable odds against him and out-acted nearly 1,000 other applicants for the part.
Following the success surrounding his Clockers debut, Phifer appeared in The Tuskegee Airmen, a powerful drama starring Laurence Fishburne that first aired on the HBO cable network. In 1997, Phifer made another strong impression playing the volatile but good-hearted Lem in George Tillman Jr.'s comedy drama Soul Food. The following year, he took part in the rage of teen horror films as one of the stars of I Still Know What You Did Last Summer and further established himself as one of Hollywood's more photogenic up-and-comers by starring alongside Julia Stiles and Josh Hartnett in O (2000), a loose adaptation of Shakespeare's Othello that saw Phifer as a high-school basketball star betrayed by his jealous best friend.
Though a well-known performer, Phifer didn't have a bona fide hit until 2002 when he played Future alongside hip-hop star Eminem in the urban drama 8 Mile. That same year, Phifer found success on the small screen as well, joining the cast of NBC's long-running hit medical series ER. Phifer played the role of Dr. Greg Pratt for six seasons before exiting the show at the beginning of season 15 in 2008. Phifer continued to stick with television work after leaving the series, first joining the cast of Fox's crime-drama Lie to Me as an FBI agent, and then playing a CIA agent on the fourth season of the BBC's Torchwood.