Mekhi Phifer plays Dauntless leader Max in "Divergent." Credit: Summit
Mekhi Phifer likes to think he has some things in common with his "Divergent" character, Max. In the movie (out March 21), Max is a leader of the most fearless people in society, one of the bravest in already too-brave faction. "I survived the street of Harlem," Phifer jokes to us when talking about being fearless in real life. "I think there's a certain sense of bravery and action-oriented spirit that I have and crave."
But when asked who the bravest person on set was, he points not to himself, but to co-star Maggie Q. "She studied under Jackie Chan and his team of people. You have to be pretty fearless to do the things those stunt people do, running up walls and fighting," he says. "But after Maggie Q, I would have to say Shailene Woodley for all the things she had to do in this film. I give her a lot of credit," he says.
The movie is set in post-apocalyptic Chicago, in a world divided into five factions based upon a supreme virtue: honesty, intelligence, selflessness, peace or bravery, which is of course the faction Phifer's character is from. Every member of society must choose a faction when they are 16 years old, and those who don't fit in anywhere are "divergent" and deemed a threat to society.
"I think it touches on real life," Phifer tells us. "The government is getting more and more Big Brotherish, looking over a lot of shoulders. You can't go anywhere without a camera catching you. ... I think with any post-apocalyptic, post-war film, there's always a touch of truism that this could possibly be the future."
Phifer's role is limited in this first installment in the trilogy, but he plays a much bigger part in the second movie, "Insurgent." He explains that this first movie is more about introducing and developing his character, for which he chose to focus solely on the script and not the book the movie is based on, written by Veronica Roth. "I definitely want to read the books [later], but I didn't want to be jaded by anything," he says.
While shooting for the second movie is a long way off, Phifer describes the vibe on set as every actor's dream. "You never know what you're going to get when you walk onto a set, but everyone was so happy and excited to be there. The cast gelled together really well and was so funny and fun. ... I look forward to doing it again!"