I don’t play a good guy or a bad guy. I play a human that makes a choice.
Paid in Full will turn 17 this year and the Harlem crime drama is still considered to be a cult classic. Till this day, people use the film as a point of reference when discussing the authenticity of black mafia/crime ascetics in films.
The Shadow League caught up with actor Mekhi Phifer during the third annual Lexus 0 to 60 competition in Monterey, CA to talk about his iconic role, the new age of black cinema, and the art of humanizing villains.
Paid in Full tells the story of Ace (Wood Harris) a young man employed at a Harlem dry cleaning shop, working hard to stay out of the drug business. While making deliveries, Ace meets a drug dealer who convinces Ace to join him. Ace recruits his friends Mitch (Phifer) and Rico (Cam’ron) as the trio become major players in the Harlem drug underworld. The drug games test the friends’ loyalty and wits as the money stacks taller and the danger grows beyond their control.
Stuck in a nowhere job, Ace (Wood Harris) is a restless teenager who envies the expensive cars, flashy clothes and high-rolling lifestyle of his drug-dealing friends. Then when he sees his chance, Ace makes the move that suddenly changes his life.
Reflecting on the current surplus of new black media, and Paid In Full’s impact, Phifer spoke on the diverse stories that black actors tell and what’s required to humanize your subject.
“We have a whole bunch of stories to tell. People are just starting to recognize that people of color have an array of stories that can be told that are interesting. Paid in Full, what I loved about it is that we humanized but didn’t advocate the drug game or drug dealers. They had feelings—things like that. When making choices, you can agree with them or disagree, but they’re human regardless.”
Phifer added on “I don’t play a good guy or bad guy per se. I play a human that makes a choice. The audience makes a choice in what resonates with them. And in my opinion, that’s what makes for a better cinema experience”.
He also spoke on where does O-Dog from the Hughes brothers’ Menace to Society rank as one of the greatest and scariest black villains from 90s black cinema.
However, don’t expect a Paid In Full reboot anytime soon. Phifer is not sure which one of the current members of young black Hollywood could play the role of money making Mitch.
“Man, I don’t know. Money Makin’ Mitch? That’s tough.”
Lexus 0 to 60 will air its 3rd season on Cassius in April 2019.