Lie to Me is set to debut its second season tonight, Monday September 28 at 9 PM ET on Fox and one of the familiar faces who will be back is Mekhi Phifer, who returns as FBI Agent Ben Reynolds, who will now be a member of the Lightman Group in Season 2. Phifer recently held a conference call about his role in the series, and here's what he had to say.
As the season goes on, are we going to find out a lot more about your character and get more into the personal side of things?
Mekhi Phifer: Yes, definitely, definitely. That's what Shawn Ryan and all of us want to really delve into this character and see what makes him tick.
I wanted to find out if you could tell us a little bit about how you first became involved in the series and maybe your audition process for the role of Ben Reynolds.
Mekhi Phifer: Right. Fortunately, they knew my work and loved my work in, I didn't have to audition. It was an offer to come and do the last two episodes of the first season and just see how it all worked out, and see how we gelled as a cast and it worked out great. So once hiatus came, I was officially then asked to join the cast.
I wanted to find out what were some of the challenges, acting-wise, you found maybe first stepping into the role, and how do you see your character grow and develop going into season two, would you say?
Mekhi Phifer: It's always hard, especially in the last two episodes I did for season one because the character's not scoped out yet at all. You kind of got to make it up as you go in the beginning, which is kind of like so everything is "walking on egg shells" as far as the character choices that you're making because those character choices affect the next episode and the episode after that. I just knew that I wanted to portray someone who could go in many different directions, so I tried to bring a three-dimensional side to it. In season two we have a little bit more clarity on the way we want things to go. You will get into his past as an FBI agent and even doing undercover work and how that undercover work affected him, and affected his personal life and the things that he's had to deal with. So we will definitely get into him a lot more this season.
I wanted to talk a little bit about your production company and, obviously you have a very long, fantastic career. How important is it, do you think, as an actor to kind of have a role behind the scenes as well as in front of the camera?
Mekhi Phifer: If that's what you want to do; nothing says that you have to do that. Do you know what I'm saying? I guess it's a personal preference. Me, personally, I like to be able to tell the stories that I want to tell and do the things that I want to do. It takes a little bit more work, but that's what the production side is. You're still going to have to sell somebody who's going to give you the money on the idea and everything like that. But it does give you a little bit more control if you're thinking in that creative process; it gives you more control to tell the story you want to tell rather than sort of just reading a script that somebody else wrote and says, "Yes, please, you can hire me for this job." So it's a little bit more hands-on, a little bit more closer to the heart.
Your character is kind of like the "cops and robbers" type and everyone else is more scientific. Talk about the push-pull between the characters - what the friction is like.
Mekhi Phifer: You know, Tim Roth's character and all the other guys at The Lightman Group, you're right - they are a bunch of scientists and they may want to do something that's kind of out of the limits of the law. I'm kind of the liaison between them and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. We do bump heads a lot because I don't understand, necessarily, at least right now - I'm starting to learn as the series goes on, as the season goes on - their methods of how much their methods do help solve cases. But I have my own method. I come from, I've interrogated people; I come from an undercover background, so it's hard to teach an old dog new tricks so we definitely butt heads, but ultimately we come together for the betterment of these cases.
In terms of your breadth of work, you seem to be drawn to dramas more than comedy. Is that correct?
Mekhi Phifer: Right.
And why would you think that is?
Mekhi Phifer: I can do comedy but it's a certain type. I'm not a physical comedy guy. I'm not Will Ferrell - there's just this crazy and get naked and run through the thing screaming. That's just not my style; my style is drama or - I'm not slapstick. It's just a different style for me. Even when I was on Curb Your Enthusiasm I wasn't this "over-the-top" crazy character. It was still kind of play it straight but it was funny because the situation was funny. That's kind of how I portrayed things and I like dramas; I like to be able to - because in dramas you can laugh and joke and still be serious, be real. I like the realism of them.
Shawn Ryan did such a great job on The Shield and it's such an edgy show; are we going to see some of that kind of lead in to Lie to Me? Is it going to be a little edgier and darker this year, do you think?
Mekhi Phifer: Yes, I think so. It's already kind of going there. The networks are different so they have a different approach. Obviously, with The Shield - that was on FX so they had a little bit more leeway as far as the dialogue was concerned and even the content and what they showed the viewers, which is a great thing. But we will push it to the limit as far as FOX will let us go; that's for damn sure.
I wanted to find out maybe if you could talk a little bit about what sticks out most in your mind about your first day on the Lie to Me set and maybe shooting your first episode?
Mekhi Phifer: The first day, in particular, is always one of those weird days because you get ..., you're thrown into this new trailer - here's your wardrobe. You haven't really been on the set at all and I was always watching the show. I TiVo'd the show from the beginning, so to walk on the set it was like, "Wow, this is what I've been watching on television" and you're meeting everybody for the first time. So you're meeting Tim; you don't know how Tim is. I never met Tim before even though I've always loved his work. You're meeting Kelli and Monica and Brendan so you just don't know. To come on and to see everybody welcome you with open arms and really be there for each other was definitely a breath of fresh air because after the feeling that I had on ER - we had a great camaraderie and that's more or less what I was concerned about more than anything else. It's a great group of people and we're having a lot of fun.
You are now on a show that has a multi-cultural cast just like ER did. Can you talk about the importance of having a multi-cultural cast and what that brings to television?
Mekhi Phifer: I just think it opens up the viewership a little bit, I think. The beauty of when you watch good television or films is that, yes, you may have a multi-cultural cast but those roles could be anybody - they could be white, they could be black. To show the world that we have more in common than we have different with each other is to me the ultimate goal of all of that. It does help unite in people's mind the thought that people are the same. Yes, there's going to be cultural differences, but for the most part, we are all in the same gang as human beings.
I wondered if the character of Ben Reynolds was written with you in mind?
Mekhi Phifer: Yes, I think so. I know that they wanted to introduce a character that would be someone who could match up and rival Tim Roth to ... on screen and what happened previously, as far as our Executive Producer, Shawn Ryan, would tell it, each week they would have to deal with law enforcement stuff and the guest stars that they would hire, Tim Roth just blew them off the screen. So they wanted someone who would go toe to toe with him, be strong, and be sort of a fixture that can be an on-site law man with a badge and a gun to deal with crisis situations right there without having to outsource or go out and find an agent that was willing to work with us.
You can watch Mekhi Phifer as FBI Agent Ben Reynolds when Lie to Me returns with its second season premiere on Monday, September 28 at 9 PM ET on Fox.