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Here's Why Max From Divergent Looks So Familiar

The Divergent film series was supposed to be the Pepsi to The Hunger Games' Coca-Cola, but in reality, it wound up being more like an RC Cola left out in the sun. The first film, 2014's Divergent, did relatively well at the box office, taking in $289 worldwide. But the two subsequent films, Insurgent and Allegiant, both underperformed. A fourth installment was planned, Ascendant, but the poor box office totals convinced Lionsgate to try it as a TV series instead in 2017 ... and by 2018, Buzzfeed confirmed that the TV series was no more. 

The Divergent series was based on a trilogy of young adult novels by Veronica Roth, set in a dystopian future where most people are divided into one of five factions based on their personalities. The films boasted a strong ensemble cast, made up of a core of young up-and-comers, and supplemented with a supporting cast of veteran actors like Octavia Spencer, Naomi Watts, Kate Winslet, Ashley Judd, Zoe Kravitz, and Mekhi Phifer. 

In all three films, Phifer played Max, the former leader of the Dauntless faction, which are defined by their strength. Younger fans of the Divergent series might not recognize him, but Phifer's had a long Hollywood career that has spanned over 20 years, and included almost 70 TV and film credits. Here are a few places you've probably seen him before.

Mekhi Phifer was Strike in Spike Lee's Clockers (1995)

Phifer's career is a self-made success story that's all too rare in Hollywood. He was born in 1974 in Harlem, to a single mother, and although he had showbusiness aspirations, he never took acting or music classes. Even so, his career got off to about the best possible start for a New York actor: His breakout role arrived when he auditioned for Spike Lee's Clockers, and beat out a thousand other hopefuls to land the lead role of Strike. 

Strike is a low-level drug dealer who's implicated in a murder but exonerated when his brother Victor, (Isaiah Washington) confesses. Then, an NYPD homicide detective (Harvey Keitel) tries to force Strike into a confession. The role required Phifer to square off against heavyweights like Keitel, Washington, John Turturro, Delroy Lindo, and Keith David — even though, at this point, Phifer himself still wasn't old enough to legally drink. To Phifer's credit, he more than held his own. 

Mekhi Phifer had a very busy 1995. That same year, the 20-year-old actor also became a partner in a talent management startup and recorded his own rap album. The Los Angeles Times described Phifer as being on "the fast track," and they were right. 

Mekhi Phifer played Eminem's best friend in 8 Mile (2002)

In the years following Clockers, Phifer worked steadily in TV and film, landing roles in films like Shaft and I Know What You Did Last Summer, as well as the lead in the teen drama film O. But his next critically acclaimed appearance was in Eminem's 2002 autobiographical drama, 8 Mile.

The film is a retelling of a week in a young Eminem's life when he was an aspiring Detroit rapper. Phifer played "Future," the best friend of Eminem's character, B-Rabbit. What made Phifer's role particularly challenging was the fact that Future was based on Eminem's real-life best friend, Detroit rapper Deshaun "Proof" Holton. When Proof was killed in 2006 at 32, Eminem would say that without Proof, there never would have been an Eminem or a Slim Shady (via ABC News).

Phifer had never heard of Eminem when he was offered the role, but the two quickly became friends, and their real-life chemistry brought authenticity to his performance. Phifer called the film "impactful" in an interview with Hollywood Life, and said he views 8 Mile as a modern classic. His performance netted him the Rising Star Award at the 6th American Black Film Festival that year.

Mekhi Phifer was a doctor on E.R. (2002-2008)

Phifer almost didn't accept the 8 Mile role, partially because he was about to appear as Dr. Greg Pratt on E.R. (via HipHopDX). It's a good thing he juggled both projects, because they would both become some of his most iconic roles.

Dr. Pratt wasn't Phifer's first TV role — he'd had a recurring part on Homicide: Life on the Streets in the nineties — but it was his first starring role. Phifer joined the cast during E.R.'s eighth season, replacing longtime cast member and fan-favorite Anthony Edwards. It's always tricky to be a late-season replacement on a hit TV series, but Phifer became a fan favorite in his own right. The character of Dr. Pratt started off as an arrogant internist, but he underwent a redemption arc that transformed him into one of County General Hospital's most dedicated doctors. 

Phifer would appear in 135 episodes from 2002 to 2008. His character was tragically killed off in an ambulance explosion for a cliffhanger between seasons 14 and 15.

Mekhi Phifer has a supporting role in Love, Victor (2020)

Fans of Phifer's work can check him out on his most recent project, the Hulu series Love, Victor. It's a spinoff of the 2018 movie Love, Simon, and follows a teen named Victor who explores his sexuality and comes to terms with the fact that he's gay. Phifer plays Harold Brooks, father of Mia, Victor's best friend whom Victor briefly tries to have a relationship with. 

The show premiered in June 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but it was a hit, particularly among the LGBTQ+ community. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Hulu ordered a second season in August 2020. If and when that happens, Phifer would likely be due for an expanded role" Season 1 left off with a cliffhanger that revealed Harold's girlfriend Veronica is pregnant. Phifer told Distractify that he is looking forward to season 2 and seeing where the story goes. When the season starts filming, though, Phifer will have to juggle that job with his role on the upcoming second season of the Apple + series Truth Be Told