Mekhi Phifer Interview: ‘Frequency,’ Time Travel and His Character

Frequency stars Mekhi Phifer and Riley Smith
Mekhi Phifer as Satch and Riley Smith as Frank in ‘Frequency’ (Photo: Bettina Strauss © 2016 The CW Network)

The CW’s set to debut the dramatic series Frequency, inspired by the movie of the same name, on October 5, 2016 at 9pm ET/PT. Frequency isn’t the only new series with time travel elements, however Mekhi Phifer says what sets this one apart is the fact the time travel is just the backdrop to a character-driven story. Phifer and his co-stars Peyton List and Riley Smith were promoting the new series at the 2016 San Diego Comic Con, participating in a Q&A with Con attendees as well as sitting down for roundtable interviews to further discuss the series from executive producers Jeremy Carver (Supernatural), Toby Emmerich (The Notebook), John Rickard (Horrible Bosses), Dan Lin (The LEGO Movie) and Jennifer Gwartz (Veronica Mars). Phifer talked to us about the time travel aspect and more during our interview in July.

Mekhi Phifer Interview:

Mekhi, are you just doing a cop drama because the time travel doesn’t really affect your character?

Mekhi Phifer: “No. It does in the sense that it affects the people I really, really care about. Riley’s character, Frank, being my best friend and me sort of being the fun uncle but when he passes away becoming more of a mentor and a surrogate father in essence for Raimy, Peyton’s character. So, the drama that they’re going through whether he’s alive in my reality or he’s dead is very much affecting me because it affects these people and their attitudes. I don’t know yet what could be going on but at some point it’s going to be like, ‘How come you guys are always at the right place at the right time for some odd reason? How is that possible?’ It will start to raise those sort of questions. Even though I’m going about my own normal life in essence, I am being affected – and I will be affected by – their talking to each other.”

Is it hard to keep track between the past and the present and what your character knows and doesn’t know?

Mekhi Phifer: “Not yet. As far as me as an actor, that’s an interesting thing. Reading the scripts is very much a highlighting experience because you have to really literal highlight, ‘Okay, so this is ’96. I know this then and then this happens so now I don’t know that.’ And then bouncing back to 2016…so it’s a little bit tricky. But that’s what I love about acting and doing a multitude of different projects. There’s always something new around the bend. I get to sort of explore and do things that I haven’t done before. It does help to have that mindset because, yes, it is very intricate for me. But when you see it as an audience, it’s not confusing. But it’s about us putting in the work and making sure that everything lines up in the right way so that as an audience you’re not going, ‘Oh, come on! Last episode they said this. This doesn’t make sense.’ So it’s really an effort between the writers and us to make it authentic, as much as time travel can be. It’s an interesting process.”

Brad Anderson directed your pilot and he has done a lot of horror and thrillers. What is he like as a director?

Mekhi Phifer: “Brad’s a great director. He really has a great way of one, communicating with the actors, but he also has a great way of telling the story. I think that there’s a lot of directors who can just shoot something, but there’s not so many that can tell a good story. I think that he was able to tell the story and then add a certain element of the suspense. When I saw the pilot I was very impressed with the way that he shot it, the way that he edited it. I really felt like it was a suspense element. Not just because I’m in it but I really wanted to see what happens next when it’s over. ‘Okay, now where do they go with this?’ So he did a great job of setting the tone I think. Hopefully he’ll do more episodes throughout the season.”

There are multiple time travel shows this season. Is time travel the new vampires? How do you explain the trend?

Mekhi Phifer: “Well the thing about ours I think which is different than the basic genre of time travel… I think that time travel or the ham radio aspect is really sort of a backdrop or foundation from which the stories are being told. It’s really a character-driven piece. There’s a lot of emotion with a lot of real world – if there was a real world of butterfly effects. It’s not like we’re getting in a time machine and then all of a sudden we’re running from dinosaurs or anything like that. I just think that it’s a great anomaly that happens that lends itself to a great mystery, a great detective drama, a suspense mystery. There’s a sort of multi-genre thing about it.

I think it’s a creative way to almost have never ending stories. I think you can go to so many different places with this sort of thing, especially with ours. I haven’t seen the others but with ours, one change of something in the present or one change of something in the past really affects when you come back to the present. I get asked a lot, ‘If you could change one thing in the past…’ it’s really hard to answer that because then it would affect something else and I may not be here and I’m very happy to be here. So, yeah, I think that’s part of the trend that people get really psyched about, if it’s done well.”

Watch the full Mekhi Phifer interview: