Although he had almost no prior acting experience, Mekhi Phifer made a highly auspicious screen debut as Strike, a 19-year-old petty drug dealer in Spike Lee's gritty urban drama Clockers (1995). A veteran of the Harlem streets, Phifer got his break when he attended an open casting call with only photo booth pictures of himself to give to interviewers. Displaying a rare charisma and intensity that was perfect for the role of Lee's ambitious protagonist, the novice actor beat the considerable odds against him and out-acted nearly 1,000 other applicants for the part. Following the success surrounding his Clockers debut, Phifer appeared in The Tuskegee Airmen, a powerful drama starring Laurence Fishburne that first aired on the HBO cable network. In 1997, Phifer made another strong impression playing the volatile but good-hearted Lem in George Tillman Jr.'s comedy drama Soul Food. The following year, he took part in the rage of teen horror films as one of the stars of I Still Know What You Did Last Summer and further established himself as one of Hollywood's more photogenic up-and-comers by starring alongside Julia Stiles and Josh Hartnett in O (2000), a loose adaptation of Shakespeare's Othello that saw Phifer as a high-school basketball star betrayed by his jealous best friend. Though a well-known performer, Phifer didn't have a bona fide hit until 2002 when he played Future alongside hip-hop star Eminem in the urban drama 8 Mile. That same year, Phifer found success on the small screen as well, joining the cast of NBC's long-running hit medical series ER.