‘Insurgent’: Mekhi Phifer on Max’s leadership in ‘Divergent’ sequel

March 17, 2015 | 8:02 a.m.

Fans will be able to see the expansion of the “Divergent” world and its characters when “The Divergent Series: Insurgent,” the second film based on Veronica Roth’s popular dystopian YA series, opens in theaters on Friday.

Picking up where “Divergent” left off, “Insurgent” sees Tris (Shailene Woodley) and her allies on the run after interfering with a coup. On the hunt for these refugees are military leaders Max (Mekhi Phifer) and Eric (Jai Courtney).

Mekhi Phifer as the Dauntless leader Max in "The Divergent Series: Insurgent."

Mekhi Phifer as the Dauntless leader Max in “The Divergent Series: Insurgent.” (Andrew Cooper / Lionsgate)

Mekhi Phifer, whose resume includes such TV credits as “ER” and “Torchwood,” plays Max. Max represents an older generation of Dauntless (a societal faction based on bravery in the film’s dystopian world) compared to the younger Four (Theo James) and Eric, which is rare because of the physicality necessary to remain an active member of the faction.

Phifer spoke to Hero Complex on the phone to discuss “Insurgent” and the larger role Max plays in the film.

Hero Complex: How much more of Max can the audience expect to see in “Insurgent”?

Mekhi Phifer: In [“Divergent,”] you sort of saw Max giving a lot of orders and monologues and little speeches and things like that. In this one you’ll see him have more dialogue and interaction with some of the other characters, which was a lot more fun for me.

Mekhi Phifer as Max in a poster for "The Divergent Series: Insurgent." (Lionsgate)

Mekhi Phifer as Max in a poster for “The Divergent Series: Insurgent.” (Lionsgate)

HC: It’s not until the end of the first film that Max is revealed to be sort of a villain.

MP: You know, the way that I portray him, I don’t think that Max is fully a villain. I think that he really feels like what he’s doing is right. I think he really [believes in] being the leader of the Dauntless and being in control, almost like a general in an army. I don’t think that anything he is doing is out of maliciousness, whereas I think Eric’s character is more of a villain in more of a sense of his malicious antics. [Eric] gets more pleasure from other people’s pain. I really feel like Max is not really doing that. I think he just feels like he has a mission and his mission is to keep control of the society because that’s the only way, in his mind, that it will thrive. I think he really sees the divergents as a threat to society.

HC: Eric does seem to carry the mission to an extreme.

MP: Right, [Eric] carries it further than it needs to go. [He’s] just shooting people just to do it, and that’s not really part of the plan, even though Eric is kind of a necessary evil, because he has a lot of passion in his maliciousness.

HC: When you first signed on for “Divergent” were you aware of how much more of a role you would play in the second film?

MP: No, I didn’t know anything, and what’s interesting about it is that with something like this you never really know. When I did [“Divergent”] I didn’t see the next script so I didn’t know what was going to happen. You can only hope that you’ll get an opportunity to take the character somewhere where [you] finally … see his arc and you sort of get to delve into what makes him tick and who he is.

HC: You mention that Max has more scenes this time where he gets to interact with others, and you share a lot of scenes with Jai Courtney. How was working with the rest of the cast?

MP: Jai’s great. Working with everybody was great. Octavia [Spencer], Kate [Winslet], Theo [James] and Shailene, everybody is really good people. I’ve been having a blast working with them personally. In [“Divergent”] I didn’t really get to know anybody because I was kind of more isolated from everyone. I didn’t really interact with the other cast too much in the first one, so this was more of a breath of fresh air. More of what I’m used to as an actor.

HC: What initially drew you to the character Max, or to the “Divergent” series in general?

MP: I think he has a sort of a strength, a general strength. I just felt like he had the leadership strength – the leadership quality – where he’s a firm but fair kind of leader in my mind. [Also] I’ve never been a part of a film series so it was definitely something that I was looking forward to being a part of, this big-budget, futuristic dystopian society. I’ve never really done anything like that to this extent.

i d024 10238 r Insurgent: Mekhi Phifer on Maxs leadership in Divergent sequel

Tris (Shailene Woodley) and Four (Theo James) in "The Divergent Series: Insurgent." (Andrew Cooper / Lionsgate)

i d051 21792 r Insurgent: Mekhi Phifer on Maxs leadership in Divergent sequel

Jeanine (Kate Winslet) and Caleb (Ansel Elgort) in "The Divergent Series: Insurgent." (Andrew Cooper / Lionsgate)

i d008 02893 r Insurgent: Mekhi Phifer on Maxs leadership in Divergent sequel

Tris (Shailene Woodley), Four (Theo James), Caleb (Ansel Elgort) in "The Divergent Series: Insurgent." (Andrew Cooper / Lionsgate)

i d015 06838 r crop Insurgent: Mekhi Phifer on Maxs leadership in Divergent sequel

Jack Kang (Daniel Dae Kim), Four (Theo James) and Tris (Shailene Woodley) in "The Divergent Series: Insurgent." (Andrew Cooper / Lionsgate)

feature1 Insurgent: Mekhi Phifer on Maxs leadership in Divergent sequel

Tris (Shailene Woodley) and Four (Theo James) in "The Divergent Series: Insurgent." (Lionsgate)

HC: How was it returning to Max after a break? You have a lot of experience from television where you play a character for a long time continuously. Was it different to take a break and come back?

MP: It’s interesting. You would think it would be harder than it is, but I think you really just pick up where you left off and you go from there. It really is one of those things like riding a bike. You just jump right back on and keep pedaling. One thing I do love about television is that there is a consistency with portraying this character and seeing this character grow.

HC: You mentioned how this is your first big-budget sci-fi film, and although you are in some action scenes you don’t really participate in any combat scenes necessarily. Does that feel like a missed opportunity?

MP: No, no, no. [Just] look at our President Barack Obama. You don’t expect him to be jumping out of Black Hawks and going after enemies. He’s a task master. He’s a leader. This isn’t like “Braveheart” where everybody’s on the field battling, [or] like “300.” It’s a real portrayal of what his responsibilities would have to be as far as catching divergents, and the way that he does it is military, but it’s also political in its own right.

– Tracy Brown | @tracycbrown | @LATHeroComplex

RECENT AND RELATED

Shailene Woodley as Tris Prior in a poster for "Insurgent." (Summit)Shailene Woodley embraces being divergent

Kate Winslet shakes things up with a villainous turn

Winslet, Judd share thoughts on Shailene Woodley

‘Divergent’: Shailene Woodley in warrior mode

‘Divergent’: Maggie Q talks Tori, tough heroines

Ansel Elgort talks ‘Divergent,’ ‘Fault in Our Stars’

‘Divergent’ director: Tris’ tale is a hero myth

‘Divergent’: Ashley Judd talks Natalie Prior

‘Divergent’: Jai Courtney, Miles Teller on being bad

Comments


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Close
E-mail It
Powered by ShareThis