From Clockers to County General, actor Mekhi Phifer has seen his star rise over the past few years, appearing opposite Eminem in 8 Mile (and even getting a shout-out in the rapper’s hit “Lose Yourself”) and joining the cast of NBC’s Emmy-winning ER, where the New York-born actor plays the cocky Dr. Gregory Pratt.
In real life, Phifer, 28, plays proud papa to 3-year-old son Omikaye. The actor recently talked to PEOPLE about real-life medical professionals, plastic surgery – and that “funny smell” in hospitals.
What do you think of doctors?
Some of them can get a God complex, but they save lives so most of them are amazing and they can help you and save you. Doctors are great.
Do you see a doctor regularly?
Well, I see a doctor all the time, because every time you do a different project, you have to see a doctor. Yeah, I go to the doctor.
So you’re not one of those guys who won’t go unless there’s a bone poking through your skin?
No, I am one of those cats. If I don’t have to, I’m not going.
How do you feel when you’re in a real hospital?
I don’t really like hospitals that much. People are sick, sometimes it can be depressing. There’s people going through a lot of pain in there. It has that funny smell.
How have your feelings about hospitals changed now that you work on a hospital set all the time?
Well, you know, I’ve never been on the other side of the desk being a doctor, so I do see that they have a huge workload and a lot going on. You gotta be on point. You just gotta know stuff off the top of your head and diagnose people, things of that nature, so it definitely gave me a newfound respect.
Did you ever want to be a doctor when you were a kid?
No, that really wasn’t my thing. I wasn’t really trying to be a doctor.
What did you want to do?
I wanted to do a lot of things. I wanted to be an entrepreneur, a businessman, I wanted to do electrical engineering. A number of things.
Did your mom ever want you to be a doctor?
No, my mom’s a teacher, so she just pushed me to be who I want to be, be creative in any way, shape or form. Do what my passion lies.
So, you’re not pushing your son to become a doctor when he grows up, either?
Aw, hell no. I’m not a doctor, why would I push that on him?
How do you respond to bleeding in real life?
It depends on what it is, and what’s going on, you know? If it’s my son or something, I’m going to try and jump in there and save the day. If it’s a complete stranger, I don’t really know you like that. I don’t know what’s up with your blood and all. I mean, if it’s a kid, that’s different. But for the most part, I have to be in a more sanitary situation for me to get involved with blood.
But you’d definitely call 911 for somebody.
Oh yeah, I wouldn’t leave you bleeding on the side of the road and go in the club. I’m going to definitely call somebody for you.
Do doctors ever come up to you in airports?
Yeah, they do. I always ask them, “Is it authentic?” And they say yeah. We have doctors on the set every day who are technical advisers. They make sure we’re saying the words right and doing the procedures right. The doctors we meet, they appreciate that we represent them in a positive, true light.
What do you think about plastic surgery?
As far as myself, hopefully I would never get into a crash … where I would need it. I’m thinking if you need it, you need it. But say it was Michael Jackson. I can’t debate with that man.
If a girlfriend wants breast augmentation or Botox, is that okay with you?
A woman I’m with would be beautiful anyway, so I would definitely not advise that at all. I want them to be natural. If we have kids, I want them to be able to breast feed and feel good. If you get the boob jobs, you gotta go in every five to 10 years to get them redone. There are certain health issues to that. The average person, though, do what you gotta do.