“Hey, c’mon, let’s drink some wine. Pop those bottles.”
That’s how comedian turned actor and international box office star Chris Tucker greets us at his Beverly Hills hotel room moments before we sit down to chat about his much-anticipated return to the big screen.
With his latest film based in Paris, Tucker comes bearing gifts: bottles of special-labeled “Rush Hour 3″ French red wine. Quite frankly, Tucker hopes to have plenty to celebrate after the latest sequel in the “Rush Hour” franchise hits theatres on Friday, August 10. (See movie critic Sage Woodruff’s review on B7)
The Decatur, Georgia native, who now calls LA’s San Fernando Valley home, clocked a whopping $25 million paycheck, plus he stands to earn 20 percent of the gross of the film – all for returning to his starring role of Detective James Carter in the highly successful buddy-cop series with martial arts main man Jackie Chan (Inspector Lee). This time the dynamic duo with their culture clashing yin/yang venture off to Paris to stop an international crime syndicate known as the Triads.
Tucker’s paycheck for the film rivals the paycheck for two-time Academy-Award winning actor Denzel Washington and other Hollywood heavyweights including Harrison Ford and Tom Hanks catapulting the comic into the highest paid actors club in Tinsel Town.
Was it really $25 million? “It was really 25 million,” confirmed Tucker. “I just came up with crazy numbers just to see if they’d do it. I said pay me 25-million and they did.”
As far as being part of the highest paid actors club, “I think it’s good. If you do good work and your movies make a good amount of money, they’ll pay you,” said Tucker whose breakout role came in Ice Cube’s “Friday.” “The most important thing to me is doing a good movie – that’s my reward when people say man, I enjoyed that movie. I want to go back and see it again.”
The “Rush Hour” series has generated quite a fan base. Rush Hour 1 and 2 raked in an impressive $590 million at the worldwide box office. The franchise was quickly deemed a blockbuster and Hollywood proclaimed Tucker as its next big star. His price tag per film skyrocketed from $3 million to $20 million. But then, the wise-cracking motor mouth detective and his Hong Kong friend disappeared from the big screen.
Tucker, 34, has no regrets about taking a six-year break from the movie business. While most Hollywood actors would cringe about not working for what seems like a lifetime, Tucker takes it all in stride. In fact, he thinks the six years went by too fast.
So what was he doing while we were waiting for “Rush Hour 3?” He says he was “chillin” and traveling around the world spreading goodwill and doing some “humanitarian work” with his new best friends like Oprah, Bono, Colin Powell and former President Bill Clinton.
“I fell in love with traveling and learning,” Tucker says. “I went to Africa and did a lot of humanitarian work out there and learned a lot and opened up my mind to the world. I found out it’s really not about making a whole bunch of money. There are people out there with no clean water because an animal died in the water supply and it cost $1500 for a new well for the village to have clean water. I visited orphanages in Ethiopia, tried to help young HIV/AIDS victims in South Africa and I wanted to shine a light on those issues. I care about those things and that became important to me so I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how I can be of use.”
While Tucker was traveling the world, “Rush Hour” producers were working on a script that would lure him back to the series. It wasn’t easy. “I won’t do a movie unless I gonna have some fun doing it and it really inspires me whether it is a comedy or drama, ” said Tucker. “I told them let’s find a great location. They mentioned Hawaii, I said what about Paris.? “To me (Detective) Carter’s character has to grow a little bit, give him a woman or something— these are all the things I was asking for,” Tucker tells the Los Angeles Sentinel.
Weeks later, the script arrived with scenes featuring Tucker and Chan hanging and swinging from Paris’ famed Eiffel Tower, beautiful French model Noemie Lenior was brought in as the resident femme fatale and shortly afterwards Tucker signed on and the film was in production.
“We were really hanging off the Eiffel Tower,” said Tucker. “I guess it’s good I’m not afraid of heights. Jackie (Chan) has a great team. Jackie talks about you if you don’t do your own stunts. Mocking his co-star’s accent, Chris Tucker get out here so I had to come out there and do it. It’s gets dangerous in Rush Hour sometimes.”
As only Hollywood can, producers were able to shutdown the French landmark for seven nights. “We had the Eiffel Tower to ourselves. We were playing with the lights turning them on and off just because we could,” he laughs. “Here we are at the most romantic place in the world and I’m up there with Jackie Chan. Almost fell in love with him. I said Jackie give me a kiss. He said, “What you talking about, ” jokes Tucker.
Another added benefit of filming in Paris was the wine. “We were filming and for lunchtime they gave us wine,” says a shocked Tucker. “I’m like what? Red or White. I’m like man I’m gonna get drunk They don’t do that in America – they know we may not show back up.”
From the opening dance scene with comedian Chris Tucker singing and dancing to Prince’s “Do Me Baby” in the middle of a busy downtown LA intersection, to the impressive high-flying fight scenes on the Eiffel Tower, Tucker and Chan deliver another hilarious, non-stop, exciting and action-packed movie.
“I’m still surprised why Rush Hour works,” says Chan. “There are so many buddy cop movies out there.” Tucker believes it’s the chemistry and the script that makes the series so successful. “The chemistry between us is great because Jackie has comedy through his martial arts and my comedy is verbal through my standup and it’s just a good mixture.”
The movie mirrors much of the real-life bonding of the two men. “When I first met Jackie in 1997, he didn’t know who I was. All he knew was Eddie Murphy – today we’re good friends for real,” says Tucker. “What makes the series so good is you see these characters grow from the first Rush Hour where Jackie was a fish out of water when he came to America. In the second, I was a fish out of water in Hong Kong and this Rush Hour where we’re both fishes out of water in France. We’re friends now, like brothers. You get to see them and the relationship grow and it’s real.”
As for signing on for “Rush Hour 4,” Tucker says the audience will decide if we do another one. “If the fans want it, I’d consider it.” But the former class clown says he won’t wait six years this time around for the next one. “No more waiting around, no more long time offs, I hope. I know I can do my humanitarian work and movies that way they’ll have a bigger impact.”
So what’s next for Tucker? “I’m getting ready to go on standup tour and film it.” In the vein of Eddie Murphy’s “Raw” and Richard Pryor’s “Live on Sunset Strip,” Tucker wants to film his own standup special. “Every comedian wants to do their own standup special and hopefully its something that will stand the test of time like Eddie Murphy and Richard Pryor. I grew up in that era where comedians did that and I just want to make a statement.”
Just in time for the elections, Tucker plans to bring to the big screen, “Mr. President” – a film about the first Black President. “It’ll be like Barack Obama in office, but of course it’ll be a comedy. I think it will be fun with me in the White House.”
For now, Tucker says he’s a simple guy living a great life who just happens to make $25 million a flick. He spends his free time with his eight-year old son and they enjoy going to and watching what else: movies.
“My son loves the Rush Hour films,” says Tucker. “We’ll go to the movies and the trailer for our film comes on and he says, “Chris Tucker is right here.” I say “I’m your daddy man, I’m not Chris Tucker.” “He loves it and that’s a great feeling.”
Now that’s something to celebrate.
Bottoms up Chris!