Chris Tucker

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PostPosted: Tue Aug 14, 2007 7:12 pm    Post subject: Chris Tucker Reply with quote

Chris Tucker is the man of the 'Hour'

Los Angeles Times
August 13, 2007

You can hear the weariness in his voice, but also sense his steely resolve, as comedian Chris Tucker tries to separate himself from the character with whom he's most closely identified -- James Carter, the wisecracking, helium-voiced LAPD detective who bounces off martial arts wiz Jackie Chan in the "Rush Hour" movies.

"I'm definitely ready to move on," Tucker says over lunch at the Polo Lounge in Beverly Hills. "When I did the first movie in '98, that was basically where I was as a comedian: the James Carter character... . He was the perfect vehicle for my comedy. But I definitely want to do something different next and show a different side of me that people haven't seen. When I did the first movie, I thought that was it. I just wanted to do a good job." But "Rush Hour" ignited a blockbuster franchise for New Line Cinema, turning Tucker into a $20-million-a-picture man and landing him in Hollywood's stratosphere with top earners Tom Cruise, Will Smith and Tom Hanks. There were predictions he'd be the next Eddie Murphy.

A certain momentum builds when your movies bring in more than a half-billion dollars worldwide. Distancing yourself isn't the usual response. But instead of parlaying his popularity into a crush of new projects, the tall, lean stand-up with the motor-mouth delivery largely dropped from sight after the second movie hit six years ago. Now, with the release of "Rush Hour 3," for which he's earning $25 million, he's mapping his steps toward something new -- and facing questions about whether fans will follow as he trades his James Carter persona for other roles, some of which have nothing to do with entertainment.

He was reluctant to do "Rush Hour 3," Tucker said, "because they wanted me to sign on without a script. I'm not going to sign on to a movie without something because I know if I don't see a script and put my input into it, that can be dangerous." As for whether the self-imposed hiatus between his last two films hurt his chances to follow Murphy's path, Tucker says he couldn't care less.

"I don't want to be a carbon copy of anybody... . Eddie Murphy is great because he's Eddie Murphy. Richard Pryor is great because he was Richard Pryor. My journey is different. I'm different from Eddie Murphy. He definitely inspired me, but I didn't want to become him because I knew I couldn't become him. I knew I could only become Chris Tucker."

Battling poverty in Africa

This meant using his newfound fame and fortune to set up the Chris Tucker Foundation, to fight poverty in the United States and in Africa. He traveled to Africa in 2001 to do "Rush Hour" publicity, and the next year, MTV sent him back -- this time with U2 singer Bono and then-Treasury Secretary Paul H. O'Neill -- for a documentary to see how U.S. money would help African countries plagued with AIDS, unsanitary living conditions and hunger. Along the way, he met with kings and presidents from sub-Saharan Africa to the Middle East.

The visits were life-changing, said Tucker's sister Tammye Stocks, who administers his foundation, based in the Atlanta suburb of Stockbridge. Seeing people without access to clean water and medicine, "He didn't believe it," she said. "He said, 'They don't really have anything over there.' I'm thinking when he went there and saw people dying and not having anything and not having parents, that really made him want to help out... . For Chris to see kids in Africa lacking the basic necessities really got to him." "I was in Africa long before Oprah opened up a school," Tucker said. "A lot of people didn't know about what I was doing because I didn't publicize the stuff."

His charity, which has been operating for about 21/2 years, benefits Boys and Girls Clubs in Atlanta, but his longer-term hope is to provide clean water to villages in Ghana and to fund projects that help fight AIDS in Africa. If Tucker's career languished during that time, it doesn't bother him, the actor said. "A lot of came my way and nothing sparked my interest. So I continued to travel." He questions the imperative to pile on projects after a hit. "Most people do that because they feel they have to strike while the iron is hot. I wasn't even focused on that. I felt I'm not going to do that unless it's right... . I think I was looking for something fulfilling."

Tucker's roots are modest. His father's cleaning business in Decatur, Ga., offered the family -- Chris Tucker is the youngest of six -- a middle-class lifestyle. Had he not become a comedian, Tucker said, "I probably would have gotten into the cleaning business and parlayed that into something else." He is unmarried, and shares custody of his young son, who lives in Tarzana, in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles.

His interest in comedy was sparked when he hosted a high school talent show in Georgia. He recalls how, during gym class, while students were seated in the bleachers, he would get up and begin mimicking the sing-song style of preachers. (He grew up going to a Pentecostal church every Sunday.) He would tell the teachers in the gym to stand up and then he'd call out: "That's what I'm talking about! The devil is coming in here through the teachers! Lucifer don't care who he destroys! He's coming!"

His big break came on "Russell Simmons' Def Comedy All-Star Jam" in 1992 on HBO. Soon, he was getting small parts in films, including his first feature role, as Johnny Booze in 1994's "House Party 3." There was talk of casting Wesley Snipes or Martin Lawrence in "Rush Hour," but Tucker believes he got the part because "the studio knew my fan base, knew I was fresh and new and coming up and a lot of people were pushing from different angles."

Today, Tucker minimizes the behind-the-scenes negotiations after the success of "Rush Hour" that made him rich beyond his wildest dreams. "You know, it was the movie," he said. "I couldn't have got it if the movie hadn't been accepted. It did good in the States and around the world. I said, 'You know what? These guys are making the same amount of money [with their movies],' I thought it was only fair [that I did, too]."

Bill Mechanic, the former 20th Century Fox studio chief who is now a producer, said it wasn't shocking that Tucker parlayed "Rush Hour" into a $45-million deal for "Rush Hour" sequels. Mechanic noted that comedians such as Will Ferrell, Ben Stiller and Adam Sandler all command top dollar. Still, Mechanic said, "I don't think anybody hiring him for a movie now would give him that level because he's been out of the public eye." Already, though, there is talk of doing "Rush Hour 4." Tucker doesn't seem to be clearing his calendar, though Arthur Sarkissian, a "Rush Hour" producer, says it would be unreasonable to let much time elapse before a new sequel.

Tucker's current plans are to take his stand-up act on the road this fall and to make a film in the vein of Murphy's "Raw." Tucker said he also has a script in development about America's first black president, a film that he would star in and produce. While he's dead set on returning to acting full time, Tucker said that Africa isn't far from his mind. He recalls, for instance, the time he met Nelson Mandela of South Africa. "He was coming in the room saying, 'My grandkids want to meet Chris Tucker.' I'm going, 'Huh? I want to meet him.' So, I went up to him and said, 'I'm Chris Tucker.' I got a picture of me sitting between Bill Clinton and Mandela. It's just like Forrest Gump, man. My life has been like Forrest Gump. Just crazy stuff."

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