This weekend, Chris Tucker has a new movie coming out. And for the first time since 1997, it doesn’t have the words “rush” or “hour” in the title. It’s also his first movie in five years. Not that Tucker is complaining. As the actor explained, he was just being patient, searching for roles that didn’t have him playing the same fast-talking characters audiences know him for (see: Smokey in “Friday” and Ruby Rhod in “The Fifth Element”).
Lo and behold, Tucker seems to have finally found a different part in “The Silver Linings Playbook.” Here, he plays Danny, a patient at a mental institution who becomes a friend and mentor to Pat (Bradley Cooper), a man attempting to get his life back on track after he catches his wife having an affair. Although the role is small, Tucker appears to have gotten what he was looking for in both Danny and director David O. Russell: a character with depth and a filmmaker who sees the actor as more than just the funny stoner from “Friday.”
In addition to his new role, Tucker also spoke about returning to stand-up comedy, turning down another “Friday” movie, his memorable character in “The Fifth Element” and how Michael Clarke Duncan saved his life while they were filming the music video for “California Love” (true story).
So, where have you been?!
[Laughs] Yeah, you know I have just been going back to comedy clubs and starting working on a new act, because I started [my career] doing stand-up comedy. I just toured for two years around the country, doing theaters. And I just shot my stand-up comedy movie in Atlanta that I am going to release early next year. So I went back to do my own thing.
I’d assume you’ve been offered plenty of roles in the meantime, so what about this one made you come back into film?
Well, a great director; David O. Russell directed “The Fighter” and “Three Kings.” And the script was good! There was a good little part in there for me. The part is a little smaller than what I usually do, but there’s a lot of depth to it, and it’s a really important part to the movie. It was a good opportunity to show a different side of me than what they’ve seen with the action in “Rush Hour.”
The last time you played someone other than your “Rush Hour” character was in 1997 with “Jackie Brown.” Was it weird being on camera and not doing Detective James Carter?
Yeah, it’s a little weird. But once you start you get into it and it’s fun and it’s different. That makes it all the better because you can get used to doing something, but then you do something different that brings something else out of you.
What weren’t you seeing from roles you were being offered between “Jackie Brown” and now?
You had a few that were in the action genre, and I had done that. So I was like, I want to do something different. Then this one came along. That’s why it’s good to be patient, because it wasn’t action, it was a real movie, just about a family going through family issues. My character was just a family friend. And maybe that’s what I was looking for: just to do something regular.
You mentioned being patient. Do you feel like you were patient when you started your movie career?
Yeah. I always wanted to try and do something that would take me to the next step and place in my career. So I was always conscious of that. I thought it was a smart move to do. Nothing was ever planned. It’s always good to work. But I just took it as it came.
So then why stand-up now?
Well stand-up is fun, it’s creative, it’s always evolving, it’s something that I can do myself. I think the freest I can be is on stage, because I can talk about my life. It’s real, it’s not a character in a movie — it’s me. So that’s why I love it so much, because I am just free on stage. I can talk about whatever I want to talk about. I can go wherever I want to go.
What about music videos? Any plans on doing one again?
Oh man, I don’t know! Because, you know, all the ones I got in, like with Michael Jackson [on “You Rock My World”], was because he was an idol of mine. So it depends. If I am singing my own song, maybe I will do one myself.
Another famous video you did was Dr. Dre and Tupac’s “California Love.” Filming that must have been a crazy experience.
Man, it was incredible. We were in the middle of the desert, and that’s just when Tupac had gotten out of jail and Dr. Dre was there, and we were dressed up in “Mad Max” outfits. It was just a lot of fun. My buddy, Michael Clarke Duncan, who passed away just recently, he sort of saved my life there. We were on this jeep and we were doing this wide shot in the desert, we were riding and we went over a dune, and the dune [dipped] and he grabbed my vest and kept me from going over the truck. So I owe him a lot.
So other than a return to stand-up, what’s the plan going forward? Are we going to see you in more movies soon?
Yeah, we got more dramatic movies, more comedy movies.
And everyone is talking about another “Friday” again.
Yeah man, it never dies. I won’t do another one. But I hope they do another one and it works out for them. But you never know how those movies are going to do. “Friday,” I hold it dear to my heart because it’s my first co-starring movie and it was my first shot into the movie business. It’s great. I am glad people like it.
Is it odd for you that people still think of you as Smokey? It’s been almost 20 years since you played the role.
Yeah, a little bit. I am used to it. I am flattered because people still like it and want to see another one. But I know I want to do some different stuff and show different sides of me, and I hope they like those too.
Everyone talks to you about Smokey still, but does anyone talk to you about Ruby Rhod?
Ruby Rhod! Yeah, a lot of people like that character. I had a great time doing that character. People come up to me and are like “Man, that’s my favorite movie you’ve done.” You never know with these characters.
“The Silver Linings Playbook” hits theaters in limited release on November 16, and opens wide on November 21.
‘House Party 3′ (1994)
‘Dead Presidents’ (1995)
‘Money Talks’ (1997)
‘The Fifth Element’ (1997)
‘Django Unchained’ (1997)
‘Rush Hour’ (1998)
‘Rush Hour 2′ (2001)
‘Rush Hour 3′ (2008)