Where you been, Chris Tucker?
“I know, I know, I been getting that a lot lately,” says Tucker, who returns to the screen this weekend with “Rush Hour 3,” after an absence of six years. “I figure I’ve been where I should have been.”
Tucker hasn’t wasted the years since “Rush Hour 2” on Cristal and posse prowling. But he has, in his words, “been seeing a whole lot of things I never thought I’d see, hanging with a lot of people I didn’t even think I’d know.”
“For the first time in my life I didn’t have to be running after money, you know. And I met some people, like Colin Powell, who helped me understand what I could do with the celebrity I had earned, to do some good. And that led to the foundation.”
The Chris Tucker Foundation began as a program to improve the lives of South African youth, but like Tucker himself, it has taken on a global reach.
“The more places you go, the more you see, the more you know needs to be done,” he says. “I’ve spent a lot of the last few years in Africa, and it’s a big place, man. And it’s like the United States, or Europe, everywhere you go is different, with different issues. It’s not just Darfur and the killing, or South Africa with the HIV and AIDS. Every place is unique.”
One of the things Tucker did on what he calls his “unintentionally extended” hiatus from filmmaking was participate in PBS’s “African-American Lives” project, which uses participants’ DNA to trace their African heritage.
For Tucker, it was a revelation.
“We always thought the family had come from Ghana, but it turned out my father’s people were from Angola, and my mother’s from Cameroon. So I got to go there. We visited this tribal region in the bush in Angola where my father’s ancestors might have lived. It’s fascinating stuff.”
Tucker is quick to point out that he was involved in African issues “before it was any big cause among celebrities,” but says he’s pleased for any attention the continent and its problems receive as a result.
He does admit to also being pleased that at one press event with Bono in Ethiopia, more little kids tagged behind and chanted his name than were following the U2 superstar.
“The truth is, I’m just thankful to have the life and opportunities that I have had. I remember when I was just worried about whether or not I was going to get anybody to come see me at the State Theatre in Detroit,” since renamed the Fillmore Detroit. “Now I’m staying up swapping stories all night with Bill Clinton, man. It’s unbelievable.”
Tucker says getting back to business with “Rush Hour 3,” in which he again plays an American cop teamed with Chinese security agent Jackie Chan, was not just a matter of returning to a safe harbor.
He says he was offered film roles in the interim, but nothing he felt was compelling enough to interrupt his traveling and the new world that had been opened up to him. The time off, he says, also allowed him, Chan and director Brett Ratner to renew their enthusiasm for the series and the characters.
“When we finally got a storyline we liked, Jackie invited me to Hong Kong to talk about it, and we spent a few days hanging out, getting to know each other again, just seeing the sights. He treated me like a king. Actually, he treated me like a brother. When he’d introduce me to people, he’d say, `You remember my brother, Chris, don’t you?’
“Everybody always wants to know why we have such chemistry together, and I don’t know if anybody could ever explain it. It’s just like we’re a set, you know, one of us completes the other. We made a lot of this movie in France, and over there, they treat us like we’re this old-time team, like Laurel and Hardy or Hepburn and Tracy or something, even though we’ve only made these three movies together. I don’t know that I’ll ever have another partner where we fit together like that.”
Tucker promises that he will not take six years to make another movie, but he has yet to commit to any comedy or drama. Instead, he’s prepping for a stand-up tour, one that will bring him to Detroit - “some of my best and most loyal fans in the whole world” - that will be filmed for an in-concert feature, in the tradition of heroes like Eddie Murphy and Richard Pryor.
Tucker says any new film project will have to be something that interests him enough to take time away from his foundation work, which he calls “my No. 1 priority.”
“It has become my real passion,” says Tucker. “I just want to be part of helping people understand things they may not know, like the fact that thousands of African children die every year simply because they do not have access to clean water. No baby in the world should have to die because of that. It has made me appreciate so much more all the things we take for granted living in this country.
“But it can get frustrating, you know, because the problem is so overwhelming. I was at this orphanage in Ethiopia not long ago, and these two nuns who run it were trying to explain to me how they can only do so much with what they have, and that sometimes they start to feel hopeless. But one of them had worked with Mother Teresa, and she had asked her, `You know how an ocean gets filled up? One drop of rain at a time.’ So you just keep doing what you can do.”
CHRIS TUCKER: DID YOU KNOW?
He first appeared in Heavy D’s video “Nuthin’ But Love,” which is where the director of “Rush Hour” noticed his talent and suggested him to play Detective James Carter.
He testified in defense of Michael Jackson during Jackson’s 2005 trial on charges of child molestation.
On April 19, 2005, Tucker was arrested by Georgia state troopers for reckless driving and fleeing to elude. Sheriffs said he was driving 109 mph in his 2005 Bentley Continental GT. Tucker said he was in a hurry because he was late for church.
His breakout role was that of Smokey in “Friday” (1995).
He has a son named Destin Christopher Tucker.
He is a friend of Bill Clinton and traveled with the former president overseas.
He appeared briefly as Mariah Carey’s passenger in the video for her 2005 hit “Shake It Off.”
His likeness appeared in a “Family Guy” episode.
A typo in the August 2007 edition of Nickelodeon magazine’s calendar section portrayed him as turning 50 rather than 35.