Interviews


Chris Tucker


Occupation: Actor, Comedian, Producer
Place of Birth: Atlanta, Ga., USA
Sign: Sun in Aries, Moon in Aries
Relations: Father: Norris; mother: Mary; siblings: has three brothers and two sisters, all older  
Fan Mail: C/O William Morris Agency
151 El Camino Drive
Beverly Hills, CA 90212
USA

 

HYPERACTIVE comedians are a dime a dozen these days, but Chris Tucker has a vibe so energetic that he could, as one pundit put it, "make caffeine nervous." A human exclamation point with elastic limbs and a face so expressive he could make the Mona Lisa show some teeth, the manic motormouth was tearing up the L.A. comedy circuit before his 20th birthday. A string of small movie roles followed, leading up to a gleeful, spastic breakout performance as the sassiest deejay in the cosmos in 1997's The Fifth Element. That film was still playing at second-run discount houses when Tucker blew into theaters in his first starring vehicle, the buddy caper Money Talks, which doubled its production costs with a handsome $40 million gross and confirmed the celebrity status of its mouthy star.

As the youngest of his parents' six children, Tucker initially relied on comedy as a means of getting attention from his brothers  the more he made them laugh, the more willing they were to let him hang out with them. Born and raised in the Atlanta, Ga., suburb of Decatur, he discovered at a young age that clowning around at school had the same affect on his classmates as it did on his brothers at home. Tucker refined his own gifts by watching the film and television performances of in-your-face comics Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy, and by the time he arrived at Decatur's Columbia High School, even his teachers were cracking up over his classroom antics. One of them suggested he host the school's annual talent show, which proved to be a life-shaping experience. "I got up there and did it," he later recalled. "Ripped it up. After I heard everyone laughing, I decided this was what I wanted to do. It was one of the best feelings I've ever had."

Following graduation and a vote of confidence from his classmates, who tabbed him the Most Humorous member of their graduating class, Tucker was determined to go pro. He sneaked into a popular local comedy club and fast-talked his way up on stage  he was too young to legally be on the premises  and won a standing ovation from the regulars. Similar gigs followed, and, before long, complete strangers were stopping Tucker on the street and giving him high-fives. Buoyed by his overnight success, the hometown stand-up hero, then 19, decided he was ready for the big time and headed to Los Angeles. He camped out on the living room floor of a friend's Sunset Boulevard apartment, and diligently applied himself to working the clubs. In took him just two years to become a major player on the clubs scene, and on cable, where producer Russell Simmons helped him get his first taste of national exposure on HBO's Def Comedy Jam.

Fate came knocking in 1994, when rap-lite duo Kid 'n' Play caught Tucker's act at a Tinseltown club and offered him a small role in House Party 3. Though he ended up on screen for less than two minutes in the role of party promoter Johnny Booze, Tucker made the most of his feature-film debut. His name and face were prominently featured in the movie's promotional materials after preview audiences burst into raucous applause following his all-too-brief appearance, and many critics singled him out for providing the movie's biggest laughs. The following year, he won a much bigger role, opposite Ice Cube, in the 'hood comedy Friday, in which he was cast as Smokey, a lackadaisical dope dealer who'd rather smoke a joint than sell it. "Weed is from the earth," Smokey admonishes Cube's more straitlaced Craig. "God put this here for me and you. Take advantage man, take advantage." Director F. Gary Gray was so sold on Tucker's knack for improvisation that he eventually filmed at least one take of every scene where he simply allowed the comedian to throw the script out the window and cut loose. "When I got to editing," Gray later reported, "I used most of [those] takes because they were so funny."

After Friday became a surprise hit, Tucker got the chance to mix comedy with more downbeat emoting in Dead Presidents, a Vietnam-era crime drama produced and directed by wonder-brothers Allen and Albert Hughes. Though the film tanked at the box office, Tucker's dramatic stylings won praise from critics, particularly for the scene in which his character overdoses on heroin while watching Soul Train. By 1996, when he had a comedy album in release and a special on HBO, Tucker's public profile was prominent enough to earn him a major supporting role in French director Luc Besson's 1997 sci-fi action opus The Fifth Element. The movie was an early summer smash, and Tucker, cast as cross-dressing broadcast personality Ruby Rhod, stole it right out from under star apparent Bruce Willis with his full-tilt performance  Time magazine called him "the summer's most outrageous special effect."

Having thus been introduced to Tucker's trademark high-pitched delivery and manic timing, audiences were primed for the fall release of Money Talks. The rising star flexed his newfound Hollywood muscle by exec-producing the movie, overseeing everything from script rewrites to the hiring of rookie director Brett Ratner  he even performed some of his own stunts, including taking a 19-foot fall from a helicopter onto an airbag. Perhaps most tellingly, Tucker got a seven-figure payday for Money Talks, even though he'd never had another starring role and production began well before the success of The Fifth Element dramatically broadened his name recognition. In the wake of Money Talks, he finished out 1997 with a cameo appearance as a small-time hood in Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown. For his second starring role, he shared top billing with martial arts megastar Jackie Chan in the 1998 action comedy Rush Hour.

Currently single and living in Los Angeles, Tucker frequently points to his working-class parents, whom he escorted to the Money Talks world premiere, as the source of his success, and maintains close ties to his deep South roots  he still does stand-up shows at the Atlanta club where he got his first break. He's never had any formal acting lessons, and claims he developed "that voice" largely by accident; as he told one interviewer, "I don't try to speak that way, but when I'm hyper and on the mike, that's how it comes out. Whenever I would have to deal with bill collectors, my voice would go up. I started doing it on stage, not really for laughs, and people would love it. They would say, 'Talk in that voice,' and I would always be like, 'What voice? What are you talking about.'"

Coming down the pike for Tucker is a role in the spy spoof Double O-Soul, a project he's developing for Universal in which he'll star opposite Mariah Carey as a low-level secret agent pressed into service on a top-priority mission after his fellow agents are all wiped out.

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