He's all about the charity work, finding ways and money to bring clean water to remote Africa. He's straight-faced, grown-up.
How to get a rise out of him, get him to get his shriek on? Ask him abut China deciding to ban Rush Hour 3, with its Chinese villains (and Chinese hero, Jackie Chan).
"I wish they'd be more open-minded," he says. "They go, 'Why is this black guy making fun of us?' Man, I have nothing but love for the Chinese people. But it's their country. It's cool."
The voice doesn't go up. The loss of a big potential market for a movie where he has a piece of the box office doesn't make him flinch. But he has bought a house in the swank, exclusive Bella Collina development near Montverde. Ask him if we're about to be neighbors.
"Maaan, don't you let that get in the paper! Don't want that to get out!"
We already have: $6 million, 14,000 square feet, five bedrooms, six-and-a-half baths, right on Lake Apopka.
Not to worry. Remember, it's gated. You can keep the riffraff out.
"That's right, that's right. That's a relief!"
He laughs. Tucker, who will be 35 at the end of this month, already has homes in Georgia, where he grew up, and California. As a recent Playboy profile notes, his salary spike from stand-up comedy to Friday to the Rush Hour movies "is one of the most dramatic in Hollywood history." And when it came time to spend some of those millions, this son of a Decatur, Ga., janitor-service owner and church-going mom remembered family vacations, with his parents and all six Tucker kids. He remembered Disney World.
"That was a special time, the whole family together like that," he says. "Didn't get to go there but once. Now I can go any time I want!"
He's a single man (he has an 8-year-old son) who made $25 million (against 20 percent of the box-office take) for Rush Hour 3. Tucker is doing so well that he has been able to limit his career to Rush Hour movies since first striking comic gold, teaming with Jackie Chan back in 1998. He doesn't work more often because "I haven't seen a script I like, really," in between Rush Hours. And more important, "I don't work because I don't have to."
But those material gains are not what get him jazzed. Tucker is all about Africa.
"I wasn't just livin' large for the six years I didn't work in a movie. I was in villages in Africa, trying to raise money to get them clean water, new wells," he says. "These things really made me appreciate what we have here in the United States. I used to brush my teeth with bottled water. I don't do that anymore, let me tell you.
"So I was doing a lot of other things, traveling the world, cultivating great friendships, working with foundations. I found that I could use my celebrity in another way, and take advantage of it. There are things more important than doing a movie. But even when I do movies now I realize why I'm doing them. I make people laugh, forget about what they're dealing with in their life. I didn't really get that without taking that time off."
He was meeting Jordanian princes and African presidents and traveling with former president Bill Clinton. Tucker was too busy to make movies.
"It took 20 years to build a pyramid, 14 years to build Mount Rushmore . . . and six years to get Chris Tucker to make Rush Hour 3," joked his director, Brett Ratner at the Los Angeles premiere of Rush Hour 3.
It's not just that he was "evolving, gaining new perspective on life" by his travels. The movies themselves are a workout. Tucker has to prep for them like a fighter readying for the big bout.
"I have to get in good shape, first of all, because you've got to be, for these movies," Tucker says. "Then, I go on the road, do some live comedy-club dates, to get my timing, my voice back. I did 20 dates before we started shooting Rush Hour 3."
All in the service of a buddy-picture franchise that is one of the most successful in screen history -- the first two films earned $600 million, pre-video.
"Jackie and me, we have chemistry, and our energy works well together," Tucker says. "Our real relationship is a lot like the movie. First time we met, I knew who he was, but he didn't know who I was. New Line, my studio, put us together. And that first meeting, Jackie didn't say much. I was nervous. I kept talking. 'Does he even speak English?' Brett says, 'He's just feeling you out.' He played me.
"That's where that line in the first movie came from, 'DO YOU UNDERSTAND THE WORDS coming outta my MOUTH?' "
It's been 10 years since they filmed that first Rush Hour, and Tucker, as he likes to point out, has changed a lot since then. That's one reason he expects to get back into a steadier Hollywood work routine. It's easy to forget that pre-Rush Hour, he had ambition. He was in The Fifth Element and Jackie Brown. He's not just a high-voiced comic who can make his eyes bug out.
"There's all these different sides to me that I haven't shown, on film. That's why I'll be doing more movies, probably, to show that there's a lot more to me than just this one character. I've grown, man. I've grown."
You can reach Roger Moore at firstname.lastname@example.org or 407-420-5369.