The voice is softer, mellower, a tad too deep for anybody who has onlyexperienced the magic that is Chris Tucker on the big screen.
He's all about the charity work, finding ways and money to bring cleanwater to remote Africa. He's straight-faced, grown-up.
Where's the shrieking, tantrum-throwing hysteric of Rush Hour, Rush Hour 2and Rush Hour 3?
How to get a rise out of him, get him to get his shriek on? Ask him abutChina deciding to ban Rush Hour 3, with its Chinese villains (and Chinesehero, Jackie Chan).
"I wish they'd be more open-minded," he says. "They go, 'Why is this blackguy 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 moviewhere he has a piece of the box office doesn't make him flinch. But he hasbought a house in the swank, exclusive Bella Collina development nearMontverde. 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 hashomes in Georgia, where he grew up, and California. As a recent Playboyprofile notes, his salary spike from stand-up comedy to Friday to the RushHour movies "is one of the most dramatic in Hollywood history." And when itcame time to spend some of those millions, this son of a Decatur, Ga.,janitor-service owner and church-going mom remembered family vacations, withhis 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 (against20 percent of the box-office take) for Rush Hour 3. Tucker is doing so wellthat he has been able to limit his career to Rush Hour movies since firststriking comic gold, teaming with Jackie Chan back in 1998. He doesn't workmore often because "I haven't seen a script I like, really," in between RushHours. 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 aboutAfrica.
"I wasn't just livin' large for the six years I didn't work in a movie. Iwas in villages in Africa, trying to raise money to get them clean water, newwells," he says. "These things really made me appreciate what we have here inthe United States. I used to brush my teeth with bottled water. I don't dothat anymore, let me tell you.
"So I was doing a lot of other things, traveling the world, cultivatinggreat friendships, working with foundations. I found that I could use mycelebrity in another way, and take advantage of it. There are things moreimportant than doing a movie. But even when I do movies now I realize why I'mdoing them. I make people laugh, forget about what they're dealing with intheir life. I didn't really get that without taking that time off."
He was meeting Jordanian princes and African presidents and traveling withformer 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" byhis travels. The movies themselves are a workout. Tucker has to prep for themlike a fighter readying for the big bout.
"I have to get in good shape, first of all, because you've got to be, forthese movies," Tucker says. "Then, I go on the road, do some live comedy-clubdates, to get my timing, my voice back. I did 20 dates before we startedshooting Rush Hour 3."
All in the service of a buddy-picture franchise that is one of the mostsuccessful 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 wemet, I knew who he was, but he didn't know who I was. New Line, my studio, putus together. And that first meeting, Jackie didn't say much. I was nervous. Ikept talking. 'Does he even speak English?' Brett says, 'He's just feeling youout.' He played me.
"That's where that line in the first movie came from, 'DO YOU UNDERSTANDTHE WORDS coming outta my MOUTH?' "
It's been 10 years since they filmed that first Rush Hour, and Tucker, ashe likes to point out, has changed a lot since then. That's one reason heexpects to get back into a steadier Hollywood work routine. It's easy toforget that pre-Rush Hour, he had ambition. He was in The Fifth Element andJackie 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 lotmore to me than just this one character. I've grown, man. I've grown."
You can reach Roger Moore at email@example.com or 407-420-5369.