In his movies, Chris Tucker rarely plays characters who keep their feelings to themselves.
Perhaps best known for his performances as Smokey, the loudmouth pothead from “Friday,” and James Carter, the equally extroverted (but significantly more strait-laced) detective at the heart of the “Rush Hour” franchise, his roles tend to have one thing in common: They require the manic energy of a man in love with the spotlight.
Yet Tucker, who co-stars with Jackie Chan in this summer’s “Rush Hour 3,” has remained famously elusive in the six years since his last film — so much so that Chan, his longtime friend, felt compelled to air his frustrations to The Associated Press.
“He wants too much power,” Chan said in a 2005 interview. “The movie company hasn’t obliged. He wants final editing rights and the final look at the movie and so on. He’s still a new actor. He needs to learn slowly.”
So, where was Tucker?
“I was traveling around the world, doing my thing with my foundation,” says Tucker, who runs a program to improve the lives of impoverished South African children. “Jackie was in Hong Kong, and we’re the last ones to know that the studio wants to make another ‘Rush Hour.’ I hate making people wait, but I wasn’t going to do the movie unless we had a script that was better than the last one. A lot of scripts came to me over the last six years, but I’ll always come back to ‘Rush Hour’ because it allows me to explore my comedic talents, whether through singing or the martial arts.”
Tucker is quick to add that there was never a rift between him, Chan or director Brett Ratner, who has presided over the “Rush Hour” franchise since the 1998 original. But he has no regrets that this latest sequel was so long in the making.
“Working with Jackie and Brett is great, but I haven’t done any movies in a while by choice,” he says. “I wanted to step back and utilize my celebrity in another way.
“I was shining lights on issues around the world that I’m concerned about, and it opened up a whole new world for me. I’m friends with Bill Clinton now. I’m friends with Bono. Everybody is so afraid of what will happen if they don’t make movie after movie — if they don’t listen to their agents.
“Not me. I’m young, and Inever wanted to do what everybody else is doing. That’s boring to me. So I traveled to 15 countries in Africa, places with no clean water. I’m glad I did that, because I have a different outlook on life now. If I can make someone laugh, that’s a gift. People come up to me in Africa and India — ‘I can’t believe you’re here! Why are you here?’ That’s how powerful movies are, and how far they can travel. It’s amazing to me.”
Despite the spiritual benefits of his extended break from acting, Tucker will be returning to the big screen sooner than 2013. Not that he’s given up touring — in fact, that’s just what he plans to do.
“I’m going back to stand-up comedy, my roots,” he explains. “I’m doing a movie called ‘Mr. President,’ too, just in time for the elections. But I want to go back to performing in front of live audiences.
“So you’ll see me at the Fillmore sometime soon. And I’m going to make people laugh.”