Chris Tucker on Silver Linings Playbook and his intermittent film career
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Chris Tucker’s warm and funny supporting performance as Danny, a mental-patient friend of Bradley Cooper’s protagonist in Silver Linings Playbook, is notable both for its quality and its rarity: The David O. Russell-directed film is the first appearance from Tucker outside the Brett Ratner-helmed Rush Hour franchise since 1997’s Jackie Brown. Tucker rose to prominence as a stand-up comedian before his scene-stealing performance in the 1995 cult classic Friday rocketed him to stardom. Tucker opted out of the Friday sequels in favor of quirky supporting turns in films like 1995’s Dead Presidents and Jackie Brown before the runaway success of 1998’s Rush Hour made him a massive movie star able to command somewhere in the area of $25 million dollars for Rush Hour 3. While Tucker’s film appearances have been scarce over the past decade, he’s ramped up his stand-up comedy touring in preparation for a concert film to be shot in the near future. The A.V. Club recently spoke with Tucker about why he didn’t read the novel on which Silver Linings Playbook is based, why he appears in films so infrequently, and the source of his confidence.
The A.V. Club: How did you get involved in the project?
Chris Tucker: I read the script and really liked the script, and really liked the director, David O. Russell. I thought he’d be a great director to work with, he did a great job with The Fighter and Three Kings. And then I approached him, told him I was interested in the part, and they said, “Okay, let’s rock and roll.”
AVC: You approached them?
AVC: That’s a little surprising, because it seems like you’re probably offered a lot of roles.
CT: Yeah, yeah I am, but very few that I really gravitate to, like this one. And it just worked out.
AVC: What about the role and the film appealed to you so strongly?
CT: Well I thought it was just a cool part because it was a real fun part. I think the character was fun and really positive. It had some depth to it. And I knew that working with a good director, there’s always something that can happen out of it and come out of it, and I think it did. That movie turned out to be a really good movie.
AVC: Let’s talk about the novel the film is based upon.
CT: I didn’t read the book.
AVC: You didn’t read the book?
CT: I got the book. I looked at the book. [Laughs.] The book is too big, man! It was too big!
AVC: How big is the book?
CT: That book is like this [uses hand gestures to indicate the book is very long]. I took it from the script and, you know, developed and evolved [it], so the director told me not to read the book. And I said, “Thank you.”
AVC: Why didn’t Russell want you to read the novel?
CT: Because it wasn’t my character [in the movie], it was totally different from that. It just evolved a little bit from the book. So he said there’s no need to read the novel, and I’m glad I didn’t, because what I needed to do with the character, he filled me in on and everything, and kept me abreast of everything.
AVC: In your mind, who is this guy? Because he’s fascinating, there’s this sort of innate decency, this kindness in him, as well as this sort of poignant faith in the system and in the law.
CT: Right, well, he’s a regular guy, fun-loving guy, positive guy. He’s really a good influence in Pat’s [Bradley Cooper’s character] life, a really positive person, and so in my mind he’s a regular guy who just probably… a really nice guy who just got some issues.
AVC: He got into a bad place.
CT: Yeah, got into a bad place, but he’s still a good person, not a negative person, not a bad person. And that’s how I played him. I played him as a fun-loving person that’s just positive.
AVC: You disappear into the character in a way you usually don’t.
CT: Just working with a great director, I give him a lot of credit for seeing, having a vision, saying, “This is what I want you to wear” and all this stuff and just go with it.
AVC: Were you worried at all that your celebrity might be a little distracting?
CT: I didn’t think about it, I didn’t think about it at all. But I got right into it, because we was in Philadelphia, we was in the city where the book was based off of and all this stuff, so it really gets you soaked into the character. And then we went to one of the mental hospitals and all that stuff, so it was great.
AVC: You’re probably asked this question a lot, but why do you make so few films?
CT: You know what? It’s not on purpose. It’s just, I have a great life, I just live, and when something comes around… You know, I’ve been touring for the last five, six years, on the road doing stand-up, doing theaters and stuff like that, so whenever something good comes around I’ll do it, but no particular reason.
AVC: Do you think of being a stand-up comedian as who you are fundamentally, and film as something you do?
CT: I think it’s a lot to do with it, because it got me to films. But I think films are a part of me, too. I think I love both of them equally because they both go hand-in-hand.
AVC: Do you think everything comes from being a stand-up comedian?
CT: I think it keeps you sharp, but I think you’ve got to have a depth, a deeper depth to take that stand-up into acting, and so I think you’ve got to have both, but I think it really helps you as a stand-up to home into different characters and stuff easily.
AVC: Do you think it helps you as a dramatic actor?
CT: Yeah, because I know how far I can go with range. I know how to take it down. You have to know how to take it down. So it gives you a lot of levels of range and stuff, so you have an idea of where you need to be. You need to be a little bit more serious and then to keep it natural and real.
AVC: How has your stand-up evolved over time?
CT: I talk about my life, becoming a celebrity, being famous, being from Atlanta, Georgia. I talk about my life a lot, being the youngest of six kids, and then being a father, so I talk about a lot of that, a lot of how I view things. It’s really changed a lot since I was a kid, because I only talk about certain things, because that’s all I knew. But I’ve traveled all over the place, all over the world, and met so many great people, so it’s really, really broad.
AVC: Do you worry at all that because you’ve done so many things that other people can only dream about that it maybe makes it less relatable to the people who come and see you?
CT: You have to be thoughtful of that, but I have human stuff that happens to me. Everybody goes through a lot of the same things, and I talk about those, and that’s the key. You have to connect with your audience, and I might take them on a trip with me, tell them I went here and I went there and they’ll go with me, you know, to hear the stories. And it’s like I’m connected with them because they know I’m one of them. It’s like I’m going there to check it out and come back and say, “Hey man, you wouldn’t believe this, this is what happened.”
AVC: People can live vicariously through you.
CT: Sometimes, yes.
AVC: But at a certain point, you became a commercial entity.
AVC: There’s obviously a great deal of money to be made from doing films. When you can make $25 million dollars a movie, as you do with the Rush Hour films, do you have a lot of pressure from your team encouraging you to strike while the iron is hot?
CT: No, not necessarily. Not necessarily. No I didn’t, I didn’t put myself in the position that I had all that around me, and I just live my life.
AVC: Your people accept who you are.
CT: Yeah, and I think it’s paying off, because I’m not burning myself out and doing all types of things for the wrong reasons. These opportunities come up, little jewels like this. I think this is a great movie, great writing, and I think it’ll be around for a while and I hope people enjoy it.
AVC: Part of the reason why a lot of big-name actors make so many movies is there’s this idea that it will go away after a while. It’s a little like being an athlete: You can make an insane amount of money in a window of time that eventually closes. So there’s a sense of urgency and desperation that doesn’t seem to exist in you. Where does the confidence come from?
CT: I think, you know, spirituality, a lot of faith in myself, and I believe that I’m going to have a long career, as long as I want, and I think by me going out into the world living a little bit made me… gave me more depth, so when I do go, going into movies is much easier for me now. When I was a younger kid, I did those types of movies, like Friday and [the] Rush Hours and stuff, I grew up watching those type of movies. But now I’ve lived a little bit and traveled the world and experienced a lot of things that I can play any role, and I think I can get into stuff that people never thought I would ever do because of my experiences and growth as a person.
AVC: Your life experiences inform both your acting and your comedy.
CT: Oh yeah.
AVC: As much as appearing in movies would?
CT: Yes, I think so.
AVC: So what is your day-to-day life like?
CT: Day-to-day life is a lot of work. I work a lot on stand-up stuff, and then day-to-day life and, you know, just living. It’s always different. Try to work out, try to stay in shape, and try to have some fun. In a good way. And work a little bit, and learn a little bit. It’s all those things.
AVC: The last time we spoke you said that Brett Ratner had ruined you for all other directors.
CT: I said that?
AVC: You did, though your tongue may have been planted at least partially in cheek. So what about David O. Russell led you to break your strict Brett Ratner-only policy?
CT: Oh, his history of great work. He’s real smart, and he has a good sense of characters and how to bring those emotions out and deal with characters and create a lot of great characters. Like, Robert De Niro’s character has a lot of superstitious beliefs. He believes that his son coming home from a mental institution makes the Eagles win. So really, really detailed stuff that he’s so good at. I just think that that’s what I want to do, is work with great directors like David.
AVC: Where do you think your character’s optimism and childlike faith in human nature comes from? Because he’s clearly had a hard life.
CT: It comes from his knowledge of believing in the system, or not believing in the system and thinking that these things, if they follow these rules, then he’s right. So he’s a very, very smart character the way David O. Russell wrote him, and the words that he pronounces, I can’t even remember the words. [Laughs.] So he’s very, very bright, he knows what he’s talking about and he knows… These people who are arresting him, taking him back to this place, they don’t even know what he’s talking about he’s so up on it. So I thought that was a great part of the character too, his knowledge of stuff.
AVC: What do you get out of stand-up comedy that you don’t get out of acting and vice versa?
CT: The live energy, the energy coming back from the crowd. When you come out, there’s energy coming at you. And what you get out, you get some stuff back… That in-the-moment presence. Well, you’re in the present when you’re acting. You’re in the moment, too. But the freedom, the freedom you have with stand-up… Because stand-up you can go either way. It’s live. Somebody might say something in the crowd, you might respond to it. But in a movie you could be spontaneous too. But you pretty much have to stick to that story or that scene or that script, but in stand-up you can go wherever you want to. It’s more freedom.
AVC: Do you feel like you have to still prove yourself to stand-up crowds in this day and age, or do you feel like you have a head start because audiences know you and they know your work?
CT: Well I feel like every time I go out I want to do a good job. I want people to say that he’s just as good at stand-up as he is in some of the movies I’ve seen him in, so I try to do the best every time I go out there. And I always… You get that nervous… That edge like, “I got to do good.”
AVC: So it never really goes away?
CT: Never goes away.
AVC: Have you seen the Jerry Seinfeld documentary Comedian?
CT: Oh yeah, I saw that.
AVC: One of the things that was fascinating about that was the idea that Jerry Seinfeld could still bomb. I imagine it’s the same for you, there’s that two or three minutes up front where people are overjoyed just to see you, but at that point, you have to make them laugh.
CT: Oh yeah, you’ve got to. You have to as soon as you go out. It’s almost more pressure the higher you go up, the better you better be. And the more prepared you better be, because they’re expecting the best. It’s like Federal Express, they expect you to be on time.