Chris Tucker and Brett Ratner are two of the driving forces behind the Rush Hour series, one of the most commercially successful action-movie franchises in history. Before Rush Hour solidified his superstar status, Tucker established himself as a popular stand-up and a credible dramatic actor with scene-stealing supporting roles in the Hughes brothers' noir-hued crime drama Dead Presidents and Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown. He left an indelible mark on stoner culture as a wisecracking pothead in F. Gary Gray's 1995 cult classic Friday before hooking up with Ratner for the first time with 1997's Money Talks.
The enormous international success of Rush Hour in 1998 helped propel Tucker into the upper ranks of bankable leading men. In spite of his huge salaries, Tucker has only appeared in two films since then, both Rush Hour sequels: 2001's Rush Hour 2 and the newly released Rush Hour 3. Ratner has been far more prolific—and divisive—directing everything from a book adaptation (2002's Red Dragon) to a superhero sequel (2006's X-Men: The Last Stand) to a family-friendly comedy-drama (2000's The Family Man), all of which found popular success but made him a target of critics and the pop-culture blogosphere. The A.V Club recently sat down to talk with Tucker and Ratner about entertaining the masses, hanging with Michael Jackson and Roman Polanski, saving Africa, and living the Hollywood good life.
The A.V. Club: You've only appeared in movies directed by Brett Ratner since 1997. Has he spoiled you for working with all other directors?
Chris Tucker: You know what, we were just talking about that. I think he might have. We know each other, and I feel so comfortable around him expressing myself. Whenever we have a problem, we always talk about it. We understand each other. Working with other people, I don't know if I'd have that relationship. I'm pretty sure I will, but he definitely spoils me, because we're friends. Not only do we work together, but we're friends, too.
AVC: So I guess if Steven Spielberg calls, you're not interested?
Brett Ratner: "No, I only work with Ratner! Get me Ratner!"
CT: "Brett's gotta be involved with this, because you know how it is." He is like the new Spielberg, you know? He's a creative person. A lot of directors, they're creative, but they're different. He is the new Spielberg.
AVC: So what do you do when you're not starring in Brett Ratner movies?
CT: I travel. I do a lot of traveling around the world. I love traveling. It not only opens my mind up, but it also allows me to use my fame in another way through humanitarian works and stuff, and being an influence around the world. I was doing Africa stuff long before it became popular. People was saying, "What are you doing in Africa?" Now George Clooney's doing it, and Don Cheadle, and people [are] adopting babies. I was around the world, and because I wasn't working, people didn't know what I doing, but I was doing that. It really helped me in life to appreciate stuff, and appreciate what I have, and understand what I do in my work. Making people laugh is giving, and it's healing, too, when people can go up to the movies and forget about their problems. It's a good thing. That's why I want to work. I want to keep working, I want to keep doing my humanitarian stuff around the world, shining light on different places that have problems. Keep making movies, make people laugh.
AVC: Do you think George Clooney stole your idea of helping people in Africa?
CT: No, but I think that's what it takes sometimes. He might have seen Bono. I remember talking to George Clooney about something in D.C., and he wasn't going to Africa then. I remember all these people. I was already over there with Bill Clinton taking these trips. I think that's what it takes. It takes one person to go over there and do it, and then people start to say, "What's going on?" I know Jay-Z is doing stuff over there now, Alicia Keys. I'm pretty sure they've seen my MTV Diary with Bono, years ago. I did it in 2000. They've probably seen that and said, "What is Chris Tucker doing in Africa?"
That's what it takes. I remember in Ethiopia there was this nun who was one of the nuns who ran this orphanage. It was full of babies. That's all there was, like two nuns. I knew these babies weren't really getting the attention they needed, because it was only two nuns. The nun used to work for Mother Teresa. She said Mother Teresa said, "One drop in the ocean. It takes all these different raindrops to form an ocean." That's what it takes. It takes everybody to be involved in what's going on around the world. If one person goes, you might not even know who that person is, that might influence another person. I hope I was a part of that, because I was like, "I can't do this by myself. How can I do anything to help, or bring money, and all that stuff?" But you've got Bonos, and George Clooneys, all these people around the world, and they're influencing people, too.
AVC: Kind of on a similar topic, let's talk about you appearing on African American Lives. That sounded like a really interesting experience for you.
CT: That's a project by one of my friends, [Henry Louis] Skip Gates. That's one of the friendships I've cultivated over the years. Just going to Harvard, hanging out with him. He invited me to be on his show. He was highlighting African-American entertainers across the board, and taking their DNA and finding out their heritage. It was Oprah Winfrey, Quincy Jones, me, and a few other people. It was powerful knowing where your family might have come from. All the slaves came from West Africa, none came from South Africa or East Africa. My mother's lineage went back to Cameroon, and my father's lineage went back to Angola. Just to know whereabouts in these areas is powerful. They have a record of my great-great grandparents being sold from Virginia—well, given to the daughters of the slave owners who died. She moved to Georgia, and that's how we got to Flat Rock, Georgia. Just knowing these histories, things I never knew.
BR: Well, your family is originally from Israel. [Laughs.]
CT: [Laughs.] I am Jewish. My real name is Chris Tuckenberg. A lot of people don't know about that. I am Jewish.
AVC: In the film, there are jokes about the French perceptions of American culture. Did you encounter any anti-American attitudes when you were in France?
BR: Nah, we kind of went with the cliché. Sometimes you get a little bit of attitude in a restaurant, but otherwise it's changed. When I was a kid, I remember seeing more of that, but I think the world has changed. I love that we did that, the French version of what they think of Americans, their thoughts of Americans, instead of us making fun of the French. It was the reverse, so I like that. How George's [a French cab-driver] character changes, and now he's pro-American. "I'll drink this shit all day if I have to!"
AVC: It seemed like he got a lot of his ideas about America from movies like Rush Hour.
BR: Which is the way the world is. Movies are the biggest export in the world, the biggest American export. It influences people all over the world. Music and movies. That's what's exciting about what we do, the fact that it's so global. It brings people together. People don't have to understand the language to laugh at Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker. They're going to laugh even though they don't understand what they're saying. Cause they're seeing it.
AVC: What was it like directing Roman Polanski?
BR: It was great. I've got to tell you, one of the greatest moments was when Roman called me up. I was in Paris prepping. He says, "Can I see you?" And I said, "Yeah," and he goes, "Where are you?" I said, "I'm at the hotel," and he said, "I'll meet you in the lobby." I'm sitting there, and Roman says, "Brett, do you mind running the lines with me?" We're sitting on the couch, and I'm like, "Can someone see me right now?" [Laughs.] I'm running lines with Roman Polanski. I was always envious of other directors. I was envious of guys like Paul Thomas Anderson when he did Boogie Nights, and all these guys my age, because they got a lot of respect from other directors. The biggest star in the world can be here, but I don't care. I love movie directors. I don't care who it is. Chris Tucker was just on the phone with Spike Lee and I was excited. I love movie directors.
The only time I've ever been envious was when Paul Thomas Anderson called me and said, "I'm on the set of Eyes Wide Shut with Tom Cruise right now and we're hanging out with Stanley Kubrick." I was so envious of that until I did Rush Hour, because I always thought that I had to do an important movie about the Holocaust or someone dying of cancer or something to get respect from other filmmakers. After I did Rush Hour, I got three calls: Jonathan Demme, Warren Beatty, and Roman Polanski. I was like, "Wait a second, I thought I just made a contemporary version of Beverly Hills Cop." But the fact is that directors aren't snobs. After meeting them and talking to them, they appreciate a good movie, it doesn't matter what the genre. They know how hard it is; even if it's a comedy, an action-comedy, they know how hard it is to make a movie that's good, no matter what kind of movie it is.
Roman became my friend. He called me, I went to Paris and visited him, and he was like, "Oh man, you don't understand, I love Rush Hour." He was asking me questions. I was like, "Wait a second, you don't understand. You're Roman Polanski, let me ask you some questions," and we've kept in touch all these years. All these years, we've kept in touch since Rush Hour. I was in Paris, getting ready to shoot, and I had lunch with him, and he said, "What are you doing?" And I said, "I'm here shooting Rush Hour 3," and he said, "Oh, man, I love Rush Hour." I said, "Listen, you should be in it," just as a joke. So he said, "Well, what would I do?" And I said, "I'll get back to you tomorrow night." I call up the writer Jeff Nathanson and I say, "You've got to write up a scene for Roman Polanski!" He said, "He's not being in the movie." I said, "Yes, he is! I'm telling you he's doing it!" So he faxed me the pages to the hotel, and the next day I met with Roman, gave him the pages, and he said, "Let's do it."
Again, when critics or people judge, I think it's harder to make a commercial, pop movie than it is to make a pretentious art film. It's harder to reach millions and millions of people and satisfy them and make them happy. These films kind of get ghettoized, this genre, these types of films, because there are so many big, big movies that are such big hits, but aren't any good. The audiences, they're not judging the style of the director, or the execution of the film. They're just looking to be entertained. But then the critics come in, and they look at it, and go, "Oh, this is shit." You have to be able to differentiate between a well-made movie and a poorly made movie. At the end of the day, audiences just want to laugh and be entertained. They want to escape from their reality, and that's why we make movies, to get people to escape from the realities.
AVC: Do you read the reviews of your films?
BR: You know, I read it. Whoever writes a bad review, I put their name on a list, and they're going to get taken care of one day down the road. [Laughs.] Otherwise, I don't let it bother me. The truth is, these are review-proof movies. The audiences are going to see it. My audience, our audience, isn't reading Esquire magazine to see if Rush Hour is a good movie or not. They just want to laugh, to be entertained, and lose themselves. It's not a movie like when I did Red Dragon, or when I do another type of movie, I want to hear what the critics say, because I'm playing with that type of audience. But here, I'm proud of this movie. I know this movie is good. I've seen it in front of normal people, not reporters or critics.
AVC: How did you end up appearing on Entourage?
BR: Entourage called me and said, "We want to put you on the show. What's the timing for Rush Hour?" I said, "It's coming out in August," and they said, "Oh, let's do something for Rush Hour 3 where Johnny Drama…" and they pitched me the idea, and I loved it. I said, "Oh, great, let's do it."
CT: How was his acting? What did you think?
BR: I'm better than the other directors on the show. [Laughs.]
AVC: Was that close to who you actually are? Or was that just the Brett Ratner persona that you're putting on?
BR: [Laughs.] No. I was putting it on. I mean, there are 20 girls at my house with bikinis on at all times, but otherwise, the rest of that was not true.
AVC: Do you think you would have handled the situation the way the Brett Ratner of Entourage did? Would you have been won over by [Kevin Dillon's character's] pluck and moxie?
BR: I ask my assistants if they're retarded all the time. [Laughs.] When the camera is on you, of course, actors have the ability to make it real. For me, if I'm not talking, it is a problem, I'll tell you that. I have so much more respect for actors now, after being in front of the camera, and I realize that the hardest part is when you're not talking. Listening is harder than just acting. Listening is the hardest part. When Johnny Drama was talking to me, I was like, "Oh shit, what's going on?" You'll notice the camera's on him when he's talking to me, because I'm looking around trying to remember my lines.
AVC: You were in Black And White as well.
BR: I was in Black And White. Jackie Chan has asked me several times that I should be the third wheel in Rush Hour 4, but it's not happening. [Laughs.]
AVC: What do you remember about Black And White?
BR: [James Toback]'s my favorite director. I mean, he's my favorite person, let me say. He happens to be a director. He's a fascinating guy. He is brilliant. He's a genius. For me, I could have never directed Black And White, because I'm too close to hip-hop, I'm too close to white people loving black culture. That's why he put me in it. When I was in the hood, and Wu-Tang comes up to me, that was real. I wasn't being anything I wasn't. I'm not a white guy who thinks I'm black, I just love black music. I love black movies.
CT: You love black women. [Laughs.]
BR: I love everything black, because black is cool. When something crosses over, people are like, "Oh, this is a crossover." First of all, there is no urban anymore. Pop culture is black. White kids are dressing like black kids. It's all crossed the lines now. The way I understand it is, everything black is cool. When it crosses over to white, that means it's going from cool to uncool. That's what crossover is. Since I was a kid, all the kids who were dancing, the best dancers, were black. The fastest runners were black. The flyest dressers were black. When I was a kid, they used to wear Fila. They were always the trend-setting, cutting-edge, coolest people. That's who I wanted to engage myself with, those people. I was just attracted to that, and that's what I understand, and that's whey we're sitting here today, that's how this all came up, because I was fascinated with hip-hop music and black comedy. Kung fu was a big part of it. Chris watched martial arts movies, I watch them, so I did the same thing in Miami Beach, being a tacky Jew from Miami, as a hip-hop kid would do. If you become a rapper, you get a Rolex with diamonds on it. That's all I wanted. Same sensibilities, basically. I think the minority is very similar. White people are completely different, but I'm Jewish, so I'm like a black man. [Laughs.]
AVC: So Chris, speaking of black music, you're probably the only man in the world who's appeared in videos for both Michael Jackson and Tupac. Can you kind of compare and contrast the two?
CT: I almost died over in Tupac's video. I was in the back of a Jeep, and I was being young, and crazy, and we was in a desert going over these sand dunes. Michael Clarke Duncan, from Green Mile, grabbed me, because I didn't know we was going over sand dunes. I'm in the video like, "Yaaaah!" It was a helicopter shot. It was like, what do you call it? The Warrior?
BR: Road Warrior.
CT: Yeah, Road Warrior. So I'm playing this crazy guy, and if he didn't grab my back, I would have fell over the thing. That's what I remember about the Tupac video. And I met a fine girl on the video set. With Michael Jackson, it was just working with the legend and working with someone that I admired. That was incredible. A lot of my career, I judge it off Michael, because Michael didn't go out, he didn't do an album every year. He did an album every five years, and he'll come out and make a big thing. He never really overexposed himself. I think I learned a lot watching him, and not overexposing myself in a lot of ways.
AVC: Was that the beginning of your friendship with him, working on that video?
CT: We knew of each other. Of course I knew Michael Jackson. If you watch all my movies, there's something to do with Michael in them, for some reason. I guess because I grew up with him. And Scarface, I grew up watching Scarface all the time. That started around Rush Hour 2, yeah, that's when I met him. I was in New York, and I called and said, "I want to meet Michael. Is Michael around?" Couldn't get in touch with him. Flew all the way in a private plane back to L.A., and as soon as I landed and I checked my messages, Michael's people called and said, "Chris, Michael want to meet with you in the morning." I went up to the cockpit, I told the pilots to fly me back to New York, because I'm going to meet with Michael Jackson tomorrow at the Four Seasons Hotel. They said, "What? We've got to call the office, we can't just do this shit." They called the office, and they said, "Alright. Another $50,000." Flew me back to New York, landed, met with Michael that morning, then flew back to L.A. that night. I didn't even leave the plane. We were just taxiing on the runway, checking my messages. That's the first time I ever met Michael. I was on a private plane, in L.A., flew back. That's when I met him. I never told you that. I got crazy, like I spent a lot of money.
AVC: What was kind of your impression of Michael Jackson?
CT: He's just a normal person. Nice. He's a very kind person, nice. Really shy. Just a lot of fun to be around, because he's just nice.
AVC: Do you think he's misunderstood?
CT: Yeah, he's misunderstood, because he's had a different life. He's accomplished so much in his life, and he's so talented. He's just a genius.
BR: He doesn't really belong on this planet. He's the most important figure in the history of music. He'll be remembered far longer than George Bush will. 200 years from now, people will be talking about Michael Jackson, and no one's going to mention George Bush.
AVC: I remember growing up, he was the most famous person in the world.
BR: It's not even that. It's like the people who create something. Mozart is much more famous than Napoleon, for instance. Mozart is creating something that's lasting forever in music. Michael does not even belong. It's like God is channeling through him. Even if he sits here with us, and just sings like three notes, it's like, "Oh my God." It's beyond anything. I've worked with a hundred of the biggest artists in the world, from Madonna to Mariah Carey, and he is just beyond. He's at a whole other level, spiritually. He's got the God spot. Everyone has it, everyone has that God spot, but it's just the way he's in tune with it. He has it. It's right there, and when he starts to sing, God has just opened it up for him. That's why he's not comfortable around people and things, because he's just such a unique—he feels blessed just to be himself. "I can't believe I'm Michael Jackson." [Laughs.] That's what it is, really. He is one of the most unique people. I've spent a lot of time with him, so has Chris. Just sitting in the back of a car, and music playing, and then him, he moves like God is going through him. Not to knock Usher or anybody else, but you see when they're dancing, they're like, "One, two, three, four." He's just like, natural. He's amazing, he really is amazing. He's got a bad rap, but the truth is, he's a child. Michael Jackson never grew up, but that's what makes him so special.
CT: That's what he says about Brett. "I like Brett, because he's just a kid. He never lost that essence."
BR: Mike has the mind of a kid, and when you have the mind of a kid, you're smarter than an adult. You see through all the BS. Kids, you know how they are? They just say the truth.
AVC: There's a sort of purity to it.
BR: Purity to it. He's a pure person. There's no malicious intent in him at all. He's a kid. That's the true essence of a kid. There's nobody more kid-like than Michael Jackson. People may say, "Oh, he needs to grow up, he's a 40-something-year-old man," but the truth is, that's what makes him special. He sees the world in a different way. He can read the mind of an adult better than an adult can read his mind. That's what makes him so special.
CT: And he understands that, because that's what he told me about Brett. [Laughs.]
BR: "Brett's an asshole." "No, Brett's great!" That's what we all have in common. See, that's the thing. Michael loves movies. He loves entertainment. He loves music. We spent all our time with him watching movies. Listening to music. Dancing. Singing. Having fun. Every time Chris would leave the house, we'd be in Miami, and he'd go with Michael Jackson. "Where'd you go?" "Oh, we just went to Barry Gibb's house and we were just singing Bee Gees songs."
CT: Him and Barry Gibb were singing with each other. It was crazy.
BR: [Imitates Barry Gibb.]
CT: Michael singing, [Michael Jackson voice] "How deep is your love, is your love."
AVC: Chris, Friday made you a hero to millions of potheads. What's is like being a stoner icon? Is there any downside to that?
CT: You know, it's good. People come to my house and knock on my door, like little white kids in my neighborhood that I don't even know, and ask me do I want to smoke weed. Hell, no. That movie was 10 years ago. But no, it's great. That movie is going to stand the test of time, because that's where I was in my life. I was a young kid, and I knew I could play that part. I think people fell in love with the part because they related to it. Everybody grew up with those characters around them. They was harmless, too. Guys sitting around on porches, having a good time, smoking weed, talking about his friend who got fired, and he don't have a job, and smoked up all his weed by accident, and somebody looking for him. You know, getting in trouble in the neighborhood. Everybody has done that. When I first seen the movie, I said, "Man, this movie's not that funny." Yeah, but what did I know?
AVC: But were you high at the time?
CT: A little bit. [Laughs.] Naw, naw, I wasn't. You can't make a movie high. Rush Hour we smoked a lot of weed. That's a whole other story, though. [Laughs.] Naw, I didn't stay in character, but it was a good movie to do. We had a lot of fun.
AVC: Brett, one of your next projects is the Hugh Hefner biopic. What is your take on Hugh Hefner? What's your vision of what this movie will be?
BR: A lot of naked girls in it. [Laughs.]
AVC: Are people going to see it for the story or for the pictures?
BR: Both. Everyone says, "Why do you read Playboy?" "Oh, for the articles." I'm not making the movie for the naked girls. Playboy, everyone in the world, no matter who you are or where you're from, you know that Playboy symbol. You don't really know what Hugh Hefner's done for the sexual revolution. He's the first person to put Lenny Bruce on TV when this guy was the most cutting-edge comedian.
AVC: Dick Gregory as well.
BR: Yeah. He was the first person to show black people dancing with white people in public. On television, when they weren't even associating with each other. Back in the day, he was putting black and white people together. He was showing that the girl next door is really an object of beauty. He was a big part of the sexual revolution in this country, and freedom and rights. He was very supportive of women's right, civil rights, freedom of speech. He did so much for this country, especially with the sexual revolution, that I think that it's worth making a movie about him. And of course, the parties and the naked girls. [Laughs.] But his whole philosophy, the Playboy philosophy, is anybody should be able to do whatever they want, and have as much fun as they want, as long as they're not hurting anybody else. That's what I got out of it, when I read this. You know, life is good, let's enjoy this.
CT: Yeah, call some girls in here. [Laughs.]
BR: [Laughs.] Yeah, let's have fun. That's my thinking as well. He's a fascinating guy, and a brilliant guy, and it'll be a fun movie.
AVC: Have you thought about casting Chris in the lead role?
CT: I'll be there.
BR: Yeah, he'll be on the set. No, Chris and I have a lot more work to do together. This is just the beginning of our careers. Chris, as you know, is a brilliant stand-up, and I wanted him for a long time to go on the road and do some stand-up so we could make a movie out of it. We're really looking to do a feature like Delirious, or Eddie Murphy: Raw, or Richard Pryor Live On The Sunset Strip. We're going to do a concert film, Chris has movies that he's developing. We make a good team, and we're just going to keep working together.
AVC: What's the best part of being Chris Tucker and Brett Ratner, respectively?
BR: All the girls. [Laughs.]
CT: You know, the fans. Like I said, kids come up, and there's a lot of stuff in our movies that the kids love. So, kids come up to me, being noticed all over the world, being in Africa, [adopts African accent] "Chris Tucker, what are you doing here!" The fans, really. That's my reward.
BR: There's no greater feeling than people coming up to me and going, "Man, my father was dying, and we went to see Rush Hour, and it was the greatest night we had in years together. We sat in that theater and we laughed for two hours without stopping. That was just a great memory that I had before my father died." Entertaining people, helping people forget about their problems in their life, and bringing people around the world together, and telling stories. We're storytellers. We love telling stories. When he does stand-up, he tells stories, and when I make my movies, I tell stories. We love telling stories. That's what we were born to do. We're blessed to have figured that out at an early age and do it, and make people happy, make a lot of people happy around the world. I think that gives us joy. And because when you love what you do, my dream, I don't know about Chris, but I never had a dream about having a private jet—
CT: I still don't have one. Although, I'm saying, I will one day.
BR: Having a mansion, or having all of these Ferraris. You get that because you're good at your job. His dream was to do movies, and make stand-up, and do all that stuff, and all that stuff comes eventually.