The Lost Roles of Chris Tucker
In 2006, Chris Tucker was the highest paid actor in Hollywood, receiving a $25 million payday for appearing in Rush Hour 3. He even negotiated a larger salary and top billing over co-star Jackie Chan, who had more credits and had been a movie star for much longer. Most actors tend to capitalize on that kind of success by flooding the marketplace with more movies while they’re still at the height of their popularity. Not Chris Tucker. He’s been very picky with his projects, only starring in two movies in the past 10 years — Rush Hour and Rush Hour 2 — while his peers like Jason Bateman, Justin Timberlake, and Emma Stone have starred in two movies this summer alone. It’s almost as if Chris Tucker could sense the public getting sick of his squealy voice and limited persona.
While the reasons for his retreat from stardom remain unclear, Chris Tucker has been attached to dozens of projects over the years that never made into production. Read on to learn about the classic Peter Sellers character he almost played, the film that would have marked the acting debut of President Bill Clinton, Chris Tucker’s Bollywood remake, and more proposed movies that make Tracy Jordan’s starring vehicles from 30 Rock seem tame. For those wondering why Chris Tucker hasn’t appeared in many movies lately, taking a look at the movies he almost made should turn that curiosity into exuberant joy that none of them came to be.
1. Lethal Weapon 4 (1998)
The role: Detective Lee Butters
Who got it: Chris Rock
Busy filming the first Rush Hour at the time, Chris Tucker opted out of this Lethal Weapon sequel, allowing another foul-mouthed stand-up named Chris to take the part. Making Rush Hour, which was in many ways a successor to the Lethal Weapon series, instead of this was a smart move. Rush Hour became Tucker’s biggest hit at the time and turned him into a major star. In Rush Hour, Chris Tucker was front and center, but the Lethal Weapon part was a supporting role on par with his turns in Jackie Brown and The Fifth Element (which I’d say is about the maximum amount of Chris Tucker I can handle in a movie). Although he’d toplined a couple movies beforehand, Rush Hour proved Chris Tucker was a bankable movie star.
2. Any Given Sunday (1999)
The role: Willie Beamen
Who got it: Jamie Foxx
Chris Tucker turned down the role of a major league football player in this Oliver Stone drama. Jamie Foxx, who belonged to Tucker’s class of comedic actors, took the part. Unlike Tucker, he had played high school football, so he had some actual experience to draw upon. Any Given Sunday served as Jamie Foxx’s breakthrough dramatic role and the start of a path that led the actor to his 2005 Oscar win for Ray. Chris Tucker accepting this part may have put a stop to Foxx’s ascent in Hollywood, but it’s hard to imagine Tucker would have used this role as a springboard to the same success. Chris Tucker probably wouldn’t have transitioned into a career as a respected dramatic actor if he’d taken this role, but no one was expecting then-comic actor Jamie Foxx to rise to the occasion either.
3. Next Friday (2000) and 4. Friday After Next (2002)
The role: Smokey
Who got it: Mike Epps (playing a different character)
Tucker turned down the chance to reprise the role of Smokey in the second and third installments in this stoner series, attributing his decision to having become a born-again Christian. Mike Epps was brought in to fill in as Ice Cube’s new sidekick. Although they made more money, these Friday sequels were never as acclaimed or as relevant as the original, and that’s largely due to Tucker’s absence. Chris Tucker’s career was peaking around the time of the Friday sequels; he was still riding high on the success of the first two Rush Hours. Appearing in these silly stoner romps would have been a step down for him both in terms of pay and the popularity of his films.
5. Agent Double-O-Soul (unproduced)
This ill-conceived spy comedy had Chris Tucker attached to star in 1998, with Mariah Carey signed on to make her movie debut as his love interest. In the film, which was written by Antwone Fisher (yes, that Antwone Fisher), Tucker would have played a hip spy with a slew of crazy gadgets, including sunglasses with a built-in gun that is set off by ear-wiggling, an air conditioned trench coat, a talking car, and a “midget sidekick.” Production was scheduled to begin in the fall of 1998, but things never got off the ground. By 2001, Mariah Carey had made her starring film debut in Glitter, a massive bomb, and she dropped out of this project. 2002 saw the release of Undercover Brother, the Eddie Griffin spy comedy that seems a little too similar to Agent Double-O-Soul. Perhaps the emergence of Undercover Brother and Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, which also featured similar plot elements to Agent Double-O-Soul, put the kibosh on this one. If Agent Double-O-Soul had received the tepid reaction that Undercover Brother or Mariah Carey’s Glitter garnered, then it would have taken some momentum out of Chris Tucker’s career at a time when he was coming off a major hit and it seemed like he was ramping up to be a major force in the entertainment industry.
6. Black Knight (2001)
The role: Jamal Walker
Who got it: Martin Lawrence
Chris Tucker and F. Gary Gray, the director of the original Friday, were attached to this time travel comedy, but they both dropped out due to concerns with the script. In the movie, Martin Lawrence plays an employee at a medieval theme park who is sent back in time to the Middle Ages and spends the next 90 minutes complaining about the lack of indoor plumbing and leering at medieval women. Chris Tucker was best served to stay as far away from this one as possible.
7. Mr. President (unproduced)
Back in 1999, when the idea of a Black U.S. President was an outlandish fantasy fit for a broad Hollywood comedy, Chris Tucker was set to make his directorial debut with Mr. President, in which he was to star as an average guy who is unexpectedly elected to this nation’s highest office, becoming the first Black man to hold the position. The project was racing Chris Rock’s Head of State to production, which featured an identical premise and a similar star in the title role. Rumors of a feud between Tucker and Rock were denied by Tucker, but it’s hard to believe there wasn’t a sense of competition over this. These films were passion projects for the two comedians, as both stars were set to direct their respective first Black president movies. Head of State made it to theaters in 2003, before Mr. President even began filming, but Chris Tucker has insisted that his movie was going to be produced as recently as 2007. Tucker did quite a bit of work to research his role. He visited troops in Virginia, volunteered to promote voter registration, and consulted with Bill Clinton, Nelson Mandela, and Jesse Jackson, the first major Black presidential candidate. By 2008, Barack Obama was elected president in real life, and this movie was scrapped. The most interesting thing about Mr. President, though, is that Chris Tucker once claimed that Bill Clinton wanted to play a supporting role, saying in 2001:
“President Clinton said he wanted to do a cameo. But he doesn’t want to play himself. He wants to play a regular person in the movie.”
I find all of this pretty hard to believe, but these words did come out of Chris Tucker’s mouth. It’s absurd to think of Bill Clinton appearing in a comedy, but him playing a character and not just cameoing as himself is fucking ridiculous. Although Mr. President would have been without a doubt god-awful, I feel like we really missed out on something as a nation here. Mr. President could have seen Bill Clinton becoming the heir to Rodney Dangerfield’s throne and been the start of a promising comedy career.
8. The Pink Panther (2006)
The role: Inspector Jacques Closeau
Who got it: Steve Martin
Producer Ivan Reitman considered Chris Tucker to play Inspector Closseau in this affront to comedy. Tucker was pretty far along in the casting process, having participated in a table reading with Reitman and studio executives, but things didn’t get much further than that. And people complain about Steve Martin tarnishing Peter Sellers’s legacy.
9. Stand-up comedy concert film (unproduced)
In 2001, Chris Tucker announced plans to film a stand-up comedy performance for theatrical release. Tucker’s roots are in stand-up; he was a frequent Def Jam comedian in his early days. The film, though, never materialized, but Chris Tucker has talked it up as recently as 2007, making comparisons to Eddie Murphy’s Raw and Richard Pryor’s Live in Concert. Those are pretty ambitious movies to compare his to, two of the most prolific stand-up films ever made. There’s obviously no way Chris Tucker’s movie would have been able to reach the heights of Murphy or Pryor’s stand-up films. These stand-up comedy concert films seem like kind of an outdated concept, since video of stand-up has been readily available on TV and the Internet for a number of years, and there’s nothing about stand-up that lends itself to the big screen. Although I loved Louis C.K.’s recent film Hilarious, the last stand-up movie that was a big hit was The Original Kings of Comedy over a decade ago. These movies can usually turn a quick profit, especially with a big star like Chris Tucker at the center, as they’re cheap to make when compared to a narrative film. Nevertheless, a Chris Tucker stand-up film just seems unnecessary (especially considering that theatrical stand-up movies seem unnecessary on the whole these days).
10. Knight and Day (2010)
The role: Roy Miller
Who got it: Tom Cruise
Knight and Day was in Development Hell for several years before it made it to theaters, causing audiences to feel like they were in Actual Hell. Originally, Chris Tucker and Eva Mendes were attached to star in the film around 2005 when it was titled Trouble Man. Trouble Man’s a bad name for a movie, almost sounding like a bad Japanese translation, but it pales in comparison to the film’s eventual title, Knight and Day. No one in the movie is named Knight, and it doesn’t feature any knights. It’s a completely nonsensical, unjustified pun.
11. Tower Heist (set for release later in 2011)
Tower Heist is an upcoming Ben Stiller-Eddie Murphy comedy from “director” Brett Ratner, who “collaborated” with Chris Tucker on the Rush Hour “films.” It’s set for release this fall and revolves around a group of people who band together to rob residents of Trump Tower. This is another one that was stuck in Development Hell for several years. In development since the early 2000s, Tower Heist was originally called Trump Heist and was envisioned as a “black Ocean’s Eleven.” Ratner wanted Chris Rock, Chris Tucker, Eddie Murphy, Dave Chappelle, and Sidney Poitier to play the main characters, but Murphy was the only one who signed on. Ben Stiller, Casey Affleck, Matthew Broderick, and Alan Alda ended up joining the cast, which, needless to say, screwed up that whole “black Ocean’s Eleven” thing. Ratner’s been responsible for Chris Tucker’s three biggest hits (Rush Hour 1, 2, and 3), but it doesn’t seem like this one is going to be as popular as that franchise was.
12. Untitled Chris Tucker-Jackie Chan Reunion Film (unproduced)
Back in 2009, another Chris Tucker-Jackie Chan project was announced that was going to be a separate entity from the Rush Hour series. Little information about the film surfaced, but it now seems to have fallen apart. I know the Rush Hour movies were very popular and largely because of these two stars and their chemistry, but I feel like audiences should have gotten their fill by now. Are people really clamoring for another Tucker-Chan joint? It’s about time we turn our backs on this revolting era in cinematic history. The Rush Hour Years should be behind us by now.
13. Going into drama
In interviews, Chris Tucker has mentioned his lofty ambitions to branch out into drama, saying he’d like to try his hand at movies similar to Forrest Gump and The Color Purple. It sounds like a bad idea to me, but a lot of comedic actors have pulled off this transition gracefully, and it’s not always the ones you’d expect who find that kind of success with it. I don’t think anyone’s begging for Tucker to take a dramatic turn, but he sure does enjoy talking about it a lot:
“I want to do movies about Black history and Black history doesn’t begin in America. We need to go back to Africa. Those stories need to be told. It’s good to do movies that are fun. But sometimes you need to do something to inspire people.”
I don’t know about you, but I was pretty inspired by Money Talks.
14. Mr. S: My Life with Frank Sinatra (unproduced)
The role: George Jacobs
In 2007, Chris Tucker signed on to star in Mr. S: My Life with Frank Sinatra, an adaptation of the memoir by Frank Sinatra’s longtime chauffeur George Jacobs. Jacobs’s book offered a rare behind-the-scenes look at Sinatra’s life and that of the Rat Pack. Brett Ratner was attached to direct, but Ratner and Tucker never got the ball rolling.
15. Gangsta, M.D. (unproduced)
Easily the most absurd project on this list — crazier than titling a movie Agent Double-O-Soul or Bill Clinton deciding to try acting or the idea of Chris Tucker playing Inspector Closseau — is Gangsta, M.D. Based on a hit Bollywood film called Munnabhai M.B.B.S., Gangsta, M.D. was to star Chris Tucker as a street thug who enrolls in medical school to placate his mother. This one was announced in 2006, but Chris Tucker seems to have dropped out of his commitment, just like he’s done with every project in the past decade that didn’t include the phrase “Can you understand the words that are coming out of my mouth?” in the script. It’s a shame Gangsta, M.D. never materialized, as it combines so many things I love: Chris Tucker, Bollywood, and gangsters going to medical school. I can just see the poster hanging in Tracy Jordan’s office now. The 30 Rock writers could save a lot of time and effort by just cribbing from abandoned Chris Tucker vehicles to flesh out their cartoonish character’s fake filmography.
16. Django Unchained (set for release in late 2012)
The role: Django
Who got it: Jamie Foxx
Along with Will Smith, Jamie Foxx, and Idris Elba, Chris Tucker was one of the actors in talks for the lead part in Quentin Tarantino’s next movie, Django Unchained. The film is the story of an escaped slave who takes revenge on his former master, all shot in the style of a spaghetti western. Jamie Foxx will be starring alongside a bevy of acclaimed actors that includes Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel L. Jackson, Christoph Waltz, and Kevin Costner. Tucker seems like he would have been an odd choice for a film that has a strong chance at being an awards contender, but he has done quality work with Tarantino before in Jackie Brown.
Quentin Tarantino also has that fascination with rediscovering forgotten actors and using them in new and interesting ways. If Chris Tucker were cast, Tarantino could have done for him what he’s done for John Travolta, Robert Forster, and Darryl Hannah. Landing the lead part in Django Unchained would have been a boon to Chris Tucker’s career. He’s turned down and dropped out of a lot of projects over the past several years, but his actions were justified most of the time, as many of the roles that were offered to him sound abysmal to begin with. Unlike most of the films he almost ended up in, Django Unchained seems like it may be destined for Oscar glory, rather than the bargain bin at Wal-Mart.
Bradford Evans is a writer living in Los Angeles.