Anyone looking for the loud, boisterous version of Chris Tucker may be disappointed. Asked to tell me a joke, Tucker's delivery is so understated I react late to the punchline, expecting something juicier than, "I went to a psychic and she wouldn't give me a reading because she knew I wasn't going to pay her."
Kinda funny, but still.
Not seen on the big screen since 2007's "Rush Hour 3," or in a non-"Rush Hour Movie" since 1997's "Jackie Brown," Tucker talks about his supporting role in "Silver Linings Playbook" (opening Friday) as if it's no big deal. He'd been doing standup and reading hundreds of scripts. He liked this one. They let him do it without auditioning. Simple.
"I think [people] will be surprised because they either forgot or they didn't know that I could do dramatic parts or different parts from 'Rush Hour,'" he says at the Peninsula Hotel, calling himself "really picky" about choosing projects. "But some of my fans won't be surprised because they remember when I did 'Dead Presidents,' and they remember that I did a serious part in that movie. So some will discover a different side of me."
It fits with the 40-year-old comedian's current modest persona and his subtle, dramatic work in the film. He plays Danny, a friend Pat (Bradley Cooper) makes in a psychiatric facility before Pat is released and begins a complicated friendship with Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence). Danny's anything but the brash loudmouth Tucker's remembered as from the "Rush Hour" franchise. On that note: Tucker remains interested in a fourth "Rush Hour" film, but says a script has yet to be written. He doesn't think he'll do another "Friday" movie, however, though a script exists for that.
The born-again Christian has toned it down in a number of ways. While you can find plenty of Tucker's profane standup material on YouTube, now he's keeping it clean. "My [goal] was just to be better as a comedian," he says. "And not just cuss. And I'm better as a comedian ... and being real vocal about that because I go deeper and I'm conscious of what I'm saying, instead of just saying it."
The Atlanta native (who lives in L.A.) notes that Chicago's "a big comedy city for me," having appeared here in 2006 and 2011 at the Arie Crown Theatre and the Regal Theater. Regarding how his standup has changed since turning 40, Tucker says, "It opens you up to a whole other world because you keep evolving as a person. Most of my standup is about my life. [I] talk about growing up and then my son, being a father, thinking about getting married. There's so much to talk about."
Tucker also notes his enjoyment of the bickering involved in the presidential debates, offering excellent impressions of President Obama and former President Clinton, with a less-accurate take on Mitt Romney. "'That's a lie. I didn't say that. I want to whoop his ass,'" he says as Romney. "He's looking at him like, 'I want to whoop his ass. He's just too damn smart.'"
The comedian's getting ready to do a standup comedy movie like Richard Pryor did, tentatively titled "The Return" and expected for release next year. Otherwise that's what's on tap for Tucker, who says he wants to do more dramatic roles and produce unseen African-American stories. He has plenty of interesting credits behind him, though, including appearances in music videos with both Michael Jackson ("You Rock My World") and Tupac Shakur ("California Love"). Unfortunately Tucker says he never spent time with the two artists simultaneously, adding, "Tupac would have loved Michael."
Finally, regarding reports of owing millions in taxes, Tucker deflects a question about any pending legal situations. "No! No. No. I don't think so. You heard something?"
The worst lie he's ever told (his character in 'Silver Linings' lies to get out of the psychiatric facility): "Oh man, I can't remember. I try not to lie. That's a good question, but man I can't remember. I probably lied when I was in high school about my grades or something like that." [Like changing a 60 to an 80?] "I never did that because my mom wouldn't believe me. She knows my average was about a C average or something like that."
If anyone thought there were racist elements to the "Rush Hour" series: "It was just fun; it probably wasn't mean-spirited. It probably was just part of the characters—the different cultures and getting to know each other. And ultimately they overcame that, whatever that was. And made fun of it, really of racism and stuff like that. It kind of poked fun at it."
Even when his character threatened to wrap up Chinese men in a California roll in "Rush Hour 3"? "I didn't write that. I could see that too. Some might have been a little racy but I think the way I played the character everybody knew Carter wasn't a racist person. He was fun loving, maybe said some off the cuff … I think he was maybe joking more like when you joke with a friend, like you say something about his nationality but not in a mean spirited way but just in a funny way or an irritating way but not to really hurt the person. That's the way I think I played it."
Why "Friday" worked so well: "It was a different situation. It wasn't about your typical in-the-hood movie. It was a comedy in the hood, and that's why it worked so good at that time. That's why it became such a big success because you never seen comedy in the hood. You only saw 'Boyz in the Hood' or 'Menace II Society,' some of the really violent-type movies and then you see this movie you're like, 'Oh man I can relate to that. They're having a lot of fun. He gets in a lot of trouble.' And that's life."
Favorite music: Earth Wind and Fire, Luther Vandross
Favorite romantic comedies: "Romancing the Stone," "Pretty Woman" (which he misremembered as "A Beautiful Woman"), "Boomerang"
Guilty pleasure movies: "Scarface," "The Godfather"
Watch Matt on "You & Me This Morning," Friday at 6:55 a.m. on WCIU, the U