Brett Ratner and Chris Tucker are tied to each other’s success. It’s been reported that during Ratner’s early work in music videos he hired a struggling Chris Tucker to play a part in the video for Heavy D‘s “Nuttin’ but Love.” Karma smiled. And when the director for Money Talks parted ways with the production, Tucker suggested Ratner. Now they’re part of one of the most profitable action-comedy franchises of recent years and have teamed up again for it latest installment, Rush Hour 3. Tucker’s recognized for his discriminate choices in roles and Ratner’s famous for his parties and his populist agenda.
Ratner and Tucker sat down with Rotten Tomatoes for a brief interview on their Rush Hour 3 press tour; the talked about the joys of popcorn cinema, the future of the Democratic Party, Tucker’s plans for a standup documentary, and Ratner’s Hugh Hefner biopic.
Q: Brett, your work has something of a polarizing force because it stands clearly on one side of the populist/artist line. Why is box office success more important to you than critical success?
Brett Ratner: I want people to see my movies. My talent, my sensibilities are what people want to see in the movies. People ask me if I’m interested in making a little movie or an art movie and I say no, because while I have the talent to make the kind of movies people want to see I want to continue to do that, keep making big pictures and make what I love. I’m really just making the films I want to see. There’s not a strategy. One day, would it be nice to win an award? Yes. But the critics are going to have to wait till I’m ready. Right now, my gift is making big movies that audiences want to see.
BR: I think he means I’ll make a film that’ll win an Academy Award. I think he knows I have it in me because I did Red Dragon, Family Man, but I love making movies like Rush Hour. That’s what gives me the most happiness. I’m in my element. When I did X-Men: The Last Stand, Bryan Singer gave me the best advice ever. He said, “Whatever you do, don’t read the Internet because they all hate you. And they all hated me when I did the first X-Men and I was so happy I didn’t read it until after I finished the film because if I had it would have made me crazy.” There are such rabid fans out there and you can’t make everyone happy. I have to make myself happy; my actors happy; and the studio who’s writing the check happy…And audiences! The general population [who] are going to see it. I think, down the road, I’ll make an [arches fingers] “important film.”
Q: How was it working with Roman Polanski, and how did you get him?
Chris Tucker: It was a lot of fun! I knew of him from a few of his movies and I knew he was a legend. You could tell he had a great sense of comedy.
BR: Roman became a friend of mine. When Paul Thomas Anderson did Boogie Nights, I was envious of him because he was hanging out with Stanley Kubrick and all these big directors and I was like, “One day I’ll hang out with big important movie directors,” and Roman was one of the first people who called me when he saw Rush Hour. He saw it in France and said, “Let’s meet,” and I said, “But I made the contemporary Beverly Hills Cop!” And he said, “I love the movie!” and he told me what a fan he was, how he loved Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan, and how well-made the movie was. Directors aren’t snobs. It’s the critics [gestures at me] — I’m not pointing at you.
CT: [To me] He means people like you.
BR: Directors appreciate a good movie, it doesn’t matter what the genre. I think it’s much harder to make a movie like Rush Hour, a huge buddy action movie, than it is to make a pretentious art film. And a guy like Roman, who’s considered a master filmmaker, likes Rush Hour. How do you like that? So we kept in touch all these years and when I was getting ready to shoot Rush Hour 3 and I said, “You should be in it,” because I loved his acting in Chinatown and The Tenant. And he said, “What would I do?” I said, “Hold on!” I called my writer and said, “Roman Polanski is gonna be in the movie. You gotta write a scene for him.” So I fax him the scene and he said, “Let’s do it!” My writer was like, “There is no way you’re getting Roman Polanski to do this!” And that shows you the power of the blockbuster, because it speaks to everybody and guys who have made masterpieces or [air quotes] “important films” love them such that they’d put themselves in it. I’m very flattered by that. We’re gonna remember this for 20, 30 years.
Q: Chris, tell me about your stand-up work.
CT: I started doing standup before I got into the movies. I did about 20 cities to sharpen up before I did this movie [to] get my timing back. I’m getting ready to do a world tour. I’ll do 15 cities in the United States and I’m going to film it like a stand-up comedy film like Richard Pryor‘s Live in Long Beach or Eddie Murphy‘s Raw.
I’m gonna do this movie called Mr. President. I’ve been working on the last few years. I’ll play the first African-American President. It’s a comedy and it’s gonna be a fun movie. Something I’ve always wanted to do.
Q: So, about presidents… Brett, I understand you hosted fundraisers for both Hillary Clinton and John Edwards, respectively. Are you endorsing two candidates and if so, why?
BR: I just want a Democratic president in office; whoever’s the best candidate. I wanna be with the winner and I don’t know who the winner is. Nah, that’s a joke. Really, I’m auditioning them. They come over to my house, they speak, I help them raise money, and I’m gonna vote for the best person for the job. I don’t know who that is yet because I think it’s too early. I’m not as political a person as Chris Tucker, who’s friends with Bill Clinton, but I’m maturing now — a little slower than Chris Tucker — but I’m involved in philanthropy and I think it’s important. What I try to do is invite people in Hollywood who don’t even vote to my house to see what it’s about. Most people are too busy or too rich and don’t even care. Young people in Hollywood aren’t giving back. They’re not caring about the economy or the environment. They don’t have anything they’re fighting for because they don’t know. They don’t teach it in school. I’m interested in introducing people to politics so they can make up their own minds. I’m not saying they need to choose the Democratic Party, but I want them to hear what they have to say.
Q: Are you into that, Chris?
CT: I’m friends with Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. I want whichever one of them is best for the country. It’s too early to decide yet. I was watching the debates last night and that’s helping me choose, but I like Edwards too and it’s gonna take me a little while to decide.
BR: Chris Tucker can get a president elected [big smile] if he goes on tour and at his shows says, “Everybody vote for Obama!” He’s a role model and he’s got a responsibility to be informed and have an opinion.
CT: You know — whoever lowers taxes and leaves rich people alone.
Q: Aren’t you two just card-carrying, fire breathing Democrats. About politics: The film featured a few jokes about war and America’s tendency toward violence. What point of view do you hope the film voices about the subject?
BR: This isn’t a political film. What we wanted to do was voice an opinion about America from a world perspective. It’s almost Anti-American, this film. We weren’t attacking the French, we were saying “America’s messed up,” and this is what the world perception of America is. When the French guy’s saying, “America’s so violent,” we want to show the other side — show how other countries see us. But we’re not making big statements here. We’re making a joke about what’s really talked about. And then at the end of the movie the French guy wants to be American.
CT: I should say something, too: the French ain’t so bad.
BR: We don’t want to make too many issues in this movie we want people to laugh. We’re not Spike Lee, and we don’t want to force issues down anyone’s throats. We wanna have fun, enjoy the movie and not think too much about what’s being said. Though, comedy is rooted in reality and we wanted to poke fun at what the Americans think of France and what France thinks of America.
Q: Brett, can you tell us anything about Playboy? Like for example, have you got someone lined up to play Hugh Hefner?
BR: Not yet. I’m just working on the script and there’s a lot of speculation on the Internet to who’ll play him and I don’t wanna say anything. You’ll just have to wait.
Q: Mr. Tucker — you have a reputation for being choosy about your roles. What made you come back to Rush Hour 3?
CT: It gives me a basis to use so many talents. I get to sing, dance, do martial arts, action, and it gives me a platform to have a lot of fun. The first two [Rush Hours] are successful and we could make 10 of them but we’ll wait to see if people like this one.