Forget trying to find Waldo. A better question might be: "Where's Chris? " For six years, movie-industry insiders and fans alike were asking...

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Forget trying to find Waldo. A better question might be: “Where’s Chris?”

For six years, movie-industry insiders and fans alike were asking that question after comic actor Chris Tucker disappeared from the Hollywood scene at the height of his popularity. The only time his name surfaced in the media was after an over-publicized Sunday-morning traffic stop in his native Georgia.

A search party might have been organized if not for the opening of “Rush Hour 3,” which reunites Tucker and Jackie Chan as mismatched police detectives who trade quips and martial-arts moves with the dastardly Triads crime syndicate.

Tucker, 34, re-entered the spotlight to promote his new film, which has made him one of the highest-paid movie stars in the world with a reported salary in the very nice neighborhood of $25 million. The first two “Rush Hour” movies made nearly $600 million at the worldwide box office so it’s probably a wise investment.

In his Los Angeles hotel suite, the relaxed, soft-spoken Tucker (the wide eyes and high voice from his movie roles are nowhere in evidence in casual conversation) explained what he’s been doing since “Rush Hour 2” came out in 2001, the real reason he decided to take that time off, and what he has in common with Bill Clinton and Oprah Winfrey. Oh, and we discuss the traffic stop heard round the world.

Q: Where have you been?

A: . I’ve been traveling, and doing a lot of humanitarian work. I’ve been on some great trips with Clinton, Bono, Colin Powell and Oprah Winfrey, just learning and taking advantage of my celebrity. A lot of celebrities don’t do that. I’m probably the first in history to take a while off to experience things and deal with some stuff that I feel is important.

Q: Like what?

A: Like clean water issues in Africa. I went with Bono to a village in Uganda where the water supply was damaged because an animal died in it. These people had to walk miles for water.

Q: How did that impact you?

A: I felt like it was a lot more important than doing a movie at that time.

Q: Were you ever concerned about taking a six-year break from your career?

A: I never really worried about that. I always had a lot of faith that when I was ready to come back, my fans would support me. I think I did enough good work that people would want to see more of me. I felt bad that they may have missed me, but I needed to do this for myself.

Q: Did you decide six years ago that you wanted to take all this time off to do humanitarian work, or was there a reason you suddenly had the time to do humanitarian work?

A: I wanted to find movies at the time, but nothing came by that I was interested in. So I decided to travel a bit and see what I could see.

Q: What were you looking for in those scripts six years ago that you were unable to find?

A: I was looking for something that was interesting.

Q: A good comedy or a good drama?

A: Anything. But nothing was coming my way, so I went out and did something real.

Q: You came back for “Rush Hour 3.” Was it just for a big payday, or were you ready to work again?

A: That’s a good question. It wasn’t about the money or I wouldn’t have turned it down two or three times before accepting it. The script wasn’t right. The location wasn’t right. All these things weren’t right. But once those things were fixed, I thought I could have some fun and it would be successful, which would allow me to go out and do other things.

Q: Do you expect this movie to be successful?

A: I’ll bet they’d give it pretty good odds in Vegas.

Q: Did you have any inkling that the first one would be as successful as it was?

A: It was a great concept, with two guys coming together from two different worlds. I always thought it would work.

Q: Let’s go back even further. What were you like as a kid?

A: I was the class clown.

Q: When did you first know that you could make people laugh?

A: In PE class. Sometimes, we’d sit around waiting for class to end and I’d start doing something silly, and people would say, “You so silly.” And I was always trying to make the girls laugh because that impressed them. They’d say, “You so funny, Chris.”

Q: What age are we talking about?

A: Oh, I guess 13 or 14.

Q: But you must have been funny before that?

A: Yeah, I was always funny. But I didn’t know I was funny. I just started talking, and people thought I was funny. Friends of my brothers and sisters would come by and say, “Your little brother’s crazy.”

Q: You’re the youngest of six children. Do you think that had something to do with it?

A: Oh, yeah. The youngest in the family always learns the fastest because they watch their older brothers and sisters.

Q: And maybe a cry for attention?

A: No doubt. You have to be clever to get noticed in a big family.

Q: When did you first appear in a comedy club?

A: In 1990.

Q: Did you do any amateur work before that?

A: I hosted a talent show in high school. I got in trouble in school and was sent to the principal’s office. His secretary was in charge of the talent show, and she said she heard I was funny and asked me to host the show. I told her I wasn’t going to do no talent show, and she said it paid $25. I asked her when I could start.

Q: How did it go?

A: The response from the audience was the greatest feeling I’d ever had. I realized that it was my purpose in life to make people laugh.

Q: Before that day, what was your purpose?

A: I didn’t have one. I didn’t do well in school and was always getting in trouble.

Q: What kind of trouble?

A: Mostly cheating off other people’s test papers. I needed to graduate because of my momma, but I wasn’t any good at school. I just wanted to get out of there and start working in clubs.

Q: What happened when you got caught cheating?

A: I’d tell the teachers that at least I was trying.

Q: What were your earliest club jokes about?

A: Mostly things that were happening to me, like my mother coming home early and catching me having sex in the house. I talked about my father leaving Army brochures around the house as hints. Stuff like that.

Q: When you did leave home, where did you go?

A: I got to L.A. in 2003, started touring and then got “Def Comedy Jam.”

Q: Were movies something you wanted to do even then?

A: Absolutely. I wanted a bigger audience for my comedy, and I knew movies would get me that. I had a small part in “House Party 3,” and that got me “Friday.” That led to a big tour, and I plan another tour after “Rush Hour 3.”

Q: There are a lot of people in this business who believe you could reach an Eddie Murphy level of success at his peak. Is that what you want?

A: Yeah, I do. I want to be at that level, and even further. I want to write and direct my own movies. And I want to do more of my humanitarian work. I think I know enough now to do both.

Q: Do you think the Hollywood establishment will let you do both?

A: They don’t have a choice.

Q: Before we go, tell me why were you going over 100 mph in that Bentley?

A: I thought the paparazzi was following me.

Q: In rural Georgia?

A: No, not really. I was on my way to church and I was late. I didn’t even know I was speeding.

Q: That Bentley runs smooth, doesn’t it?

A: Very smooth.