Chris Tucker’s unforgettable foray into sci-fi as Ruby Rhod in “The Fifth Element” was almost given to Prince.
Tucker opens up about his time as the eccentric game host on Planet Fhloston during a recent chat with GQ about his most iconic characters. By any measure, Ruby is unlike any other role he has ever taken on. The non-binary, high-pitched-voice being and cast hit theaters two years after the comedian left audiences in stitches as Smokey in “Friday.”
The first thing Tucker recalled about the high-energy role was director Luc Besson’s vision for the character. “He wanted a flamboyant character, and he wanted sexuality and all of this stuff,” he said. The Def Jam Comedy alum noted that the first person he thought of after hearing Besson’s description of Ruby was none other than The Purple One.
“Prince was supposed to play the part,” revealed Tucker. However, the artist had a vision that did not mesh with Besson’s choices for Ruby.
“He declined for some reason, I think because of the wardrobe. Because Prince had his own style and, matter of fact, he told me one time in person — he heard I was doing the movie — and he said, ‘I didn’t want to do it.’ I was like, ‘Oh,’ and all that,” said the “Rush Hour” star.
He continued, “It was definitely different for me, but I’m so glad I tackled it and did it. Man, it brought out range in me I only use probably on stage, so working with Luc Besson was unbelievable.” Tucker said filming took place in London on multiple otherworldly sets and made it easy for him to embody the character.
“Putting on the outfits and the costumes, and all the stuff, man, it just really turned me into a Ruby Rhod character. And I was really able to really let loose,” said the comedian.
However, like Prince, Tucker said knowledge of the wardrobe choices likely would have led him to pass up the opportunity to bring the gender-fluid host to life. “If I would have found out what I was wearing, I probably woulda said, ‘Nah, nah,’” noted Tucker. “But I’m so glad I didn’t, ’cause it’s one of my favorite roles.”
Prince was not the only casting detour. According to Entertainment Weekly, Besson originally saw Mel Gibson as the film’s lead role, Korben Dallas, and Julia Roberts as orange-haired Leeloo. The respective roles ultimately went to Bruce Willis and Milla Jovovich.
In April 2016, Prince passed away from an accidental overdose of fentanyl after taking what he assumed to be Vicodin. Days after his tragic death, Besson shared a sketch of the lacy costume he imagined for the “Purple Rain” singer had he signed on to the film.
In his tweet, the director noted that Prince’s prior obligations played a role in things not coming together. “He was supposed to play Ruby in the 5th Element…but couldn’t find dates during his tour,” he wrote.
For two days only, the movie was rereleased to theaters to celebrate its 25th anniversary in 2022. To this day, it remains a career-defining moment for Tucker and is oftentimes referred to as a cult classic.