‘Friday’: Chris Tucker Nearly Lost Smokey to These 2 Huge Comedy Stars

Back in the 1990s, comedy seemed to offer a direct line to television. Between sketch comedy shows to sitcoms, the airwaves were overrun with stand-up comics getting their shot at mainstream stardom. Movies, however, were a bit trickier to break into. So whenever an opportunity did arise for a comedian to land a major movie role, the competition was often tough. Take, for example, how Chris Tucker nearly missed out on his chance to star in Friday.

Chris Tucker wears a dark suit as he smiles with arms outstretched in front of a gold-decorated holiday tree
Chris Tucker | 2020 Robert F. Kennedy Ripple Of Hope Award Gala/Getty Images for Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights

Ice Cube co-wrote, produced, and starred in ‘Friday’

The 1995 comedy was very much a gamble when it was in development. Sure, Ice Cube — who co-wrote, produced, and starred in the film — was already a proven commodity in music. But with only a few movie roles under his belt, Ice Cube was far from a movie star. Moreover, most of his films saw the actor as part of an ensemble cast. Friday put him front and center. And with Ice Cube’s deadpan delivery, he seemed the perfect scene partner.

Chris Tucker’s Smokey serves as the boisterous counterpart to Ice Cube’s chill Craig. And together, the two actors brought irresistible chemistry to the screen. Despite its indie vibe and small budget, Friday went on to earn nearly eight times in budget in theaters, according to Box Office Mojo. The movie ultimately inspired two sequels and a short-lived animated series. However, Tucker opted out of future installments in the Friday franchise.

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Chris Tucker had some tough competition for his role

Fans definitely responded to Tucker’s take on the character. But Smokey would have been very different if Ice Cube, co-writer/producer DJ Pooh, and director F. Gary Gray had cast another actor. And according to The New York Times, a bunch of alternative choices were in the mix. These included Chris Rock — who was a Saturday Night Live regular from 1990 to 1993 — and Tommy Davidson, who had only wrapped his five-season run on In Living Color.

At the time, both actors were much more established in the business. Rock had even already starred in a box office hit, 1993’s CB4. But Gray and his team were convinced Tucker was the right man for the job and fought to cast him opposite Ice Cube. And as proven by Friday‘s enduring legacy, the then-budding comedian turned out to be the perfect Smokey. Looking back now, it’s wild to picture anyone else co-starring in the movie.

Will Ice Cube really make ‘Last Friday’ anytime soon?

After Friday‘s success, Ice Cube went on to star in Next Friday and Friday After Next in 2000 and 2002, respectively. With Tucker turning down the chance to reprise his role, Mike Epps stepped in as Craig’s new right-hand man. As Day Day, the actor brings a very different energy to the franchise than Tucker. But fans continue to hope to see Tucker reunite with Ice Cube on screen at some point.

Ice Cube has frequently discussed his goal of making a fourth and final entry in the series. Last Friday could mark Tucker’s long-awaited return to the franchise. But the actor seems mostly adamant that Smokey is in the past. Instead, the best chance fans have for Last Friday is for Ice Cube to move ahead without Tucker. The status of the movie remains unclear, but the death of original star John Witherspoon in 2019 likely complicates things.

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