Chris Tucker Landed The Fifth Element Because 'He Looks Like A Shrimp' Next To Bruce Willis

There are few movies like "The Fifth Element," in just about any sense. The 1997 film was based on a story French filmmaker Luc Besson wrote as a teenager, and it finally came to film when he was 38 years old. It's a unique and off-beat science fiction flick that has remained popular since its release. As Ruby Rhod might say, "Un-bah-lievable!"

The film is centered on Korben Dallas, a cab driver with a military background played by Bruce Willis (who had his own unique casting story), living in 23rd century New York City. With an ancient evil coming to destroy Earth, a group of aliens who possess the mythical "Fifth Element" have the power to stop the destruction. But when the ships carrying the Fifth Element are mysteriously shot down, scientists need to scramble to recreate the planet's savior from its remains. When the being they create makes a daring escape and falls into his taxi, Dallas has to help the perfect being known as Leelo (Milla Jovovich) save the planet.

The film's climax takes place on the planet Fhloston, where Korben wins a luxury vacation hosted by the rowdy Ruby Rhod (Chris Tucker), a flamboyant game show host with a signature high-pitched voice and endless energy. While Tucker perfectly encapsulates Rhod's larger-than-life and shrill character, he apparently wasn't who Besson originally wanted for the part. According to an oral history of the film done by Entertainment Weekly, the casting of Tucker may have come down to a completely cosmetic decision. Besson thought he'd make Bruce Willis look bigger.

Quiver ladies, quiver

The role of Ruby Rhod was originally meant to go to Prince, but that didn't work out for multiple in-character reasons. "Prince was actually supposed to do the part before Chris. But it was a nightmare, because he'd give you an appointment and then he comes, like, seven days late," said Besson while laughing. "And sometimes he shows up when you don't expect him. You can't grab him, you know? He was free and he wants to stay free."

Chris Tucker was brought in following Prince's departure. However, Besson also considered Jamie Foxx for the role. Anyone familiar with the two men knows how different they are. Tucker is skilled at playing motor-mouthed comedic characters, while Jamie Foxx is a more serious star whose impressions and singing ability prove he is one of the most well-rounded talents in the world. If Foxx had landed the role of Ruby Rhod, the character surely would have been a very different one.

Ultimately, Besson's decision came down to something quite simple: size. "For Ruby, I met Jamie Foxx and Chris [Tucker] the same day," said Besson. The director continued to EW, "They were both adorable and so sweet, and I loved them both. But the fact is that Jamie at the time already had lots of muscles. Chris, he looks like a shrimp next to Bruce, and it's way more comic to have a character who is thinner and more fragile. So I chose him."

Size matters

Chris Tucker's performance is certainly a highlight of the film, giving the hard sci-fi story the dash of humor that separates it from many similar sci-fi offerings. He adds fun and energy to the movie, even though many American critics weren't fans of his portrayal.

It may seem like an overly simplistic reason to cast one of the major parts in your movie, but I think that Besson's reasoning definitely checks out. It's a comedic trope as old as comedy itself, but actors of vastly differing sizes create a humorous contrast. Add that along with Tucker's comedic ability and persona that is injected right into Ruby Rhod, and it seems like Besson made the correct choice.

Besson never quite recaptured the critical success of "The Fifth Element," but his mark on movie history cannot be erased. And an integral part of what Besson created comes from Tucker's comedic performance. It also propelled Chris Tucker's career to new heights. Tucker had been plucked from relative obscurity to star in "Friday" in 1995, and after "The Fifth Element" he was able to land perhaps his most famous role in the "Rush Hour" franchise alongside Jackie Chan. So Tucker may have just been cast for being small, but that's what made him big.