Trends are hardly ever unique, particularly where Hollywood is concerned, and a current (though far from unprecedented) one is adapting films into television series. At the moment, a wide variety of films are en route to the small screen, among them Lethal Weapon, Big, The Devil’s Advocate, Frequency, In the Line of Fire, Jack Ryan and Taken. Beating them to the small screen punch, however, are Bates Motel, Fargo, Damien and, now, Rush Hour.
Rush Hour, of course (though we’ll state it anyway), is a series of three Brett Ratner-directed American-Chinese martial arts action-comedy buddy cop films (how’s that for a genre?) starring Jackie Chan as Hong Kong Police Force Inspector Chief Yan Naing Lee and Chris Tucker as LAPD Detective James Carter. This unlikely duo is brought together to investigate crimes that involve both Hong Kong and America, and now their adventures are unfolding weekly in Los Angeles with Jon Foo and Justin Hires taking on the respective roles of Lee and Carter.
A native of St. Petersburg, Florida, Hires’ background ranges from performing in Shakespeare In The Park, stand-up comedy (his true love) and being a part of such sketch comedy series as Key & Peele and In The Flow With Affion Crockett. For his part, the British-born Foo started training in kung fu at the age of eight, though he began taking the martial arts much more seriously at about 15. Eventually he got into acrobatics – becoming a flying trapeze artist – and then took a chance by sending a demo tape to Chan, resulting in his becoming a part of the “Jackie Chan Stunt Team.” His film career began as a stuntman, but led to starring roles in Universal Soldier: Regeneration, Vikingdom, and Extraction.
Rush Hour: What was the appeal of taking on a TV version?
Justin Hires: I'm a stand-up comedian and most stand-up comedians will tell you our dream job is to one day do a buddy action-cop type of film, right? You look at what Eddie Murphy did in 48hrs or what he did on his own in Beverly Hills Cop, or Martin Lawrence and Will Smith in Bad Boys... When Rush Hour came along and I saw that I was going to have the opportunity to do an action-comedy every week on the number one network, it was literally a dream opportunity that presented itself.
Jon Foo: I've always known about Rush Hour, because it's something I saw growing up. And to have an opportunity to be part of it was a no brainer for me, to be honest.
Can a TV series maintain the scope of the film series that spawned it?
Foo: As far as explosions and big cinematic vision, I think we were still able to capture a lot of that on film. But we have to expand it a lot further because we've got a new episode every week. We really have to take the storyline and grow it. There are three Rush Hour movies, and the TV show is thirteen episodes. We've really got to expand the characters and use Los Angeles a lot more.
Hires: We had three and a half weeks to shoot the pilot, and what I liked about it was how cinematic it looked and it really felt like a mini-movie on television. I think we've definitely maintained some sense of scope throughout the series. Every episode, cinematically, looks appealing. We make sure that every episode comprises a good amount of action and comedy and drama.
How do you see your character?
Hires: Personally, I'm a natural extrovert and so is that character. Carter is a little bit cockier than I am; I'm a very confident person, but Carter can be a little cocky at times. For the most part I'm a comedian, he cracks jokes and I really connected to that character because Carter and myself, we aren't that much different from one another. Other than he's a police officer and he's not able to get women [laughs] and I'm a comedian and I'm very capable of getting women....however I am married. I have to push all the women away. All my friends get all my women, so they're very happy that I'm married.
Foo: My character is kind of the flipside of the coin. He can go completely wild in kung fu mode, or there's a very straightforward "get the job done" type of character. Personally, I can be introverted or extroverted, so it makes a good combination. Playing the character that Jackie Chan played, Detective Lee, I wanted to bring the martial arts kind of high-energy to it, but also the kind of international feel of Hong Kong mixing with America. I didn't spend too much time thinking about how to recreate what Jackie Chan did, I was thinking more about how I can create something of relevance.
This is a show that rises and falls on the chemistry between the two leads. How tough was it to establish that out of the gate?
Foo: It was a very natural process. Everyone's working together, fourteen hours a day sometimes. We really got to hang out in the same area. I don't think it was very contrived. I think it was natural responses to each other and to the story. It was a really cool experience, actually.
Hires: I think Jon and I had an immediate connection. He's a natural introvert and I'm a natural extrovert, so we had that perfect combination of Yin and Yang. I think it shows on screen. That's what made the film franchise so successful, this Yin and Yang between Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan, and I think people are getting the same feeling when they see myself and Jon Foo.
Have any qualities of your co-star rubbed off on you?
Hires: I think so. The great thing about acting is you’re supposed to listen to each other and respond accordingly. While we were acting, we were definitely able to do that. In those scenes I think we could pick up on each other’s vibes, comedic sensibility. The more episodes we did together, the more I knew Jon’s comedic sensibilities, he knew my comic sensibilities and we allowed each other to play in the scenes.
Foo: The stoic and seriousness is the contrast to the erratic and funny in the show. I feel my character needs to be that serious for the show to roll, though I definitely learn some stuff from Justin in terms of just being free.
Rush Hour is a very physical show. How difficult has that part of it been?
Foo: Martial arts has been a part of me my entire life. Wushu came in handy, Taekwondo came in handy, Muay Thai boxing…everything I’ve ever learned came in handy in this production, because we were switching up the styles of the fights quite often. Working in action cinema in general and knowing my body enough to be able to do the fights scenes on the fly is helpful. Sometimes you would do it on the very day we filmed. We wouldn’t rehearse it. We would create and shoot it almost at the same time. I had to be prepared. I’m glad I was.
Hires: Fortunately I’m a first degree black belt. I got that a long time ago, but, ironically, doing martials arts so long ago prepared me for the physical demand of this show. It wasn’t a huge transition that I had to do, because I already had that martial arts training and physical background in my pocket. I’ve always been naturally athletic, playing basketball and football as a child. All of that helped me to be able to jump right in and handle the physical responsibilities of this show.
Rush Hour airs in the US on CBS and in the UK on E4.