AFTER a public meltdown that saw him fired from a hit sitcom, Charlie Sheen’s star seemed in the descendant. Now he’s confident of a resurrection
It’s hard to believe that Charlie Sheen is about to star in another television show. It’s hard to believe that roughly one year after he was fired from an immensely popular and insanely lucrative role on Two and a Half Men, spent weeks popping up in TV interviews looking like a desiccated preppy ghoul and spouting catchphrases about “tiger blood” and “winning”, and then went on tour with a train-wreck of a live show, that a cable channel, a studio and a syndication company felt the best thing to do was to get him back on air as quickly as possible. It’s hard to believe that Sheen is still alive.
And yet here he is, vigorous-looking if still wild-eyed, calmly unwinding beneath a tent outside the remote Sun Valley studio where he was shooting his new FX series, Anger Management, having wrapped a full day’s work on its tenth episode.
There are no porn stars or paparazzi around on this cool spring night: just 46-year-old Sheen in a deck chair, chain-smoking Marlboro Reds in the company of his publicist, Larry Solters; his social-media manager/hanger-outer, Bob Maron; and his nephew, Taylor Estevez, a 27-year-old dead ringer for his father, Emilio.
On his nearby tour bus, decorated with hand-stenciled drawings of turkeys made by his young children, a celebratory Sheen had been handing out glasses of Macallan.
Now outside, he is delivering a freewheeling discourse about his martial-arts training for the movie Hot Shots! Part Deux; why he considers himself a retired (not a recovering) gambler; and why, despite his history of substance abuse, rehabilitation and relapses, he should not have to provide his newest employers with any assurances of his continued health. “Then they shouldn’t have hired me,” he says with a laugh, repeating the line and swearing for emphasis.
“They knew what they were getting. And they know it’s not always going to be smooth sailing.”
There are many compelling reasons Sheen should want Anger Management, which begins on Thursday in the States, to succeed without incident, and not just because he owns a portion of the show. It is his chance to restore his legacy after his troubled exit from Two and a Half Men – his last chance, if the new show is to be, as he vows, the “swan song” to his acting career.
But there is an unpredictable and uneasy energy to being around Sheen for even a short while; you are never sure if you’re his new best friend, his audience or his hostage. The experience is like being in that remote village his father, Martin Sheen, reaches in Apocalypse Now, where a madman rules over followers who worship him unquestioningly. Everyone around Charlie Sheen listens to what he has to say, but who is he listening to? “The voices, man, the voices,” Sheen says. “No, I’m joking.” He laughs, and his companions know they had better do the same, or they might get gored.
This work day is remarkable for Sheen because it has proceeded unremarkably, like any other at sitcoms shot throughout the city. He arrived around 9.30am, wearing an untucked dress shirt and a baseball cap bearing the hatchet-wielding mascot of Psychopathic Records, the Insane Clown Posse label, joining his castmates to read through the script. Over the next 12 hours he shot six or seven scenes, all focusing on his character, Charlie Goodson, and some opposite Martin Sheen, who has a guest role as Goodson’s estranged father.
Anger Management, loosely adapted from the 2003 movie with Adam Sandler and Jack Nicholson, casts Charlie Sheen as a once-promising baseball player who, in a tantrum, tried to break a bat over his leg and instead broke his knee, forcing him out of the game. Now he works as a therapist, counselling a misfit group of patients while trying to maintain a healthy relationship with his ex-wife (Shawnee Smith) and their teenage daughter (Daniela Bobadilla) and occasionally getting intimate with his own therapist (Selma Blair).
Sheen says it was important to him that the series have “a theme of atonement”. The Goodson character “let a lot of people down”, he says. “A lot of people were rooting for him, and he ended his career with his own anger.”
And Sheen knows he has plenty to atone for. Capping a 15-month span in which he was arrested for assaulting his wife at the time, Brooke Mueller, in Aspen, Colorado, and ejected from a ransacked Plaza Hotel suite after what his publicist said was “an adverse allergic reaction to some medication”, he was fired in March 2011 from Two and a Half Men, the hit CBS sitcom he had starred in since 2003.
His dismissal followed weeks of feuding with Chuck Lorre, the comedy’s co-creator, and ended with a declaration from Warner Brothers Television, which produces Two and a Half Men, that Sheen’s conduct had become “dangerously self-destructive”.
To hear Sheen and his camp tell the tale – neither CBS nor Warner Brothers would comment for this article – Sheen and Lorre’s relationship disintegrated because Lorre would not allow Sheen any creative input on Two and a Half Men. (By contrast, Ashton Kutcher, who replaced Sheen on the series, was given a story credit for an episode.)
A substance-abuse spiral followed, and Lorre urged Sheen to enter Alcoholics Anonymous, which the actor made clear he would not do, even though AA meetings were held at the studio. The AA manual, Sheen says, “was written by a drunk who was a plagiarist and took acid and” had sex with “everybody’s wife”. (“It’s true, dude,” he adds. “Sorry.”)
Mark Burg, Sheen’s manager since the 1990s, says that though he feared Sheen could be harming his career, he had to let the situation resolve itself. “He was acting out,” Burg says, “but eventually the dust settles. I had to let Charlie do his thing.”
Burg says Warner Brothers had already refused Sheen’s offer to cut his weekly salary by $500,000 (from a deal that would pay him $100 million over two years) if he could tape his scenes without Lorre on set. When Sheen got sober during a hasty hiatus and was willing to film his eight remaining episodes, Burg said Lorre wanted to write only four. No compromise was reached, and the season collapsed.
Sheen does not sound nostalgic for his time at Two and a Half Men, where he watched “those yahoos” struggle over “garbage and insisting they had done their best, and they hadn’t”. But shortly after saying this, he gently adds that he needs to “write Chuck a letter” or “see him somewhere, just to say, ‘Hey, man, no hard feelings.”’
Lorre declined to comment, but his casting of Kathy Bates as the ghost of Sheen’s character may speak volumes about his interest in reconciling.
Maron, an ebullient man with shaggy hair and a stubbly beard, met Sheen about eight years ago, after selling him a collectible watch on eBay. Maron still maintains his watch dealership, but these days he also helps maintain the actor’s Twitter account. (“I’ve got to have a guy between me and ‘Send’ at 3am,” Sheen says.)
After Sheen’s explosive entry into social media, they have yet to figure out how to make money from his 7.4 million Twitter followers. But Maron points out that he had parlayed this job into a role as co-executive producer on Anger Management, “so pretty good, right?” He also accompanied Sheen on a spring 2011 tour called My Violent Torpedo of Truth/Defeat is Not an Option, during which Sheen did basically whatever he wanted. The shows were frequently criticised for their sloppiness, and Sheen now recognises that they were a creative mistake. “Hemingway says to be a man you’ve got to plant a tree, fight a bull and have a son,” Sheen says. “I’m going to trade the bull part for getting booed offstage in Detroit.”
But Sheen says the tour was financially necessary because, at the time, Warner Brothers was withholding profits he was due from Two and a Half Men. (A wrongful termination lawsuit Sheen filed against the studio was settled for a reported $25 million in September.)
Speaking with Martin Sheen a few weeks after filming his Anger Management episode, it was clear that his son’s public meltdown and his own reaction to it were still tender subjects. “You can imagine how I felt,” he says, adding that “we were very concerned, but we had to let it play out.”
He recalls Charlie as a talented young baseball pitcher with his eyes on the major leagues, until early acting successes like Red Dawn and Platoon set him on a different course. With pride, he noted that Charlie’s brother Ramon Estevez is a producer on Anger Management and his sister, Renee Estevez, is a writer on the show.
“He certainly does not need my approval, but he chooses my company and that is very satisfying,” Martin Sheen says. “He’s nurtured and loved and cherished by all of us. We’re very gratified that he has included us in this new project.”
Under his tent, Charlie Sheen was adamant that he did not need to be subjected to drug tests while working on the show. “It’s an invasion of privacy, man, a total invasion of privacy,” he says. (Maron added that Sheen had passed random drug tests during his live tour, “and at a certain point, he just said, ‘Enough.”’) Asked if he felt he could remain clean going forward, Sheen replies, “I don’t know what clean is.”
He is confident that his fans will follow him to Anger Management and have forgiven him not only for his meltdown but also for the threats of violence he had made against Mueller, as well as a previous wife, Denise Richards, whom he divorced in 2006. “I’m making those situations right again,” he says of his ex-wives.
Sheen seems certain that when he finishes Anger Management he will move on and life will be “about soccer games and amusement parks” with daughters Sam, eight, and Lola, seven, by Richards, and three-year-old twin sons Bob and Max, by Mueller. (Sheen also has a 27-year-old daughter, Cassandra, from a previous relationship.)
When Sheen is asked what he will do after Anger Management, Maron mimes pointing a gun to his own head and pulling the trigger. But Sheen says it will be simple to walk away from acting, and even easier to shed a celebrity status that he did not perceive. “Inside here,” he says, “regardless of what the persona may be, I’m still the seven-year-old kid in the back of the class, afraid to raise his hand. I don’t want this – all of this – to extinguish that child, because it can, and I refuse to grow up.”
It would surprise exactly no one if Sheen does not make good on this pledge, but his interactions with his nephew Taylor Estevez make it seem almost plausible. As Estevez sits silently entertained through most of the interview, Sheen makes several efforts to draw him into the conversation, teasing him and acting out for him a detailed blow-by-blow of William Friedkin’s 1977 thriller Sorcerer.
When Estevez at last speaks up, he lets his uncle know, in his own way, that he is impressed with his candour. “Everybody has got a right to their life,” he says to Sheen. “Everybody’s different, and everybody’s the same. But you are especially not the same.” n
• Anger Management is on FX in the US on Thursday and will air in the UK later this year