Repentant? No Way, Man
By DAVE ITZKOFF
Published: June 13, 2012
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 the air as quickly as possible. It’s hard to believe that Charlie Sheen is still alive.
And yet there he was, vigorous looking if still wild eyed, calmly unwinding beneath a tent outside the remote Sun Valley studio here, where he was shooting his new FX series, “Anger Management,” having wrapped a full day’s work on its 10th episode.
There were no porn stars or paparazzi around on this cool spring night: just Mr. Sheen, 46, 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 Mr. Sheen had been handing out glasses of Macallan Scotch. Now outside, he was 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 said 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 Mr. Sheen should want “Anger Management,” which begins on June 28, 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 Mr. 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,” Mr. Sheen said. “No, I’m joking.” He laughed, and his companions knew they’d better do the same, or they might get gored like a water buffalo.
THIS WORKDAY WAS REMARKABLE for Mr. Sheen because it proceeded unremarkably, like any other at sitcoms shot throughout the city. He arrived around 9:30 a.m., wearing an untucked dress shirt and a baseball cap bearing the hatchet-wielding mascot of Psychopathic Records, the Insane Clown Posse label, joining his cast mates 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 Charlie’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, counseling 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).
Mr. Sheen said it was important to him that the series have “a theme of atonement.” The Goodson character “let a lot of people down,” he said. “A lot of people were rooting for him, and he ended his career with his own anger.”
And Mr. 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, Colo., 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 on since 2003. His dismissal followed weeks of feuding with Chuck Lorre, that comedy’s co-creator, and ended with a declaration from Warner Brothers Television, which produces “Two and a Half Men,” that Mr. Sheen’s conduct had become “dangerously self-destructive.”
To hear Mr. Sheen and his camp tell the tale — neither CBS nor Warner Brothers would comment for this article — Mr. Sheen and Mr. Lorre’s relationship disintegrated because Mr. Lorre would not allow Mr. Sheen any creative input on “Two and a Half Men.” (By contrast Ashton Kutcher, who replaced Mr. Sheen on the series, was given a story credit for an episode.)
A substance-abuse spiral followed, and Mr. Lorre urged Mr. Sheen to enter Alcoholics Anonymous, which the actor made clear he would not do, even though A.A. meetings were held at the studio. The A.A. manual, Mr. Sheen said, “was written by a drunk who was a plagiarist and took acid and” had sex with “everybody’s wife.” (“It’s true, dude,” he added. “Sorry.”)
Mark Burg, Mr. Sheen’s manager since the 1990s, said that though he feared Mr. Sheen could be harming his career, he had to let the situation resolve itself. “He was acting out,” Mr. Burg said, “but eventually the dust settles. I had to let Charlie do his thing, and sooner or later we’d get together and be like, ‘All right, what next?’ ”
Mr. Burg said Warner Brothers had already refused Mr. 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 Mr. Lorre on set. When Mr. Sheen got sober during a hasty hiatus and was willing to film his eight remaining episodes, Mr. Burg said Mr. Lorre wanted to write only four. No compromise was reached, and the season collapsed.
Mr. 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’d done their best, and they hadn’t.” But shortly after saying this, he gently added that he needed to “write Chuck a letter” or “see him somewhere, just to say, ‘Hey, man, no hard feelings.’ ”
Mr. Lorre declined to comment, but his casting of Kathy Bates as the ghost of Mr. Sheen’s character may say enough about his interest in reconciling.
A version of this article appeared in print on June 17, 2012, on page AR1 of the New York edition with the headline: Repentant? No Way, Man.