It's far too early to tell if Charlie Sheen is winning, but he's back in the game.
Sunday night, the game was spin control and Sheen, whose new FX show, “Anger Management,” won't even begin production until March, showed up at a Fox press party at Pasadena's Castle Green, looking calm and reasonably rested.
Skipping the red carpet, the former “Two and a Half Men” star ducked in through a back entrance and made a beeline for Bruce Helford (“The Drew Carey Show”), the producer with whom he's developing a comedy in which Sheen will play an anger-management therapist.
Helford, who'd just finished telling a few reporters what an “angel” Sheen's been to work with, introduced us.
I'll say this: The man's got a very firm handshake.
Whether he's got a grip remains to be seen, but if you'd been stranded on an wifi-free island for the past couple of years, a few minutes with Sheen might be enough to convince you that his departure from “Two and a Half Men” – or, as he calls it, “the other show” – was more escape than expulsion.
Why, he was asked, did he want to get back into series TV so soon?
“I didn’t want that to be my television legacy. You know, I wanted to do something that ended better -- will end better,” Sheen said. “Nothing against those guys -- you know, they know what they did, I know what I did and we all moved on, so I’m happy about that – but I just wanted to do a show and play a character that dealt with more mature themes, dealt with stuff that actually exists in the real world. You know, a lot of time on the other show, I felt we were servicing the comedy and not allowing it to come out of character situations, you know?”
Sheen owns a piece of the FX show, and having a stake is “exciting,” he said. “I’ve been doing this 30 years and it’s nice to finally be in a situation where the people I’m working with are excited about my input. That wasn’t the case for a long time, you know. But I know my strengths and my weaknesses and so I’ll always defer to this gentleman [he indicated Helford] as far as something’s working or it ain’t.”
Indeed, Sheen deferred repeatedly to Helford, who, like Sheen's former boss, Chuck Lorre, is a sitcom veteran who's worked on a lot of shows built around a single comedian or actor – both did time with “Roseanne” – and who'll be working for the first time on an ambitious schedule in which the show's first 10 episodes are shot in just six weeks. If the series meets the network's ratings goals, it will automatically be renewed for 90 more.
Helford had earlier laughed off my suggestion that he'd been brought in because he had a reputation for dealing well with difficult stars.
“They wanted someone who had experience handling lots of episodes, because we’re doing that 10/90 deal and so one season I had four shows on the air and I did a hundred episodes in a season, so it’s not daunting to me. Of course, that was with four different staffs,” he said.
He said the schedule won’t be much more difficult for Sheen than working on “Two and a Half Men” was, partly because they won’t be filming in front of a live audience, instead showing the finished episodes to a live audience.
Sheen, too, insisted the schedule, which is based on the model pioneered by Tyler Perry for his TBS sitcoms, works for him.
Yes, it's faster, he acknowledged, than production on “Two and a Half Men” or on his previous sitcom, “Spin City,” “but there was so much time wasted in that model.”
Sheen was at his most animated when discussing “Anger Management,” whose tie to the Adam Sandler-Jack Nicholson film apparently won't go much beyond the title.
“All great comedy comes out of conflict and you’ve got a guy who’s really conflicted but also dealing with so many people and so many flavors and colors and types ... it’s just so rich. Everywhere you point the camera, you can’t lose. Every scene is going to be about a guy who stands for something,” he said.
The character will have an ex-wife and a 13-year-old daughter, “but the ex-wife's not a bummer,” Sheen said.
“No, no, no, no. It’s not like, here comes the bitch. They’re close. They have a relationship,” interjected Helford.
“Which is true in your life. And mine,” Sheen said to the producer.
“Which is true in my life three times. I don’t know about you,” he said to Sheen, who replied, “Three times.”
“Six brides for two brothers,” joked Helford.
“How about it,” said Sheen.
So you’re saying, I asked Sheen, that you have three good relationships with the exes?
“Yes, I do. Yeah,” he said.
It was Sheen's idea, Helford said, that his character should have two therapy groups, one of which consists of prisoners.
“In most therapy, I’ve always felt that people lie a lot. They’re paying people to be therapists, but they’re lying to them. And then they eventually confess to things as things come up in their lives. But in prison, they just tell you this s--- right away,” Helford said.
I asked Sheen, who said he'd done a year in anger-management, if he'd ever lied in therapy.
“Every day,” he said.
Something to think about when you're reading the answers to some of the other questions he fielded Sunday:
Had he watched Ashton Kutcher in “Two and a Half Men”?
“I have, yeah.”
“I think he’s doing a great job. It’s a different show,” he said. “I thought the moment of the urn with the smoke of my body and his reveal at the window was one of the great television moments of all time. That’s how the show should have ended, and then, ‘To be continued,’ you know what I mean? That’s a great moment.”
Will his life offscreen be as exciting as it's been for the past year?
“I don’t really ever plan that stuff, you know. But let’s just say I have a mellower plan.”
On his lower Twitter profile:
“Just to tweet me sitting home watching a ballgame I don’t think is very exciting, you know? No, I’m just spending a lot of time with the kids, a lot of time with the family.”
Is he the same person he was a year ago?
“Well, I’m not crazy [pause] anymore,” he said, laughing. “That was an episode... No, I think I’m a different person than I was yesterday.”