Page 6 of 7
What did the photo make you understand about the character? "Just how other people saw him," Sheen says. As opposed to how he actually is? Sheen nods, slowly. "Like our lives."
This was Sheen's first acting gig after "the meltdown." Today, Sheen says, "It was a challenge that came at the perfect time. I can't describe why I say that. But I think any other time, it wouldn't have happened."
Coppola reaches over to light the cigarette dangling out of Sheen's mouth, using an antique lighter that Sheen had given him. "You like that fucking lighter, don't you?"
They start chatting about other gifts Sheen has given Coppola, including an ashtray that was used in the film. They're masterfully avoiding the topic that we were just on the brink of broaching, by essentially doing what Sheen's character does in the film: seeking refuge in beautiful, fanciful objects in order to avoid dealing with the substantive, the messy, the uncontrollable, the real.
On Apocalypse, Sheen's dad faced his demons head-on. The first scene of the movie includes footage of an actual drunken breakdown Martin Sheen had on-camera. In a blitz, he smashed his hand through a mirror and continued to perform, refusing medical attention while film rolled. As Martin Sheen put it, he couldn't stop, he was too intent on "facing my worst enemy — myself." Eleanor Coppola's footage of this unfolding on set, seen in Hearts of Darkness, with Sheen naked and wailing before the camera, is startling, terrifying, uncanny — as Eleanor describes it, "Anything could happen. They were inside somebody." His subsequent heart attack put things in perspective: "I just knew that if I wanted to live, it was my choice," he has said. "If I wanted to die, that was my choice, too."
Was Charlie Sheen's own "meltdown," his "off-script" embrace of total transparency, a worshipful son's wan attempt to retrace the steps of his father, in search of the knowledge and catharsis on the other side?
Though Charles Swan doesn't include anything as literally naked as Martin Sheen's breakdown, I ask Charlie Sheen if playing a man in crisis so recently after his own crisis gave him any kind of new perspective about what he had himself gone through. He seems confused by the question.
"My life is so much bigger than any job I've ever had," he says. "I can separate, obviously, because I'm not fucking crazy. It just — "
Coppola interrupts: "Well, there was a sense of satisfaction — "
"Fuck yeah, there was, yeah!"
"You do the work and you feel you're connected with one another and the other performers — "
"I felt I was leaving something good behind," Sheen concurs. He points at Coppola. "And I wasn't letting him down. I wasn't a detriment to the material."
Sheen's concern with his legacy seems to be what's driving him through Anger Management's unusually grueling schedule — they've shot 27 episodes, and plan to crank out 70 more, or about three full, regular seasons, in the next 18 months. "I've considered retirement after Anger Management is over," he says. "I need to spend time as a dad. Spend time as a guy who isn't on somebody else's clock." But, "I couldn't have the other mess be what I left behind as a legacy in television."
At this point, do you care about how you're perceived?
"Can't control that," he answers. "It's how I perceive myself. It's like in Apocalypse: 'Willard, are you free of the opinion of yourself, are you free of the opinions of others?' It's like, people that don't know Apocalypse suck at life." Sheen turns to Coppola for approval. "Right?"
"I'm with you on that."
On my way out, I overhear Coppola stressing to Sheen, as he did to Solters, how important it is for Sheen to talk about the movie when he does interviews — as though this is Sheen's first time at this rodeo. When they first started talking about making this movie, Sheen was the biggest star on TV, and he would have been taking a chance by expending his celebrity capital on his old friend's unconventional indie; by the time they shot the movie, it was Coppola who was taking a chance on uninsurable damaged goods. Now that it's time to sell the movie, what is Charlie Sheen worth?
Two nights later, Sheen is a guest on Late Show With David Letterman. Over the course of two full segments, "the meltdown" is recycled into a setup/punchline comic routine, and thereby decontaminated.
Letterman gives him a chance to blame his behavior of 2011 on "crack cocaine." "I wish it was crack cocaine," Sheen responds. "It was just that my brain kind of separated into itself, and I had to take a stand for what I knew was right."