Two years following his highly publicized meltdown, Charlie Sheen rests comfortably on the sidelines of pop culture pertinence. The actor's name still conjures up the connotations of Two and a Half Men feuds, "tiger blood" rants, drugs, alcohol, and a barrel of other malignant expositions.
But the Sheen of today is one of considerably calmer temperament, and (as such) much less frequent blips on the zeitgeist's radar. Still, Sheen is not wanting for creative outlets: along with his astronomical sum of pre-ordered Anger Management episodes, Sheen is headlining director Roman Coppola's new venture A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III. Beyond drawing a given name from his portrayer, Swan is a character who'll draw many comparisons to Sheen: he's a high society playboy undone by his proclivity for reckless relationships and substance abuse. But Coppola is ready to dispel the notion that these elements alone are enough to brand Swan an onscreen incarnation of Sheen.
"A lot of people say, 'Oh, Charlie Sheen is crazy,'" the director says. "There’s a tendency to sort of lump them. Is Charles Swan Charles Sheen? You want [your actors] to embody the role, so you want to use all their characteristics." And Coppola is hardly blind to the superficial similarities shared by the men. "[Sheen] is, in many ways, like the character on a surface level. He’s handsome, he’s charming, he’s that age where you’re not supposed to act like a kid anymore but you can kind of get away with it."
The filmmaker continues: "He loves beautiful women. He’s from California. He’s very funny, very witty. He’s gotten by and has been able to use his charm to kind of smooth over problems. Those are all kinds of qualities that he has." But all this aside, Coppola can separate Sheen and Swan at a more substantial plateau. "My character … has a need for aesthetic beauty; fine clothes, a car that’s a statement, and this kind of expression of his imagination through his work as a graphic designer." Coppola cites one of the more ornate fixations he concocted for Swan: Kopi luwak coffee, an expensive type of coffee bean harvested from the excrement of the Asian palm civet. "It’s a hundred bucks for a cup of coffee," Coppola says. "It’s from Indonesia. It’s pooped out. There’s a little marsupial that comes in."
But this is not something you'd find in Charlie Sheen's kitchen. "[Sheen] is very different," Coppola says. "He loves baseball. He’s into hanging out with his pals. He’s very casual. He just hangs out in a t-shirt. He’s a different kind of person."
As such, it wasn't Sheen or his headline-heavy drama that encouraged Coppola to devise this character. In fact, Coppola's interest in Sheen for the role of Charles Swan predated the actor's 2011 controversy altogether. "I was pursuing him just prior to all the craziness," the director says. "I have a kind of funny string of text messages with him. We were exchanging notes, and [wishing each other] Merry Christmas. 'Merry Christmas, I’m here with Brooke [Mueller] and the kids in Aspen, having a great time.' And then we all know the history, what happened after that." But "what happened after that" hardly deterred Coppola's casting. "During that period, I was very determined to not let it go. I really wanted him to be in my movie. And he was a little apprehensive ... He really liked the material, we’re friends, he wanted to be in the film. But — I can’t speak for him, but I think he was a little bit scared."
As anyone might be in this circumstance. "It’s a commitment to put yourself out there in that way, and have the chops," Coppola says. "And I kept reaching out to him. And through all that craziness, I was kind of waiting. I was telling people, 'I want Charlie Sheen to be in my movie.' And they were all like, 'What? You can’t have him. No one would insure him.' And no one did insure him." But Coppola persisted, and thinks that Charles Swan might have been what helped pull Sheen out of his lasting funk.
"I was so clear-minded about wanting to work with him, it made him think, 'Wait a minute. This guy is willing to go this far in his belief that I can do the movie. Maybe I should sort of rise to the occasion,'" the director says. "So, at the tail end of all that craziness, he said, 'I’ll do it!' He said that. He did it. And he was there every day. He made it happen. He totally came through. He learned Spanish when he needed to, learned to dance when he needed to. Learned to sing the Portuguese song."
Coppola says, "In a way, I think the movie was a sort of symbol. [Something] that he was sort of able to jump into, and to find the sort of focus, and to have that pleasure of working with other actors on a feature project. I think he really values that."
One is likely to approach A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III prepared to see Charlie Sheen: The Movie. And in Coppola's film, which he describes as "a character study of a really flamboyant guy who is charismatic, and kind of has everything within means, but it’s all falling apart for him," one is likely to find traces of that. But as far as the director is concerned, Sheen and Swan are two different animals. Coppola didn't tackle the project as a means of bringing Sheen's controversies to the silver screen. Instead, he "want[ed] to do something really showy, and playful, and fun, and balls out." In fact, Coppola pins the whole ordeal down to one word: "pizzazz." To him, that's the definition of Charles Swan III.
[Photo Credit: A24 Films (2)]