The star continues his mission to rehabilitate his hobbled career. But is he really winning?
PASADENA, CALIF. - Inside the Castle Green club were some of Charlie Sheen's greatest temptations: booze, comely actresses and TV cameras. But the actor who suffered a King George-sized meltdown last year was camped out in the dimly lit back yard, chain-smoking between a parking lot and the kitchen while coolly talking about the events that took him from TV's highest-paid actor to an international punch line.
"The pressure was cooking up over 30 years in the business, and I finally said what I had been wanting to say," said Sheen, 46, who was eventually surrounded Sunday night by security guards, publicists, his manager and, for a few minutes, fellow smoke-aholic Kiefer Sutherland. "I said it all at once and it created a tsunami of bizarre proportions."
Sheen's appearance at the TV Critics Press Association was, on paper, tied to his new FX sitcom, "Anger Management," which starts shooting in March and is scheduled to air in June. But it had just as much to do with rehabilitating his public image, an apology tour that has had him popping up on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno," tolerating lowbrow zingers on a Comedy Central roast and presenting an Emmy to Jim Parsons.
For the most part, it seems to be working. Everyone who spent time with Sheen on Sunday night came away impressed. Doesn't Charlie look good? Wasn't he hilarious?
Well, yeah. But remember. We've been here before.
Sheen has previously recovered and relapsed from accidentally shooting then-fiancée Kelly Preston, dating porn star Ginger Lynn, several stints in rehab, "Hot Shots! Part Deux."
But maybe this time it will stick. Just maybe ...
If only that chip weren't still on his shoulder. The one that tells him he was using only 10 percent of his talent on "Two and a Half Men." The one that tells him that two-thirds of that sitcom's crew have called, begging to be traded to his new show. The one that tells him he was justified in going to war with "Men" producer Chuck Lorre after being fired for dissing him on the Internet.
"The reason I pushed it was I knew I was right," he said, his voice picking up an edge. "I was absolutely right in my stand. Right about who was in breach. That's why I pushed it so far."
Yeah, Sheen has nothing but good things to say about his replacement on the show, Ashton Kutcher. He thought the bit in which co-star Jon Cryer channeled Sheen's old character Charlie Harper was hilarious. He insists he'll eventually talk to Lorre for "closure." But he can't help making less than subtle digs at the old gang. He tags the show's writers as lazy for relying on too many fart and poo-poo jokes and can't believe his creative thoughts weren't taken seriously.
He's over the moon that he's a full partner with his new executive producer, Bruce Helford, who previously helmed "Roseanne" and "The Drew Carey Show."
"Every time I see him, it's like a hundred new hugs," Sheen said. "Having my input welcome is an alien concept to me."
Helford, savvy enough to be aware of Sheen's mind-set, goes out of his way to praise his actor's ideas, including one in which his character -- a beleaguered therapist -- does regular sessions with prisoners.
"This is a job that we're doing together," Helford said. "It makes a real difference in the atmosphere when you have control."
What Sheen still can't control is that nagging feeling among the public that, despite his current calm demeanor, at any minute he could snort a mound of cocaine, go nuts on the Web and insist that he and only he is "winning."
Last week, when his phone number was accidentally leaked on the Internet, he said he got 220 calls and 498 texts in 31 minutes. One was from a stranger in Delaware who said he hoped Sheen would die of cancer.
"I called the guy," Sheen said. "I said, 'This is Charlie Sheen. Talk to me.' Click. I called him back three times."
So how does Sheen convince that guy that he's back on the straight and narrow for good? How does he put that bad-boy image behind him?
"I'm doing it right now," he said.