PLAYBOY: What kind of example did your dad set for handling career and success?
SHEEN: I saw him handle it, I saw him mishandle it. I saw him shy away from it, I saw him embrace it; want it more than anything in the world, hate it more than anything in the world. That's not much of an example from which to take any kind of feasible approach. And then it almost killed him. He almost died of a heart attack in the middle of making Apocalypse Now, at the time the biggest movie of his life. As an example, it doesn't make you want to jump into that business.
PLAYBOY: Were you there when the attack happened?
SHEEN: I was Stateside when he had it, but we flew back to help him rehabilitate, all the kids.
PLAYBOY: How long did you spend in the Philippines?
SHEEN: On and off, eight months.
PLAYBOY: Laurence Fishburne, who was in the movie, was young at the time. Did you guys hang out?
SHEEN: Yeah. He borderline introduced me to pot. He and Emilio were going to the dompas, the Philippine whorehouses. In fact, Larry wore a T-shirt on the set that said DOMPA U. He was a graduate. But as usual, though they'd let me have a little grass, at some point they'd send me back to my hooch. I was 10 and turned 11.
PLAYBOY: Why did you choose to go by the Sheen name instead of your real name, Estevez?
SHEEN: Emilio had already used Estevez, and I'd always been a Charlie as opposed to a Carlos, which is also my real name. I just thought Sheen had a better ring to it. A little more Anglo. And I thought I should keep the name going after Dad was gone or retired or both.
PLAYBOY: You've complained that after doing 50 movies people still only talk about Platoon and Wall Street.
SHEEN: It's like they're the same movie. That Oliver Stone film you did, Platoon-Wall Street. That's how it sounds.
PLAYBOY: At one point Oliver Stone offered you the role of Ron Kovic in Born on the Fourth of July. How did you feel when Tom Cruise got it?
SHEEN: Disappointed. Hurt. Oliver took me to dinner with Ron a few times, and we started talking. He said we were going to have a relationship like Scorsese and De Niro, and that this was the next movie. He said Al Pacino wanted to do the movie, De Niro wanted to—everybody wanted to—and "I'm going to give you this movie." I said, "Wow, this exciting." There were some rewrites to be done and then he was going to Cuba and couldn't be reached, and, "I'll call you when I get back." I didn't hear from him long past his return date. Then Emilio called me and said, "Dude, I've got some bad news." I thought, Fuck somebody died. He said, "Are you sitting down? Cruise is doing Born on the Fourth." I said, "Oh fuck, wow."
PLAYBOY: How pissed were you?
SHEEN: I wouldn't have cared if Oliver had called me personally, based on what we'd been through. We fought two wars you know. But here was a crucial point for both of us, and he couldn't even call me and say, "I've changed my mind. I've made a mistake. I'm going with Tom. That I'd respect. I'm a firm believer in you can't lose something you never had, but I kind of had it for a while. So yeah, I was very disappointed. But at least it went to a capable actor who did a phenomenal job. Nothing is worse than getting a job, and then it goes to some schmuck who pisses all over it.
PLAYBOY: How badly did it hurt your relationship with Stone?
SHEEN: That was kind of the end of it. I still think he's a brilliant filmmaker. I'd love to work with him again, and I think the timing is good for us to have a bit of a reunion at some point.
PLAYBOY: You're serious?
SHEEN: Of course! He's Oliver Stone [chuckles]. I might have been pissed, but I'm not stupid. He's still revered as a genius and I'm in the middle of a comeback. The two of us hooking up would be really interesting.
PLAYBOY: After you got sober, you made Rated X, a Showtime movie about the Mitchell brothers, the adult-film entrepreneurs who, among other things, made Behind the Green Door. Emilio directed and played Jim; you were Artie, the self-destructive brother, who eventually died. Why get sober and then do a movie that, in a sense, plunged you right back into that world?
SHEEN: I saw the opportunity as no coincidence, again. There was a reason my first substantial role after rehab was to play a maniac whose personal story ended badly. I knew what it was like to go to those dark places and I got to go home every night after shooting with the reminder that I don't have to live like that anymore. I played a guy who died as a result of his abuse, so any time I even began to think, Good God, what am I missing, that thought was replaced with, I'm playing a dead man. That's a gift. It was like a big overcoat I put on when I got to work and then just took off afterward.
PLAYBOY: Your dad urged you not to do the movie. How hard did you have to work to change his mind?
SHEEN: Not much, because while he yelled at Emilio about it on the phone, he talked rationally to me. He was like, "Are you sure? I mean...." He was picking my brain. Then he'd call Emilio and say, "You motherfucker, you're going to lead him back into the pit of insanity, and it's going to be your fault! We've all worked so hard and he's worked so hard." I would only hear this secondhand, from Emilio. But at the end of the day, my dad had confidence. The day we filmed a party scene in the office, with girls and blow and drinks and all that weirdness, it was my actual sobriety date. My first anniversary.
PLAYBOY: You and Emilio were estranged for years because of your substance abuse. Is it poetic justice that his character kills your character in the movie and, symbolically, gets to kill the old Charlie?
SHEEN: Interesting. We thought about swapping roles for about 10 seconds and realized it would be a lie. I never thought about that last bit. That's pretty radical.
PLAYBOY: And now the new Charlie is on Spin City. How did that happen?
SHEEN: After I got out of rehab I hired a couple of managers—my first. They asked me what I wanted and I said one word: respect. Not a jet, not a big movie, respect. Next thing, they said Jeffrey Katzenberg from DreamWorks had called, and would I come in. I ended up doing Sugar Hill, a pilot for Gary David Goldberg, who also produces Spin City. It didn't get picked up, but I moved on. Then I was watching the Golden Globes with my friend Adam, and we were talking about Mike Fox being sick and leaving the show. As a joke I said, "They're probably going to call me to replace him." Adam said, "Yeah, right. If you get the job, get me a job." Two days later, I was driving back from a voice-over I did for CNBC.com, and they called for me to replace him.
PLAYBOY: Your reaction?
SHEEN: Be careful what you wish for. I asked for 24 hours. I called my parents, I called my brother, I called friends. I called my therapist and my drug counselor. Everybody was thumbs-up.
PLAYBOY: It seems that lately, from Rated X to Spin City, your career has given you opportunities to if not actually repudiate your former life, then at least confront it publicly. Is this your public penance?
SHEEN: To a degree, sure. It's my public Antabuse. Being on Spin City is a win-win situation for me. If the show doesn't work, they can't say I didn't take a shot. I can say the show lost its primary component, America's favorite dude. I stepped in and it didn't work? Fuck off. If it does work, then I've come into an impossible situation.
PLAYBOY: If the show results in a big comeback, can you handle it?
SHEEN: I think so. I have the advantage now. I've got more knowledge and more experience. I've got volumes on how not to behave. I've got more information now than a guy should have at my age. My priorities are totally different.
PLAYBOY: This time, will you believe that you deserve success?
SHEEN: This time I'll know I've earned it.