Charlie Sheen lives in a big, yellow house on a T-shaped intersection in the middle of a fake neighborhood in a gated community off Mulholland Drive in Los Angeles. When I arrive there on a Saturday afternoon in January, I am intercepted in Sheen's driveway by a security guard, a friendly, not-intimidatingly-large man who asks me to come with him into the garage to sign a nondisclosure agreement.
This is a first for me. I scan the five pages of legalese, in which the undersigned — me — is referred to as "the Employee." To what extent, I wonder, will signing this document impede my ability to do my actual job of interviewing Sheen and his childhood friend, Roman Coppola, about their new movie, A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III?
Larry Solters, Sheen's personal publicist, materializes to allay my fears. The document, he says, is not about Sheen and his associates trying to control the story I'm here to write. It's about them trying to prevent me from selling a story to TMZ about anything I see inside the house. Standing in the security office built off of Sheen's garage, under one of those posters you see in break rooms advising workers of their fundamental rights, I sign away my right to profit off my visit with Charlie Sheen.
Solters is an old-school guy, a second-generation publicist whose clients have included the Eagles and Guns N' Roses. His first publicity coup was issuing a news release stating that Led Zeppelin had been "denied the right" to play Shea Stadium. The story was false — but it made the papers.
Sheen, Solters says, hired him about a year and a half ago, which would be summer 2011, which would be shortly after the period described on Sheen's Wikipedia page under the subhead "Meltdown."
That section does not include details about Sheen's 30-year struggle with substance abuse, his 9/11 truther activism, the time he accidentally shot fiancée Kelly Preston or other assorted legal issues, reported incidents of domestic violence, and general mischief. It mostly includes the "bizarre statements" Sheen made in TV interviews and on Sheen's Korner, a web video airing of grievances, which Sheen produced for a few days in March 2011 after losing his job, the highest-paid acting gig in television, as star of CBS' Two and a Half Men.
It took only days for Sheen's apparently off-the-leash antics to galvanize a certain kind of attention. In a long essay published by the Daily Beast on March 15, no less a sage than Bret Easton Ellis canonized Sheen as the icon of "post-Empire": "Charlie Sheen doesn't care what you think of him anymore, and he scoffs at the idea that anyone even thinks there's such a thing as PR taboo. 'Hey suits, I don't give a shit, you suck,' is what so many of the disenfranchised have responded to."
But the new world order didn't last long. On April 2, 2011, Sheen took his "act" on the road, launching a tour called "My Violent Torpedo of Truth: Defeat Is Not an Option" at Detroit's Fox Theater. He delivered what one critic described as "the overwritten, faux-biblical preaching of a self-anointed Messiah, who views himself as the most truthful person in the universe" — and was booed offstage. By July, FX had signed Sheen to star in a new series, Anger Management; by September, he was making nice with his former costars at the Emmys.
Is that all there is to a meltdown? Was there ever a solid to melt?
"They hired me when things were really calm and easy," Solters jokes. "I mostly do music, but they couldn't figure out what to do with him, so they figured, give him to the rock 'n' roll guy." Solters, apparently, is not the guy you hire to baby-sit a man who can't control himself, to wrangle a self-styled outlaw and subdue him into playing the game. He's the guy you hire to sell a brand built on incorrigibility, when the problem is the product.
A few minutes later, Roman Coppola drives up in a scuffed-up black Cadillac. He, like Charlie Sheen, is 47 years old. Two days earlier, he was nominated for his first Oscar, for cowriting Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom. His sister, Sofia, won an Oscar for her Lost in Translation screenplay in 2004, when she was 32; his father, Francis, won his first Oscar for his Patton screenplay in 1971, when he was 32.
Coppola enters Sheen's house through the garage; he is not asked to sign anything. I follow as he walks past a framed dollar bill signed by a superproducer three weeks after Sheen was fired from Men ("Charlie, you are the winner. Warmest, Mike Medavoy"). He turns into the kitchen and beelines to a deluxe espresso machine.