You're blessed with a talented and highly respected father . . . in a business where it's so difficult to make your own mark following in famous footsteps. What insight and encouragement from him specially stays with you?
As an actor and a person he always taught me to tell the truth and I think I’ve maintained that, especially in my personal life – perhaps a bit much at times, umm, so I’m working on that. There’s a difference between being candid and full disclosure so I’d like to say it’s relative and the situation dictates.
How does his support as a father compare with his support as an acting mentor?
I’d have to say these are both interwoven, one and the same. His advice is very similar on both fronts.
What role among your father's huge list of credits had the most profound impact on you?
The end of Apocalypse Now. If you watched that movie, I won’t need to explain why.
What's he like to work with, which you've done a lot.
He’s fabulous! He’s beyond prepared. And he’s the guy having the most fun on set. He completely embraces it. There isn’t another environment he’s more comfortable in. And he says anyone who isn’t here to explore this playground of the imagination and have a grand time doing so has no business being there!
Your career is filled with ironies. You replaced Michael J. Fox on Spin City – how did it feel nine years later when you were replaced by Ashton Kutcher, under different circumstances?
It. F#$%ing. Sucked.
You lost your cool, and your job, on Two and a Half Men. How bitterly ironic your next show was called Anger Management. Nevertheless, seriously for a moment, anger ain't always bad. It can get a lot of things done, like in politics. What makes you angry about current US politics?
First of all, I think anger is often misinterpreted, when it can in fact be intense passion. I think people need to look at that. Certain folks are just radically passionate about ideas, moments, and themes and that can be interpreted, wrongly, as anger.
And, sure, it’s ironic my next show was Anger Management. That was not lost on me. I think we did a really good job considering we did 100 shows in two and a half years – that’s another Guinness record for this guy! But who’s counting?
And then the political thing. I don’t want to jump too deep into that but the situation in America is pretty dire. I had three words for my previous answer and I have three words for this one: Donald. J. Trump. It’s a dark time and we’re descending into a place that represents nothing of the America I was raised in, that I fell in love with. But I’ve always said to every squall there’s a sunrise.
You were the highest-paid actor in the business for some time. Was there a down-side to that?
I guess all the parasites that cling on and all the fireflies that attracts! And it’s really hard to tell my guy to say no, on any front. But it was cool as hell while it lasted. And whatever’s going on doesn’t really matter because, you know, with all that dough and all that success and all that attention I was never more miserable. So, ah, ya’ know. It put a price-tag on sanity and serenity and self-awareness. Things are different now. And I’ll take today much more than that yesterday.
How to do you weed out the yes-men from those who would swamp you?
They’re all kind of in the same group. You have to take inventory of who’s in your life and who contributes and who matters. And the reasons they’re around. The people dearest to me are family. First and foremost. They’re the folks who are around during the lean times.
Taking the theme of one of your most famous movies, is greed ever good?
I really don’t know. I think for some folks it can create the illusion that it is – but then again it’s one of those seven deadly sins.
You made an unforgettable contribution to [director] John Hughes’ classic Ferris Bueller's Day Off – unbilled!
Yeah. I just wasn’t that well-known at the time. What are you going to do? I think performance is much more important than a credit, ya’ know?
I once asked John Hughes what he would’ve done if Matthew Broderick had played hooky for a day during the shoot. Hughes said: “Ian, That's the first time I've ever been asked that. And the answer is I would’ve had to let him go! Considering what the movie is about!” And he laughed. What was Hughes like to work with?
What a lovely story. He was just like that. Dear departed John Hughes. RIP. He was an absolute genius and a lovely, compassionate, patient man. He didn’t over-direct. If he saw something going on that was fabulous, he’d just let you do it! He was a huge fan of letting the actor do his work and discover the choices the scene warrants.
You were pressured to announce publicly that you’d contracted HIV. You appear to be living very successfully, triumphantly, with the virus. How so? I’ve just turned, I guess, a whole bunch of lemons into lemonade. It’s not anything I can change. It’s only something I can manage and look forward to the constantly improving technology, leading us to a cure. I won’t be a poster child for HIV. But I’m not going to shy away from lending my support and offering whatever help I can. So, that’s how, I guess.
The stigma of HIV and AIDS weighs heavily on many people, especially the LGBTQ community. What have you learned from first-hand experience about the fear of HIV?
There’s a kinship established and someone will approach me and say: “Hey brother, I’m in the same boat.” So there’s that. So you feel like you’re not alone and what’s really cool is what they call the Charlie Sheen effect. When I went public everything changed, as far as Google searches and awareness. A lot of stuff changed. I think people were really respectful for my courage to lead people in a more positive light. I say to those with HIV to focus on your health, stay the course, and have faith. Not hope. Hope is for suckers and fools. Faith is foundational. Have faith there will be a cure in our lifetime.
What do you think people will mostly know you for? And what do you want people to know you for?
I don’t have a crystal ball about how people are going to feel about me professionally. That’s up to them. I hope it’s the groovy stuff and not the lousy shit. I’d much rather be known for being a noble human being than anything professionally. But if that’s part of it, that’s a bonus. As I said, you can’t put a price-tag on going through life, ya’ know, leaving goodness behind. I’d like to say people are happy to see me arrive and sad to see me leave. And, hopefully, in those moments, brief or otherwise, that I’ve left them with something to talk about [laughs]. That’s all I got.
- ON STAGE: AN EVENING WITH CHARLIE SHEEN
- At Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre on November 3 at 7.30pm and at Darling Harbour Theatre, Sydney International Convention Centre on November 4 at 7.30pm. Tickets at Ticketek.