"The Very Idea of Jon Cryer"

April 8th, 2015

Right to left: Jim Longworth, Jon Cryer, Holland Taylor, Charlie Sheen, and Jim's wife Pam Cook

It used to be that Hollywood notables would wait until they reached the autumn of their years before penning an autobiography. Not so with Jon Cryer, who at the young age of fifty, has packed about two lifetimes worth of tales into his new book, So That Happened: a Memoir. Yes, he dishes on his Two and a Half Men co-star Charlie Sheen, but if you only read those chapters, you’ll miss the part where Jon was exposed to prostitutes at an early age, or how he was replaced by Mighty Mouse in a vitamin commercial, or all about his romance with Demi Moore, or how Britney Spears once saved him from the paparazzi, or how he got invited to a sleep-over at the Playboy mansion. That’s right, mild-mannered Jon Cryer has had a lot of weird experiences, but there’s a reason for that, as he explained to me, “There must be something about me that wants insanity in my life, because I ran into a fair amount of it for a guy who just wanted to be an actor.”

Cryer, who grew up in New York City, was a child of divorce. His father left home when Jon was four years old to pursue a career in acting. Jon’s mom was a writer and actress who arranged for her little boy to appear alongside her in a TV commercial for Zestabs vitamins. That was Cryer’s first taste of acting, and he was hooked. He also had an active imagination. I once asked him how he learned about the birds and the bees, and Jon said, “My Mom told me about it when I was 6, and I told all the other kids that the man puts his finger in the lady’s belly button, and that’s where babies come from.”

Jon skipped college in order to study his craft at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, and after appearing onstage and in a few guest spots on TV, Jon’s big break in films came in 1986, opposite Molly Ringwald in Pretty in Pink. Three years later he landed the lead role in his own short-lived TV series, The Famous Teddy Z, then appeared with Charlie Sheen in Hot Shots, a big-screen comedy. In 2003, Jon re-teamed with Sheen in Two and a Half Men, which became the highest rated sitcom on TV, until it shut down production in 2010 because of Charlie’s addiction and erratic behavior. When filming resumed, Hugh Grant was supposed to act opposite Jon, but when he backed out, Ashton Kutcher stepped in, and Men lasted for five more seasons. Jon has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and he is the only man to ever win both Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor EMMYs for the same show.

I first met Jon and Charlie back in 2008 when they appeared on my “Salute to TV Moms” event at the Television Academy, then returned to help me the following year for the “Salute to TV Dads”. Charlie began his downward spiral not long after the “Dads” event. Last week I spoke with Jon about his new book, his image, and his relationship with Sheen.

Jim: When preparing to film Pretty in Pink, Molly Ringwa ld thought you were gay, and you had to explain to her that you weren’t. Does that make you the first actor in the history of Hollywood to ever come out as “straight”?

Jon: (laughs) I suppose so now that you mention it. I am a pioneer. I can now leave the twilight world of the heterosexual.

Jim: Once when you were sitting around on a sound stage waiting to film a TV pilot, the studio audience started laughing before you ever said a word. In your book you said you came to the realization that, “They were laughing at the very idea of me.”

Jon: Yeah, I think being inherently somewhat ridiculous just gives people empathy. The second you walk out on stage, they see that thing in them that’s awkward, or doesn’t feel comfortable, and they empathize with it. To some degree I feel lucky that I’ve been blessed with that.

Jim: What was your assessment of Charlie Sheen’s talent in the first few years you worked together?

Jon: He made it look so easy, and that confidence infused our comedic dynamic, which was incredibly helpful. Even on my first audition with him, the smoothness of his delivery and his confidence created a perfect foil for me. He might have been out until 3 a.m., but he would still show up and he knew all his lines, rock solid.

But all that changed when Charlie’s drug addiction worsened. In his book, Jon describes Charlie as “starting to look gaunt, and his teeth looked like they were going to fall out. He still remembered his lines, but his timing was off.”

Jon: So when Charlie started falling apart, it was shocking because I was always the one who screwed up. We knew something was wrong.

Jim: And after an intervention by network brass and producers had failed, production shut down and Charlie was fired. Were you surprised at how that went down?

Jon: Yeah because generally they’ll just put up with a problem until the thing can’t work anymore. But in this case they were proactive. We could have finished the season and provided Warner Brothers with millions more dollars in revenue by completing that season, but instead they decided that continuing was going to kill Charlie.

Jim: Charlie apologized to you at a private meeting last year, but I got the sense that you didn’t buy into the apologies. Have you forgiven him and are you still friends?

Jon: The sober guy that I knew and worked with for five or six years, that guy is absolutely still my friend. But I don’t know that Charlie Sheen ever wants to be that guy again.

Jim: Would you ever want to work with him again?

Jon: If he made a lot of changes in his life. If he wanted to be that sober guy, but I don’t think he does.

Jim: Since you’ve done a lot of comedy, are you going to wait around until a dramatic role comes along?

Jon: No, I don’t do that. I just want to make great stuff. if it’s funny, great. If it’s dramatic, great. I’ll even do another multi-camera comedy. I love working that way.

And why not? Audiences love the very idea of Jon.

(So That Happened is published by New American Library, and is available in bookstores and on Amazon.)

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