BORN TO BE WILD
Brothers Charlie Sheen and Emilio Estevez are no strangers to scandal , but in their shocking new Showtime movie Rated X, they explore a world more outrageous than their own.
In the days leading up to the production of Showtime's RATED X-the tragic, drug laden story of the Mitchell brothers, two notorious San Fransisco porn kings-Martin Sheen called the film's director, which happens to be his son, Emilio Estevez, and pleaded with him to abandon the project. "Do not do this film,," He told Estevez "Do not take Charlie down this road." Charlie Sheen, Estevez's brother, had been sober less than a year, and his latest role would have him acting out the kind of habits-snorting cocaine, chugging vodka, smoking pot-that had turned his real life into an ongoing tabloid scandal. "There were moments when we were shooting," recalls Estevez, "that I thought, "what am I doing, having him re-create all this madness?" Now the brothers say they are better for the madness-at least the fictional madness.
After spending much of the past decade apart, Sheen, 34, and Estevez, 38, rejuvenated their relationship by re-enacting the Larry Flynt-meets-Cain and Abel story of Jim and Artie Mitchell. The Mitchells, who most famously produced 1972's crossover hit "Behind the Green Door," endured numerous arrests for producing lewd material and survived fierce battles with the mob during the 70's. The partnership broke down when the cocaine-addicted Artie (played by Sheen) lost his grip on reality. The story took an even more tragic turn in 1991 when, during an argument, Jim Mitchell (Estevez) fatally shot Artie. He served three years in prison for voluntary manslaughter.
The project had an unexpected effect on the actors. "Without a doubt, (Rated X) brought us closer," Sheen says. Adds Estevez, "We were kind of estranged for about 10 years. We didn't run in the same cirlcles. I wan't friends with any of his friends. We just had two different lifestyles. For us to go three months without talking was nothing unusual." Theses days the brothers, both single, (Estevez lives in Malibu, California, and has a 15=year old son and a 13 year old daughter with model Carey Salley. Sheen who lives in the Los Angeles suburb of Agoura Hills, has a 15 year old daughter with Paula Profitt, a high-school girlfriend) hang out together frequently. "Charlie is the only one of the guys who can get me out of the house." says Estevez. "Malibu is a bedroom community. You do your own thing. I think that is part of the reason I have stayed as sane as I am."
"It is a bedroom community," Sheen says, "But I exchange glances and chuckle, clearly enjoying the not so inside joke.
Still, their temperaments remain markedly distinct: Estevez is more talkative, more intense: Sheen is more relaxed, frank and quotable. Sitting at a Malibu coffee shop, not far from the home where they were reared, Estevez's attention turns to a man in a beat-up van driving through the parking lot. His voice grows tense. "There's that guy," he says. "He parks and stalks celebrities."
"Is it Woody?" Sheen asks, referring to a paparazzo he's grown familiar with over the years. Estevez just gets angrier. "I would like to take the camera and shove it up his ass." he says. Sheen doesn't take the bait. "Woody's all right. He's been around for years."
Despite their differnces, the brothers (Martin Sheen, star of NBC's The West Wing, and Janet Sheen have two other children, Ramon 36, and Renee, 30, also actors) jumped at Showtime's offer to work together on Rated X. Estevez-a member of the "Brat Pack" in the '80s-was eager to break free of what he calls "sequelitis," having spent much of the '90s on "The Mighty Ducks" and its two follow-ups. Sheen, after early success in such films as "Platoon" and "Wall Street," had been looking for a project following years of very public arrests and humiliations stemming from his drug and alcohol addictions and his infamous involvement in the Heidi Fleiss Hollywood prositution scandal. The new TV-movie, Estevez says, just might reinvent their reputations as serious actors (Estevez is currently mulling over scripts, including other Showtime projects, while Sheen begins production this summer on Spin City, replacing series star Michael J. Fox).
Rated X, Estevez says, is a turning point: "I don't think people have seen Charlie do something like this for a long time and they have never seen me do anything like this. It reinvents us. It opens the eyes of certain filmmakers we want to work with and sends the message out that we are serious that I am not a sequel guy." Sheen adds "I think people I want to work with, want to have meetings with will get it. They are intellectual enough or forgiing enough to see the courage it took to go down this road. The other people who says, "Oh, he just put his life on film, 'f... em."
The movie has largely drawn controversy, with Estevez battling with the Motion Picturew Association of America over a possible NC-17 rating (the film might get a imited theatrical release) And Estevez received scant cooperation from Jim Mitchell. When Estevez visited Mitchell in San Francisco, the Hollywood filmmaker waas asked by the skin flick-maker not to dredge up the tale. Estevez recalls Jim Mitchell asking, "If something like this happened between you and Charlie, or if Charlie, in all his madness, had died, would you want to see a movie made about it? Would you want to relieve it all? Quite frankly, my answer was no," says Estevez, whose high-profile divorce from singer Paula Abdul was tabloid fodder in 1994. "And yet I am an actor and a director and I saw the value of this story from a dramatic point of view and it made sense. It is an extraordinary story."
Sheen and Estevez knew that the project would reopen past struggles and sibbling rivalries from their own lives. The remembered the worst fight they ever had when Charlie, then 16 grabbed a baseball bat. His brother took out a gun. "Nobody pulled any tirggers," Sheen recalls and neither he nor Estevez can remember what fueled the arguement. But the intensity of their emotions and the presence of the gun (which Sheen jokingly claims was found in a Dumpster) brought the brothers "as close as we came to that kind of madness" depicted in the mvie, Estevez says.
Madness of another sort, however, was all too familiar. Charlie's well=chronicled reputation as Hollywood's naughtiest son reached its pinnacle (or nadir) with his 1995 admission that he paid more than $50,000 over a 15-month period for trysts with employees of madam Fleiss. Those familiar with the case will catch an obvious nod to a tabloid report that Sheen reuested that his call girls dress up as cheerleaders: Near the beginning of the movie, Artie holds up cheerleader oufits and declares that this is what turns him on. It was Sheen's idea to add that scene to the script.
Indeed, Sheen has never been tight-lipped about his past indiscretions, and there was even a time when he thrived on his bad-boy image. "I had written a story in my head that if I ever got famous, I would bring in a taste of old Hollywood," he says. "Everything was too conservative. There were no hell-raisers left, and I was going to be that guy. But in the end, I was still carrying the flag and leading the charge, but there was nobody else out there."
His rebellioun, Sheen says, was driven by drugs and alcohol. "I didn't intend the reputation to get as out of hand as it did. Once it caught on, I thought, "OK, now I have got to fuel this fire. This is what I do and this is who I am.' which is the complete opposite of who I am. I am a pretty shy pretty introverted, mellow guy." His high life came to a halt in May 1998, when he nearly died from a drug overdose. His father, fearing for his son's saftey turned Charlie over to the police for probation violation (the younger Sheen had previously been charged for battery of a female companion.
Considering that Martin Sheen's own addiction battles took him to the brink and back-especially on the set of 1979's "Apocalypse Now," where many of the actors and crew reportedly became addicted to hard drugs-it's no wonder he was opposed to his sons making Rated X. "It was because of what he had been through, what the two of them had been through (that he was against the film), Estevez says. "His advice, comes from a loving place," adds Charlie, "but ultimately we are the ones doing the work." And while their father was impressed with early footage of the film, they are still unsure of his final reaction. "My father has the tendency to take the high moral ground," says Estevez. "That is not something you can do with this picture. You eitther embrace it or you don't."
The most difficult part of the shoot for both brothers was the scene in the hopital after Artie has overdosed on drugs. It was a painful reminder of what Charlie himself had gone through not long before. Janet Sheen played the nurse. "It was just happenstance that my parents were in Toronto (while we were filming), and I told my mom to get in wardrobe," says Estevez. "It was kind of intense on that day having Charlie in the bed in the hospital talking about OD'ing and how he was going to get it together."
Although Martin Sheen was fearful of Charlie doing Rated X, Showtime executives had no doubts. Jerry Offsay, the channel's president of programming says, "Charlie was single-minded devoted to putting his career back on track. he had a good support system." Throughout the Toronto production, Sheen stayed in close contact with sober friends back in Los Angeles, checking in to get himself grounded even as his character was going trough drug induced mania. The production "was very cathartic," Sheen says. "I got to vent a lot of rage, a lot of frustrations, a lot of anxiety. It reaffirmed why I didn't want to live this way anymore. The way I look at it today, I am just grateful to be in the game and alive, and everything else is gravy. It is not about money, property and prestige.
"It's not?" Estevez chimes in sipping coffee. The brothers let out a chuckle. Turning serious Estevez continues, "The fact that we are still standing, that we are still here, is a testamont to something. We're too stubborn to call it quits."
Written by Ted Johnson for TV Guide May 13, 2000. Typed by Amye for PRESENTING...EMILIO