Actors' careers were on the brink of elimination

No one is more aware of their narrow escape from the “Where are they now?” file than Charlie Sheen and Jon Cryer.

Hot young movie stars in the 1980s, Sheen and Cryer haven’t stopped savoring the career revival they have found in “Two and a Half Men”: Sheen playing off his playboy persona, Cryer playing the Felix Unger, second-banana nebbish.

“My career could have just been a long ‘E! (True) Hollywood Story,’” says Sheen, whose personal life remains tabloid fodder, “but I got another shot. Gratitude is what I have to express. TV suits me more now that I’m a father. I would not be able to cultivate the relationships I have with my fiancee and my kids, if not for the show.”

“You never know what’s going to work,” Cryer adds. “Casting directors used to be like, ‘We want Duckie (Cryer’s most memorable film role, from “Pretty in Pink”) but grown up.’ Well, I could do that. Then the role of Alan came around, and I happened to have the tools to be that guy.”

Sheen’s acting career, marked by his breakout dramatic roles for Oliver Stone in “Platoon” and “Wall Street,” was swiftly usurped by his tales of his offscreen behavior. After a string of hits and misses, Sheen scored with the 1991 spoof “Hot Shots.”

“When that did well,” says Sheen, “I figured nothing makes sense; the world is upside down. I was just plagiarizing Leslie Nielsen; I robbed half of his stuff. But that was the turning point for me. ‘Major League’ was big, too.”

Sheen’s bigscreen career never regained its original momentum, but he built upon his affinity for comedy when he replaced Michael J. Fox on “Spin City” before segueing over to “Men.”

“Charlie makes it look real easy,” says “Men” creator Chuck Lorre. “There’s an elegance and charm to the guy, and you never see the work. He’s developed his craft to the point where his work is invisible.”

“Men” is the first time Cryer has been lucky in TV, having been a series regular in four failed shows, including critically acclaimed “The Famous Teddy Z.”

“I got to a middle area, where casting directors didn’t know what to do with me,” says Cryer, who like Sheen, grew up in a show business family. “I was not a kid, but not ready to play leading roles. It’s tough to see the other side. You never know. The last gig you did could be your last. For a while (you) consider, ‘What else could I do? Wow, I got nothing.’ “

Cryer laughs, then adds, “I was months away from having to sell my house when I got ‘Two and a Half Men.’ “

One hundred episodes later, Sheen and Cryer, who met when both were filming “Hot Shots,” play off each other seamlessly. Neither has immediate feature film plans. Sheen, by some accounts earning the top TV series salary in the business, says he’s humbled by the weekly letters he receives from viewers and is intent on appreciating every moment of his current situation.

“I don’t think there is a reason to do a film during hiatus just to do one, especially if it is light comedy,” Sheen says. “I’m going to be patient enough to wait for the right opportunity. I did it in reverse. I went from movies to TV. So I don’t have the burning desire to do movies, and I’m grateful for that.”

“There is always that fear of the bottom dropping out,” Cryer comments. “My parents are in the business. I understood that it was cyclical from the get-go. But this is my time and I’m going to enjoy it. I love being invited to the party.”

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