When audiences came to “Two and a Half Men” to have Charlie Sheen charm them as an engaging lothario, they also got something few probably expected — strong women who often push and pull the central male characters through a multitude of storylines.
“It was clear from the pilot that these are two men afraid of women,” says Jon Cryer, who plays the clingy Alan Harper on the show. “Their fear of women propels them into all sorts of things. I think that the show definitely treats men and woman as equally flawed adults. As messed up as the women characters on the show are — the mom, the maid, my ex-wife — you end up liking them.”
For showrunner Chuck Lorre, this is absolutely by design.
“It’s the central drive in most people’s lives to find that one relationship, and when you’re looking for it there’s a lot of fear in that process,” he says. “You want to find someone to love you, and if you’ve had the kind of mother these two have, it can get complicated.
“And so one of these men became a guy who wants a monogamous relationship but always smothers the person he’s with, and the other one became someone who can’t have a relationship much longer than one night.”
While the women on the show appear in supporting roles, their characters clearly have their own lives and often unconventional agendas.
“I think for Chuck Lorre it was important to have a character who is a grandmother and still actively pursuing a personal life,” says Holland Taylor, who plays Evelyn Harper. “It’s fun to play a character who cuts a swath through everyone else’s wishes, because I guess we all have a part of us that wishes we could do that.”
Sometimes playing a woman who is a mother of two grown sons and grandmother to another boy is not without peril.
“Very often Holland will look at me perplexed and say, ‘The worse I am, the more they love me,’ ” Cryer says. “At first she tried to tone it down, and I said, ‘You can’t. That’s not who the character is.’ She is that tough.”
And Taylor, along with Conchata Ferrell (housekeeper Berta) and Marin Hinkle (Judith Harper, Alan’s ex-wife), have all found themselves in conversation about the richness of their roles on this show that’s mostly about men.
“We’ve talked with one another about how great it is that we’re all working and playing characters that are not like every other woman you usually expect to see on television,” Hinkle says.
Taylor herself is a fan of the other female characters on the show. “I think the most revolutionary character is Berta, because she’s the most real and she just tells the truth as she sees it,” Taylor says. “I wish I could be that truthful.”
Ferrell is quick to point out that while the women are strong, they’re in the story often to complicate things for the male characters.
“We are really there because of how we impact the boys,” Ferrell says. “And I don’t think we ever lose sight of that.”
Ferrell also believes that while Sheen’s character is clearly a womanizer, he actually looks to a woman on the show for real friendship.
“Charlie’s character and my character have a friendship that I don’t think either character is aware of yet,” says Ferrell. “Berta is really Charlie’s best friend in a way. He talks to her when he has a problem, and she’s really the one person who can tell him the truth about himself.”