By James Hibberd
August 29, 2011 at 02:32 PM EDT
CBS

Things are pretty different on Two and a Half Men this fall — both on the hit series and behind the scenes — and EW has some fresh intel about the newly top-secret comedy: Jon Cryer’s character Alan Harper will now be the experienced ladies man on the show. Charlie Sheen’s character not only dies in the much-discussed premiere, but his absence will be dealt with throughout the entire season. New hire Ashton Kutcher (who plays Walden Schmidt, a brokenhearted billionaire) is helping keep stress levels low off-camera by providing the Men crew with access to his decked-out party trailer and massage therapist. And all the while, the comedy’s storylines are suddenly under guard like on a Christopher Nolan thriller, with studio-audience members signing nondisclosure agreements and actors getting watermarked scripts.

Below, the Emmy nominee gives his first (and quite funny) in-depth must-read interview about all the changes on the new Two and a Half Men:

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So how are things going on that certain CBS sitcom that’s been getting so many headlines this past year?

JON CRYER: You’re talking, of course, about The Big Bang Theory. No, things are going great. Working with Ashton is a blast. Audiences have been going nuts for him. He’s clearly a guy who missed doing sitcoms quite a bit. He just lights up on show night. It’s a lot of fun for he and I because we have to discover what works between us, and he’s game for anything. There’s already — lines have been crossed already that probably never should have been crossed, as you’ll see in the first episode.

So the Men nude teaser poster that was released, that moment might manifest in the first episode?

It may well.

What are the biggest differences working on the show from a year ago?

It’s such a strange combination of the same show and a completely new show. All of us on the set keep referring to the first episode back as the “pilot” by mistake. [Showrunner] Chuck [Lorre] and I were standing around joking about trying to pitch this show and how ridiculous it would sound to a development executive: “The guy’s been divorced and his brother just passed away, but he meets this billionaire with a broken heart and…” It’s like, I would never buy that show. But it’s working amazingly well.

How does the premiere pull off not being too dark or morbid, considering it starts with a main character [Charlie Harper] dying?

This show has never had an ounce of sentimentality; it’s not what we do. There was a moment in the first season where we tried it, then we realized, no, that doesn’t work. This is [handled] with that same lack of sentimentality. Any concerns I had about it were completely washed away by the studio audience we had — which signed nondisclosure agreements — and had a terrific reaction to it.

So after the first episode is there no more looking back, or are there references to Charlie in the later episodes?

The history of the show does not go away at all. It will be dealt with all through the first season. It’s not, “Oh, that character’s gone, let’s forget completely about him.” There will be ramifications all through the season. We’re not taking this into a new universe where the first show didn’t exist.

How do the changes impact Alan?

Well, I don’t know for certain. It’s funny because everybody is signing nondisclosure agreements. The scripts go out with watermarks and every script gets handed to you personally by somebody from the show. They’re being super secretive. And that’s all new, the show has never functioned like that before. But what isn’t new is they’ve never told me what my character is going to go through. They’ve cryptically hinted at stuff. One of the characters will be institutionalized, but they don’t say which character or what kind of institution. I don’t mind that because to me that feels like life — you never know what’s going to happen next. And God knows last year proved that to me.

Are you watching or participating in the Charlie Sheen roast?

NEXT: Alan’s relationship with Kutcher’s character revealed; Sheen’s roast, Kutcher provides stress therapy

Are you watching or participating in the Charlie Sheen roast?

I’m not participating in any way. I’ll DVR it, out of curiosity.

During the first week shooting, CBS entertainment president Nina Tassler suggested the atmosphere on the set was pretty intense given all the pressures involved. How is it now?

We’ve absolutely fallen into a rhythm. That was only the first couple days the first week. Ashton kind of blew that out of the water pretty quickly. He’s willing to do anything for a joke. Plus, he hired a massage therapist for the entire crew, which had a relaxing effect.

She also suggested things could still creatively evolve. How much does the first episode match what you’ve shot since?

The two shows we’ve done since then are very much in the tone of the first. There’s obviously big change in the dynamic with Ashton, in terms of what that creates in my character. I can only say my character ends up being the more romantically experienced one of the two of them. So Alan becomes sort of a mentor character to Ashton’s character. And as bad as an idea as that sounds, it’s just as bad on the show — I’m a terrible mentor. And that’s where a lot of the fun of the show comes from.

From what you’ve seen so far, is the tone and feel of Men the same or is there a difference?

Oh yes. If you found it deeply offensive before, it’s still deeply offensive. That’s a promise we made to our audience and we intend to keep it.

Have you been inside Ashton’s swank trailer?

I have been in what I refer to as the U.S.S. Yorktown. What’s great about it is it provides shade — for most of the studio lot. He had told me early on that he was going to get an enormous trailer. It’s a fun place to hang out for us and anybody on the crew — he has an open-door policy. He’s got almost a club upstairs — yeah, that’s right, I said upstairs. He pipes music out before and after the shows and everybody hangs out. It creates a great vibe.

Any ratings prediction after that first episode?

I have no idea. I’ve never tried to dissect the original appeal of the show. I just knew people took the show to their heart. I just wanted to keep doing the show that I love doing. And in this new version I’m having a great time.

How do you think your Emmy chances are?

That [nomination] was such a ridiculous astonishing surprise. The way I’ve thought of it, they just invited me to the party. The guys in the category with me this year are ridiculous. That Ed O’Neill didn’t get one last year is ridiculous, that Chris Colfer didn’t get one is ridiculous. That Eric Stonestreet did get one last year made perfect sense.

Congratulations on landing the lead in the new Pixar movie [Planes]. That’s huge. Is there anything an actor has to do to prepare to play a plane?

It’s all about lubrication. That’s my motto in general.

Men premieres on Sept. 19. See more on the new Two and a Half Men and all the big fall shows in EW’s annual Fall TV Preview issue on newsstands Friday.

READ MORE:

Ashton Kutcher’s sick ‘Two and a Half Men’ trailer — PHOTOS

Jon Cryer on Charlie Sheen’s ‘death’ in season opener of ‘Two and a Half Men’: ‘No … explosion’

Ashton Kutcher predicts ‘Two and a Half Men’ will ‘go through the roof’ — PHOTO

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