Charlie Sheen’s revelation that he’s been HIV positive for the last four years won’t hurt the his chances of landing acting gigs moving forward, we’re told by network, agency and studio insiders.
Yet there are still plenty of other issues that might.
The 50-year-old generated a round of sympathy across social media for his claims of having to endure years of blackmail attempts from paid and unpaid sex partners seeking to exploit his trust and the fear Sheen had about his diagnosis going public. “He actually looked better than he has in years,” noted one publicist who previously worked with the actor.
But Sheen hasn’t worked as a film or TV actor since Anger Management concluded last year, aside from one guest appearance on ABC’s The Goldbergs. At one point during his Today interview, Sheen noted he’s close to moving forward with a project at Sony, but we’re told no such active project exists at that studio. We are told, however, there are “prospects” circling the actor. Reality producers have definitely shown interest in doing a show with Sheen, while other sources we spoke to believe the odds of a major network like CBS or FX casting Sheen on a scripted series, or a studio putting him into a major film, are very slim. Nobody has forgotten his spectacular 2011 meltdown-a-thon departure from Two and a Half Men, a situation that few would risk happening again (on Today, Sheen attributed his behavior to “roid rage”). Now on top of that at least one of Sheen’s former sex partners claim he lied on Today by saying he was upfront about his HIV status, with threats of lawsuits and accusations of betrayal (Sheen’s rep says those claims are not true).
“I think a lot will depend on what these women say about whether or not he told them,” a top casting agent said. “If it drags on that way legally and paints him as someone who took advantage of women, it will undo whatever the early positive responses were.”
A network executive who has worked with Sheen suggests an indie film might cast him for his name recognition, or a reality show could work, but not much else. “I don’t think [having HIV] would be a factor as Charlie has so many other giant f—ing issues,” the executive said. “I don’t think anybody is debating hiring him now, just because of all the other stuff. The only thing is, this could create more empathy for him.”
What’s interesting is that Sheen’s life story has become so dramatic that his best path might not be playing some character on TV, but rather telling his own tale in another medium. Sheen is reportedly in talks to pen a memoir, which publishers agree could work.
“I think everyone wants to know more about his entire life,” says Gallery Books publicity director Jennifer Robinson. “If he wanted to do a big, warts-and-all celebrity memoir, it would be huge. I don’t see a book deal being made just on what he’s going through now. It’s got to be the all-encompassing book about everything.”
Crown editor Trish Boczkowski says she recalls a book about Sheen being shopped a couple years ago, but thinks such a project now has much better odds of success — especially if, as Robinson said, Sheen doesn’t hold back.
“It’s almost like how I think about the O.J. Simpson, If I Did It book, as an example of someone who is rather detestable and yet there’s this sick curiosity about them,” Boczkowski says. “It just gives me a stomach ache thinking about publishing him. For a book to be truly satisfying, you’d want him to be utterly candid, warts-and-all. You want to root for the author. Somebody might do it.”
Indeed the one thing the freely admitted drug-taking, prostitute-hiring, career-nuking actor still has going for him after all this is that many still want him to win.
“Even with everything that’s happened, he’s still beloved,” Robinson said. “I talked to my mom, who is 70-something, and she was like, ‘I still love him.'”
— Kevin Sullivan contributed to this report