Score one for the Canadian reporter.
Amid the "tsunami" (his word) of Charlie Sheen interviews this past week, the most honest took place on Tuesday's edition of 20/20 on ABC. The sit-down with the actor was a major coup for network correspondent Andrea Canning, whom Sheen himself had contacted following her reportage on the shutdown of his CBS sitcom Two And A Half Men two weeks ago.
Born and raised in the small town of Blue Mountain, Ont., Canning spent much of last Saturday at Sheen's Los Angeles mansion and conducted what many media critics called the most revealing profile in the erratic actor's interview flurry, which also included chats with NBC News, Piers Morgan Tonight, the website TMZ and the Howard Stern radio show.
In the hour-long program, Canning took Sheen to task regarding his recent behaviour, which has led to his departure from Two And A Half Men and the show's cancellation. Among other things, she pushed him on long-standing allegations of drug use and recent charges of anti-Semitism.
For the first time, the viewing public also met Sheen's two youngest sons and new live-in girlfriends, a porn star and a model, or as Sheen calls them, "the goddesses."
And by asking the right questions, Canning got the most revealing, if occasionally bizarre, answers coming out of Sheen's mouth of late. On how his brain works, for instance, he told her: "It fires in a way that is, I don't know, maybe not from this terrestrial realm. When you've got tiger blood and Adonis DNA, it's like, get with the program, dude!"
The result was a telling snapshot of a troubled if unyielding actor. And no doubt the 20/20 interview hasn't hurt Canning's journalistic cred.
Since joining ABC News in 2004, Canning has covered the White House, the Supreme Court and the war in Iraq. Before that, she worked at network affiliates in Cincinnati, Ohio, and West Palm Beach, Fla., and had spent two years reporting and anchoring the news on CKVR Television in Barrie, Ont.
Canning is married to a U.S. Marine fighter pilot and is the mother of two young children. She spoke to us from New York on Thursday.
Is it true Charlie Sheen approached you for the 20/20 interview?
We had already exchanged texts about our coverage of the shutdown of his show. When he reached out to me and said he wanted to do the interview, I was in shock. But even when I was getting ready to go out to L.A., I wasn't just assuming it would happen, because we were talking about Charlie Sheen. I was happy to do the interview; I just didn't know it would turn into what it did.
Sheen seemed so wired in your interview. Was it unnerving to sit across from him?
It was definitely uncomfortable. He was in the hot seat, but I felt I was on the hot seat, too. It was good, though, because I think we challenged each other. He would fire at me, and I would fire back. It felt so quick, because there was such intensity. It felt like five minutes.
What was your game plan going into the interview?
We didn't hold back. We really delved into his past, which made him uncomfortable, but he played along and answered the questions. It was the sheer access that we were given: the length of the interview, both with him and the "goddesses." We also spent time with his children, in his gym, in his theatre, in the back yard. We did it all. No one had the access we did. And there was a good rapport between us.
What were "the goddesses" like?
It's hard to explain. They were in the room the entire time we talked to him. One talked about whether they sleep in the same bed: It's too many people for one bed so they trade on and off. They also take care of the children. It is weird when you look at it. I wouldn't say it feels normal.
Did the goddesses seem like they truly cared for Sheen's kids?
One of them said she would take a bullet for the children.
Did you get the sense of being in a happy home?
I don't know what goes on in that house after the cameras leave. The good news is that what I saw while there was a man who seemed to love his children, and two children who seemed to love their father. They seemed happy and normal. I have two small children myself. I know how children are when they get around adults they don't want to be around. And these children were very much into their father.
Does Sheen seem like a contented guy?
He says he's happy. He says that life is perfect. He's a character. He's really funny. There's a lot of other stuff going on, but he's really entertaining. He must have used the word "winning" 20 times in the interview. He is not bipolar, he is "bi-winning." Everything was winning, winning, winning. Winning has become his catchphrase, and he started it on 20/20.
Did Sheen strike you as an angry person?
He would get angry at times. He says people mistake his passion for anger, but you could see it in his eyes. This was definitely someone who wasn't messing around.
Did his anger connect most vehemently to what he deems betrayal by the Two and a Half Men creators?
I think that's what fuels his anger - the relationship with the executives and the show creator. That's when he would get the most passionate.
Were there any hints of contrition during your interview?
I thought it was interesting that he was willing to take responsibility for his meltdown in New York [last October, when he trashed a room at the Plaza Hotel and admitted to police he had been using cocaine] I reminded him that his kids had been across the hall and he said, "Yeah, that's something I regret." He seemed to feel really bad about that.
Did his bravado falter any other time?
He kind of let his guard down when he was talking about his father. He told that story of how he almost died in the hospital when he was born. I thought that was really intimate.
What were you thinking during your time spent at his mansion?
What's funny is that while I was doing the interview, I was thinking of my friends back in Blue Mountain and Collingwood. Those were the people I wanted to be watching. I never got caught up in the Sheen coverage. It was just a story and it had a life of its own.
What does this story tell you about media today?
Everything just goes viral so quickly now. We're in a new world of pop culture. Charlie Sheen was entertaining and people were watching a train wreck; they couldn't wait to see what he would do next. By the time our special rolled around last Tuesday night, it had reached a fever pitch of people wanting Charlie Sheen.
Have you heard from Sheen since your interview aired?
There's been texts here and there. On TMZ, he said that our interview was slanted. Slanted? I don't think so. We really put it in his own words. This was his interview, and I certainly don't feel I asked him anything out of the norm. We weren't out to get Charlie Sheen; we wanted him to tell his story. We gave him a very fair platform.
Any chance you'll be doing a follow-up interview with him?
Oh, I don't know about that. He's done interviews with everybody now, and I'm in New York and he's in Los Angeles. But never say never.
This interview has been edited and condensed.