Actor Jon Cryer stopped by The Ron and Fez Show this week, to talk about the season finale of his hit sitcom, “Two and a Half Men.” He talked with Ron Bennington about his interesting career path which has gone up, and down and right back up again. Things started out spectacularly well for him (“No Small Affair”, “Pretty in Pink”) and then…not so well (“Dudes”, “Superman 4″), but even the bad experiences taught him about making choices. And look where it’s taken him. Now he’s about to wrap season 11 of one of the biggest sitcoms on television today. It’s so big in fact, that it’s survived, and thrived despite the loss of two out of the three main characters. We learned so much from Jon Cryer that we couldn’t even pick which one to write about, so here are three things we learned when Jon Cryer talked to Ron Bennington.
Cryer told Bennington that the modest hit “No Small Affair” was his first released film, but it was not the first film he worked on. Before that he did a movie with Robert Altman, that was supposed to be Altman’s venture into the ‘teen comedy’ market.
“I did a secret film, with Robert Altman of all people.” he told Bennington. “He directed a movie called OC and Stiggs…it was my first job, and so I arrived there and he just has you make it up. There is an outline, the script is basically an outline and he just has you make up enormous amounts of this. And I was just like, “is this how they do this? I can’t imagine movies are done like this.’ And it was so much fun and it was a wonderful party atmosphere.”
According to Cryer, the movie wasn’t very good, and never got released. The studio eventually recut it, and released it on video eight years later, but, Cryer called it “incredibly meandering and odd.” Being on an unreleased Robert Altman movie does have its perks though. Cryer explained, “Bob used to have, he would show his old films every Saturday night and everybody would come and hang out, and watch..you know, you’re watching MASH and Bob Altman is sitting behind you, and every now and then he’d throw in a comment. You know like, ‘that shot was a pain in the ass or some sort of inside joke.”
Cryer learned the lesson early that picking projects is hard, because even with projects that seem so promising, so many things can go wrong. Superman 4, he explained, was a great example of that.
They were trying to reboot the franchise and they had a very clever script written by the guys who had done The Jewel of the Nile, and they got the whole cast together from the first one. They got Margot Kidder back, they got everybody back, Jackie Cooper. Gene hackman. And they were, the script was an interesting story. Basically a kid asked Superman to get rid of all the nuclear weapons in the world. I mean you’re superman, why can’t you get rid of all the nuclear weapons. And it was an interesting moral quandry for superman. So I thought, oh this is going to be great. And i was playing Lex Luthor’s evil nephew, Lenny. So i got to be Gene Hackman’s henchman. Come on. I defy anybody in this room– you’re going to get to be gene hackman’s henchman, you’re not going to turn that opportunity down.”
On his first day on the set of Superman 4, he got to literally fly, in a badass car, with Gene Hackman. It gets better. Jon Cryer explained to Bennington how different filming Superman 4 was, in the mid-80s, from how it would be done today:
The very first day was spectacular. The very first day was me and Gene Hackman , Gene Hackman and I in a 30’s open air convertible. And the idea was, we were trying to escape the scene of the crime. The scene was from the end of the movie, we were shooting it first. All of a sudden our car takes off– and they reveal Superman is underneath it and he’s actually flying us to jail. That’s the fun reveal. Well, nowadays the way they would do it is, they would put us in a car, in front of a green screen, and I’d never see superman, and they would do it a different way. But at that time, they literally had a construction crane that picked up the car, with Gene Hackman and I in it, and then wired christopher reeve underneath it in full superman regalia, and then they flew it away. On the crane. And this was my first day of work. It was the greatest thing ever. I still have pictures of it at home, because it was so wonderful.
Cryer also talked about why the film was such a disaster.
So it began with such promise and then slowly I started to notice that they were dropping scenes they couldn’t shoot. And it turns out the company that put it together was a company called Cannon films, and they were….Superman was their bid for respectability. But really they were known for financing crappy awful movies. The worst of the worst. And they couldn’t help but revert back to their roots and they ran out of money basically, while we were shooting and they didn’t shoot– whole sequences were cut. And they were supposed to do six months of flying work with chris reeve, and they did one. So they kept using the same flying shot over and over and its just embarrassing.
Cryer tells Bennington about the day Christopher Reeve told him the film was “a fucking mess” while standing at the Smithsonian.
So when the movie finally came out, they literally had a publicity event at the smithsonian. His Superman costume was being inducted into the smithsonian. There’s Chris Reeve, and I’m like, ‘I’m a part of this. This is great!’ and I take Chris aside and I’m like ‘oh this is so exciting, i can’t wait to see the movie’ and he says, ‘it’s a mess.’ It’s a fucking mess Jon. Im so sorry about this but it’s terrible.’ And here he was going through the motions at the smithsonian, fighting the good fight… and its crap. and its painful because you try to have some repoire with the public and have them confident that if they see you in something its going to be fairly good, but that one was unsalvageable.
Cryer said he still loves doing the show and having a great relationship with the audience. This season, he told Bennington, he got the chance to go into the writers room and actually “watch how the sausage is made”; a process he found equal parts exciting and disturbing.
I had never been privy to an old school sitcom writers room. In many ways its exactly how you expect it. There’s a lot of banter, everybody’s cutting each other down, but in a lot of ways it’s different in that these guys and gals sweat the details like you wouldn’t believe. They do a think which surprised me. First of all they make sure everybody in the scene ‘gets something’. You know, Amber Tamblyn doesn’t have a joke in this, we’ve got to give her a joke. But the scene is done; we don’t really need a joke from her; but it’s like ‘no we gotta give her a joke. We can’t just have people standing there laying pipe.’ And they’re right. So they sweat everything. And if they come to something that they feel should be a joke, they will sweat it for like, four hours; just sit there, pounding, grinding away at it just trying to get at the joke, when my impulse would be, ‘we’ll find it…lets get the scene where it needs to be. and then we’ll come back to this and find a funny joke.’ Thats not how they work. They sweat everything, and it shows. The show has been really tight this year with the writing and its’ fun to see how that happens.
One of the reasons for that grind is that there are so many jokes– about 140 per episode. It’s also hard, he explained, to maintain the characters integrity over eleven seasons but he credits head producer Jim Patterson for that, calling him the “institutional memory of episodes” for the show. He also credits the “what happens in vegas” mentality in the writers room for some of the shows success. “You’re open about stuff in the room, and when you’re not in the writer’s room, that stuff goes away, and it’s not okay to touch on it.”
The 11th Season season finale of “Two and a Half Men” airs tonight, Thursday May 8, at 9pm in the east. The Ron and Fez Show airs weekdays from noon to 3pm on SiriusXM’s Raw Dog Channel 99. You can also hear this interview in its entirety on SiriusXM ONDemand.