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Jon Cryer’s cauldron of anxieties

Actor brings his anxious-to-please act to ‘Two and a Half Men’
/ Source: The Associated Press

Jon Cryer had his doubts. Friends insisted he audition for the role of Alan Harper on the new CBS sitcom “Two and a Half Men” (Mondays, 9:30 p.m. ET), saying he’d be perfect for the part.

But when Cryer read the script, “I thought this guy is so uptight and anxious and that’s not me,” he recalled. “Then I gave the script to my wife and she said, ‘This script is so you!’”

So he auditioned — and got the part.

Cryer prefers to think of himself as someone with a “generally sunny attitude, hoping for the best” — a quality the 38-year-old actor says he inherited from his mother, actress-lyricist Gretchen Cryer, best known for her 1978 hit musical, “I’m Getting My Act Together and Taking It on the Road.”

Nevertheless, Cryer says he’s finding it “great fun” to play Harper, someone with a “cauldron of anxieties boiling in his gut ... that occasionally spill over.”

A chiropractor facing divorce, Harper and his 10-year-old son Jake (played by Angus T. Jones of “The Rookie”), have moved into the Malibu pad of his slick bachelor brother, Charlie, a successful jingle writer (Charlie Sheen). The brothers also have to cope with their domineering mother, Evelyn (Holland Taylor).

Co-creator Chuck Lorre says he’s running away from any “Odd Couple” comparisons. He’s more interested in how two men with similar upbringing — the anxious-to-please Alan and the aloof Charlie — react to the damage of their childhood wounds “in very different ways.”

The sitcom, which follows CBS’ top-rated “Everybody Loves Raymond,” is positioned with the hope that it will become a lynchpin when that hit series leaves the air.

Cryer, whose cheerful chatter is accompanied by a lot of hand movement, is comfortably settled in his trailer on the Warner Bros. lot during a break in rehearsals.

“Since I was 11, my dream has been to come to Hollywood and work at the studios,” he says, thrilled to be surrounded by soundstages where films such as “Jezebel,” starring Bette Davis, were made.

Cryer, whose father is stage actor David Cryer, says he loved the theater when he was growing up. “I loved being backstage — mainly because women walked around half-naked with a 9-year-old sitting there and they didn’t care. I just thought, ‘This is great,’” he jokes.

But it wasn’t until he was 11 that he “stopped wanting to be an astronaut and wanted to act like an astronaut.” His conversion came after playing Big Deal in “West Side Story” in junior high and uttering one “tiny little squeaky” line: “But the gym’s neutral territory.”

He attended Stagedoor Manor summer camp for several seasons, and also studied at England’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, which, he says, didn’t prepare him for sitcom work.

“Except it’s great for jokes ... because when they ask me to do something particularly humiliating I go, ‘I was trained at the Royal Academy!’”

Lorre says Cryer is extremely versatile. “We can write a dramatic scene, a poignant scene, a physically bizarre, over-the-top comedic scene, a scene where words have to have a certain rhythm ... when an actor can do all those things the response you have as a writer is freedom.”

Cryer’s talents have been praised in previous, but short-lived, sitcoms. In 1989, critics touted “The Famous Teddy Z,” in which he starred as a mailroom clerk-turned-Hollywood agent. It didn’t even last one season, and Cryer took the cancellation “very, very hard.”

When the series “Partners,” “Getting Personal” and “The Trouble With Normal” were canceled, Cryer coped better, because he learned to “understand at the depth of me that it’s not personal. These things just happen and when it’s the right thing it will succeed the way it’s supposed to.”

His major film credits include the 1986 teen drama “Pretty in Pink” and 1991’s “Hot Shots!” where he first worked with Sheen, star of the military spoof.

“It’s interesting because hanging out together we very quickly adopted a sort of Martin and Lewis thing, because I’m such a geek and he’s so cool,” Cryer says.

“Traveling in different circles,” the co-stars didn’t stay in contact after “Hot Shots!” But now reunited, they seem to have slipped back into a comedy team style that manifests elements of the cool Dean Martin and the quirky, jerky Jerry Lewis.

Cryer had hoped to do a biopic on Lewis, whom he resembles, but “it wasn’t meant to be.” Last year “Will & Grace” star Sean Hayes played Lewis in the TV movie “Martin and Lewis.”

“I told Sean Hayes that although I was greatly disappointed, he did a bang-up job,” Cryer recalled, “and that I would get my revenge by playing Sean Hayes in the Sean Hayes biopic!”