Jason Schwartzman, Roman Coppola and Charlie Sheen Stage a Quirky, Dancing Meltdown

Roman Coppola and Jason Schwartzman Charlie Sheen Inset - P 2013
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Roman Coppola and Jason Schwartzman Charlie Sheen Inset - P 2013

Hosting a family reunion for the new comedy "A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III," the pair discuss their teamwork -- and bringing the embattled Sheen aboard.

The evening befitted the family behind it: well-attended, cinematic, filled with Italian food, familial and low-key. On the second floor of the Lower East Side's Hotel Chantelle, overlooking a quiet corner of Delancey Street, the scions of several cultural icons enjoyed warm conversation, roaming trays of meatballs, wine in plentiful quantities and, most importantly, conversations about the family business.

It could have been a scene out of a Francis Ford Coppola movie, but instead, it was his life. He sat at a table near the window, looking on with daughter Sofia Coppola, as his son Roman Coppola and nephew Jason Schwartzman celebrated after a screening of their new movie, A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III.

Working together is nothing new to cousins Roman and Jason; they co-wrote Wes Anderson's 2007 film, The Darjeeling Limited (in which Schwartzman also starred), and Coppola earned an Oscar nomination Thursday for helping write Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom, a film that Schwartzman acted in as well. In Charles Swan, an idiosyncratic, stylized journey through the breakdown of a playboy artist, Coppola is the writer and director while Schwartzman plays support to the lead, Charlie Sheen.

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The movie is a slick jaunt through the jumbled mix of fantasies, nightmares and memories of a graphic designer whose sex drive has finally cost him the one woman he loved. He has wild nights and liquor-soaked adventures -- very familiar territory for the former Two and a Half Men star. In fact, when he was cast in September 2011, he was coming off a disaster of a world speaking show tour, which had been preceded by a wild, headline-stealing meltdown that saw him kicked off his CBS sitcom and flaunting his vices on the national news. That made it impossible for Coppola to get insurance or a bond on the film, which piled the financial pressure on an already low-budget project. It also made him more determined than ever to make it work.

Luckily, Coppola got not the volatile Sheen, but the one that has now rebounded to lead the FX comedy Anger Management -- after a while, anyway.

"I think initially, it was a little hard for me to pin him down," the filmmaker explained Wednesday. "I was eager for him to do the film, and he was a little bit elusive, like 'OK, let’s talk about it, let me see, let me think.' But when he said, 'I will do it, I will be there,' he was.

"He couldn’t have been more professional or more skilled and committed," Coppola said. "He learned to speak Spanish to a degree for the film, he was taking dance lessons. He really threw down, and when you see the film, he has a lot of just real genuine acting ability to have nuanced flavors in his interpretation of the material. So I’m very proud to be someone who got the chance to show again and remind people how talented he is and how charismatic he is in another kind of context, a film context."

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Coppola also wanted to clarify that though the character and Sheen share many characteristics -- even a first name and last initial -- neither the film nor the part was inspired by him.

"It’s a great attribute when an actor brings so much of his self and their experiences and life into a role, so in that way he draws a lot from his life," he said, conceding the obvious connection. "But the fact of the matter is that it was written prior to all that kind of public stuff, and it really is a story about another type of character that we invented together. So he brings so much of himself, but it’s not really using Charlie’s persona as a starting point. That was just something he brought as an actor."

Having Sheen on set proved to be an asset, not a problem, but still, nothing can compare to the creative possibilities of bloodline collaboration.

Working with family, Schwartzman -- who plays Sheen's best friend, a stand-up comedian, with his trademark earnestness -- removes entirely the apprehension of showing up on set and worrying how you'll be received, cutting out the "how do you do?" period and the trial balloons of early performances. Familiarity also helps, he says, when receiving direction from someone you've known since childhood.

"Because we’re family and we’ve known each other for so long, we have so many shared memories," the actor told THR on Wednesday night. "We’ve been on trips together and we see each other often and our children are friends, so we have a breadth of references and memories and Roman can say to me, ‘Hey, maybe try it like that guy we saw cooking vegetables in New Orleans.' And a director would not normally be able to say that kind of stuff."

Sheen's Swan is a graphic designer who designs record sleeves, and the styles and technology of the film would seem to place it squarely in the 1970s. But Coppola is cagey about calling it a period piece of any sort; the "soul" of the film is in that era, he said, but it was more of an aesthetic inspiration. From the colorful visuals and camera movements to idiosyncratic characters and dialogue, it is clearly in the same universe as the worlds he has crafted with Anderson.

"There are certain directors, you see it and there is a very transparent job. In a good way," Schwartzman, who has starred in four movies for Anderson and three for Coppola, explained. "The story is the star of it and anybody could have made it. Well, not anybody, but... But there are other directors, to see the movie is to feel like you’ve spent some time with them. And with Roman, everything he’s thinking about is in this movie."

E-mail: Jordan.Zakarin@THR.com; Twitter: @JordanZakarin