AKRON, Ohio -- Imagine you're an actor offered a recurring role in a new sitcom. But there's a catch: The star is Charlie Sheen.
Yes, Charlie Sheen, who seemingly blew up his career with personal excess, an ugly public departure from the hit Two and a Half Men, a bizarre stage tour (which included a stop in Cleveland and Detroit) and frequent employment of catch-phrases that soon enough became reason for mockery.
Well, Sheen is back, on FX, with the new series Anger Management premiering at 9 p.m. Thursday. Inspired by the movie of the same name, the series will have an initial run of 10 episodes; if enough viewers show up for those, FX will order 90 more.
But James Black is enthusiastic about working with the actor.
A 1985 graduate of the University of Akron, the football-player-turned-actor has a recurring role on Anger Management as a prison inmate getting group therapy from Sheen's character, Charlie Goodson. When asked his first thought upon hearing he was working with Sheen, Black said, "Oh, my God, this is fantastic."
"He is, to me, a comedy genius," Black said during a recent telephone interview. "It was proven the first time we sat down and just started rehearsing. It was like, this guy is like a technician. He really knows what he's doing. He shows up to work on time. He looks over the scripts and -- it doesn't even look like he's trying, and he's hysterical. It's amazing to watch."
A frequent TV guest star (and performer in commercials), Black compared working with Sheen to working with Kyra Sedgwick on The Closer. "They would change her lines page by page and page and she would read it, go through it one time, and the next time it was perfect. I was like, 'How do you do that?' And Charlie Sheen's like that. … He knows his punch lines, and when something's not working, he'll work on it and say to the writers, 'How about if I say it like this?' "
Told that Sheen appears to be in the form he was when still good on Two and a Half Men, Black said, "I didn't watch a lot of Men." But he did take a look at Sheen's successor, Ashton Kutcher, on the show, and thought "this isn't funny to me."
"So I went back and started looking at reruns, and thought, oh, my God, Charlie's got it going on," Black said. "It's like, this is who he is, these lines were written by him in the moment."