What's the Difference Between Lindsay Lohan and Charlie Sheen?

What Women Really Think
Oct. 10 2012 1:29 PM

What's the Difference Between Lindsay Lohan and Charlie Sheen?

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Lindsay Lohan in May

Photograph by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images.

We all know actors who have become so famous that it's impossible to see beyond their famous faces. Brad Pitt is always Brad Pitt, no matter the role. Sometimes, this limitation isn't such a curse: It's not the worst thing in the world for Angelina Jolie to be typecast as a sensual, powerful woman, or George Clooney to get stuck playing knowing, sophisticated men. But when an actor's messy personal life dominates public perception, the shoehorning can be brutal.

Enter the first trailer for Lindsay Lohan's latest project, The Canyons, in which she plays a pornified Los Angeles hedonist with actual porn star James Deen, reminding me that this sort of cruel typecasting can be a lot harder on women than it is on men.

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Lohan's career was widely considered to have reached the point of no return when she played a stripper with prosthetics in the 2007 trashtastic serial killer movie I Know Who Killed Me. In the two years that followed, she appeared as a groupie of John Lennon murderer Mark Chapman in Chapter 27 and as a woman who faked a pregnancy to avoid being fired in Labor Pains, a movie that was eventually bumped from its theatrical release and aired on ABC Family. Then followed a period in which she was essentially unemployable because her erratic behavior meant that she couldn't be insured by movie productions. As those restrictions have ebbed, the roles she's getting all play, in some way, off her status as a trainwreck.

Liz & Dick, which is scheduled to air on Lifetime next month, casts Lohan as Elizabeth Taylor in a tumultuous relationship with Richard Burton—and that's the most dignified part she's played in years. In Machete, she gets kidnapped after starring in a porn movie, then shoots a man while wearing a nun's habit. Up next, she'll cameo in the latest installment of the Scary Movie franchise, a stop of last resort for actors looking for a pay day on the downward slope of their careers.

It's not only women who make parody movie appearances, but it's worth considering the experiences of some of the men who will appear in Scary Movie 5 alongside Lohan. There's Mike Tyson, whose spiral included a jail sentence for rape but got to be self-aware in The Hangover franchise and had a one-man show on Broadway directed by Spike Lee. And then there's Charlie Sheen, who despite his long record of violence against women, struggles with addiction, and torpedoing of his network television career, got a deal from FX to shoot 100 episodes of Anger Management, a show that winkingly relies on Sheen's bad-boy past but puts the most charitable possible spin on it. And people watch it!

At 26, Lohan has a lot more time to turn her life around and a much shorter pattern of behavior than 47-year-old Sheen. Maybe she's not ready to work. But apparently that's not the only open question about her future career: It remains to be seen if other people are capable of remembering her talent instead of piggybacking on her substance abuse issues and screw-ups.

Alyssa Rosenberg writes about culture and television for Slate’s “XX Factor” blog. She also contributes to ThinkProgress and theatlantic.com.

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