HOLLYWOOD — Is it fair that one of Hollywood's most successful and richest young actors didn't set out to be a performer — in fact, never took an acting class — when there are thousands of others like him, sweating auditions, posing for head shots, tweeting their every move?
To underscore the point: Angus T. Jones, the "half" in the No. 1 comedy on TV, "Two and a Half Men," doesn't even know if he wants to continue to hone the skill that's made him a millionaire when the seven-year-old CBS sitcom goes off the air. He's a 16-year-old high school sophomore who wants to go to college, and that's as far as his plans go.
"I don't know what I'm going to take or where I'm going to go," he said. "I'm not really sure. I don't really know if I want to do acting as a career. I really don't know what I want to do yet."
But what does he say to those legions of young actors who study, worry and undoubtedly envy him?
"I'm sorry?" Jones replied sweetly, his shoulders shrugging as his eyes melted into his signature broad grin. "It's always come naturally to me, but I don't know if I want to do this as a career."
He was 9 when he landed the part of the underachieving, dim-witted boy whose father (Jon Cryer) moves in with his womanizing, alcohol-loving brother (Charlie Sheen) after a divorce. Taken by his performance as Dennis Quaid's son on "The Rookie," co-creator Chuck Lorre asked Jones to audition for the often-racy sitcom and never tested another boy.
"He's just a very intuitive and instinctive actor," Lorre said. "Even as a little boy, he was at ease and at peace with himself so he could find the moments with a little bit of direction. ... You never see Angus acting. He really embodies the moment."
Born in Austin, Texas, Angus and his parents moved to Los Angeles when he was 4 because of his father's job.
Although he never expressed interest in performing, his mother noticed the way people gravitated toward her little boy and decided to take him to commercial auditions, figuring that with any luck, he would at least earn money for college tuition. It wasn't long before Angus was taping Oscar Mayer Weiner ads and an agent signed him. By the time he was 6, he was hired for his first film, "See Spot Run."
When casting called on behalf of Lorre, Jones had no idea what a sitcom was, let alone what show he was trying out for. That might explain his laid-back delivery, which has always made Jake come across as a real boy instead of the precocious, cutesy child found on most sitcoms.
Seven years later, earning a reported $1.2 million per season — a salary that doesn't include what he makes from "Men" also being the No. 1 show in syndication — Angus could probably afford to send his entire class to college.
"It was like, 'Oh, we have an audition for 'Two Men and a Half' or something," said Jones after shooting a scene for the Nov. 23 episode that was taped without the audience on the Warner Bros. soundstage. "I knew that it had to do with being funny. But I was really bad at keeping a straight face back then. I laughed at everything. So I had to be trained a little bit for that."
Angus' laughter on set is always endearing, said Sheen, who hit it off with the boy when they auditioned in front of CBS executives together and Angus kept laughing when Sheen delivered his punch lines. CBS worried then that Angus wouldn't be able to control himself during tapings, but for Lorre and co-creator Lee Aronsohn, it was a sign that Angus was relaxed and enjoying himself.
"Early on, he would smile a lot at the end of the joke so they'd always have to cut around that," Sheen said. "Which was funny to me because he was so young. Did he really understand the joke he was telling or the joke that's being spoken around him? Because there's a lot of adult humor. But you can still see it in the old episodes — him starting to smile and they cut away."
Shy, introspective and polite, Jones has never asked his producers and cast mates to explain the show's suggestive innuendo or dirty jokes — a point of contention with some critics who believe that a show with a child as the third lead shouldn't go as far as it goes. Charlie Harper is a carefree bachelor with a healthy libido and a lengthy black book (though now he's engaged). Alan Harper isn't as lucky with the ladies, but it's not for a lack of trying.