News Local

Canning rides Sheen wave

Sharon Weatherall - Special to QMI
Actor Charlie Sheen (L) talks to ABC News' Andrea Canning in Los Angeles, California, February 26. Canning, a Collingwood native, sat down with Sheen for an interview which aired on 20/20 March 1. REUTERS/ABC News/Handout

Actor Charlie Sheen (L) talks to ABC News' Andrea Canning in Los Angeles, California, February 26. Canning, a Collingwood native, sat down with Sheen for an interview which aired on 20/20 March 1. REUTERS/ABC News/Handout

Andrea Canning says it's been tough to unwind after the "wildest" week of her life. The ABC network correspondent is enjoying a week of holidays after scoring the biggest story of her career.

Earlier this week, the Collingwood Collegiate graduate spoke to the Enterprise Bulletin about the high-profile Charlie Sheen story that's attracting world attention. Her one-on-one interview with the troubled movie star on last Tuesday's edition of ABC's 20/20 has been downloaded five million times - a number that is growing daily.

It's one of the most downloaded stories on ABC's website.

She travelled to Los Angeles the weekend before last on Sheen's invitation after he was dropped from his CBS sitcom Two-and-a-Half Men - an event that capped a list of other bizarre scandals he's been involved in surrounding drug/alcohol abuse, sex and a stream of erratic Twitter comments. The interview took place in his LA mansion in the presence of Sheen's two girlfriends (known as the 'Goddesses') and his young children. Canning and the ABC 20/20 crew stayed in Los Angeles overnight Friday in order to get a feel for the interview the next day.

The fateful career opportunity led Canning down a path she could never imagine at the time. Prior to the interview she said she had been exchanging text communications with Sheen.

"I was covering radio rants on the show and Charlie happened to see my story and promised me he would call me when he was ready to do an interview. When CBS dropped the show he called," said Canning, who had very little time for research prior to sitting down with the actor.

"It was quick - I got prepared on the plane flying to Los Angeles. When I got the call on Friday it (the meeting) was supposed to be in Bahamas but then it got changed,"?she said. "I did my homework on the plane reading a research packet of articles and went back in time a bit as well. It was exciting and stressful because everyone wanted the interview and in the end we got it."

Canning got the first television interview with the actor.

Canning says she went in not knowing how the interview would turn out. Feeding off Sheen's answers, she ran with it and did not stick to a prepared format; it's not her style.

"I let things happen as they will, and I was all over the place. He took it in a lot of directions which made for good TV," said Canning. "I was shocked at how proud he was of his 'partying' and 'ethical moments' - something most people trying to stay clean and sober would not be proud of. That's what shocked me most."

It made for a fascinating hour-long program that aired on 20/20's Tuesday, March 1st edition.

"Another thing that shocked me was that he took offence to the talk about the porn stars and his use of prostitutes something he had been so open about it in the past," she added.

Canning says Sheen was in a good state of mind and very kind to her at his home before and after the interview, but during the taping he experienced some different moods and became "testy" when they were discussing certain topics. Based on the actor's past performance in dealing with the media, Canning was not sure what to expect - but found after talking to him earlier he was the Charlie Sheen she expected him to be: "a character and really funny." She admitted to being a big fan of his in Wall Street and Major League, as well as having watched many episodes of Two-and-a-Half Men.

"I was not nervous or scared but uncomfortable a few times - and felt like I was the one on the hot seat at times," said Canning.

Canning said Sheen would get angry at times and said that people mistake his passion for anger. She thought he was "definitely someone who wasn't messing around."

Canning was noted during the intense interview she was thinking about her friends back in Collingwood and Blue Mountain where she grew up and wondered if they were watching.

Turns out they were among the world's extensive audience.

"After the interview I heard from lots of friends and family who loved it, and lots of people reached out that used to live in Collingwood, so it was a good way to catch up," she said. "It's nice to be able to make my home town proud - that's important to me."

Canning has experienced past career highs covering the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, in Washington D.C. covering politics, and doing an interview with movie star refugees Randy Quaid and his wife Evi, following their escape from the U.S. to Vancouver; she tracked them down and did an interview with the two, who are are now seeking asylum in Canada.

Canning says she's not intimidated by high profile names and personalities, and that they are "just people - the same as everyone else.

"I have done interviews other celebrities, including Linda Evans at her ranch and Nick Hogan, Hulk Hogan's son," she said. "I also work with Diane Sawyer, and recently got some great advice from Barbara Walters; both women are icons to me, but I treat them like normal, ordinary people."

Canning has worked her way to where she is today with a positive personality and a straight-forward, honest technique that people appreciate. As a student at Western University she didn't have any ambition for TV; it was after attending Ryerson for Radio & Television Arts that Canning discovered that she "really liked being on-camera," and says that's what led her down her chosen career path. After spending two years reporting and anchoring with CKVR Television in Barrie, Canning worked at network affiliates in Cincinnati, Ohio, and West Palm Beach, Florida before joining ABC News in 2004.

Since then she has covered the White House, the Supreme Court and the war in Iraq.

Canning hopes the Sheen exposure will open some doors for her as far as getting to do more interviews and more exciting stories. While she enjoys doing 20/20, she says the Sheen story gave her a name in the industry like it has never been out there before.

"I hope it will open some eyes - not everyone in my network knew what I was capable of doing this and I hope I will get some more interviews from this,"?she said. "I would like to do more 20/20."

Canning says it's taken a lot of hard work and dedication to get this far, but she notes journalism has changed and become difficult to get into these days with salary cutbacks, downsizing, and the combining of different jobs and multiple workloads. She advises anyone getting into the field to really think about what they are doing and make sure it's what they want.

"It's not glamorous - it's a lot of hard work. You have to have a love for writing or television or it isn't worth it,"?she sai. "You have to be willing to go somewhere small first to see if you can get further up the ladder, and love and be proud of what you are doing.

"This job is different everyday; before the Sheen interview I was doing a story on obese animals - you just don't know what can change in a day," said Canning. "You have to believe in yourself and keep going if you want to be in the business. There is a job out there for everybody who wants it - it's a matter of if you want it bad enough.

"It is not an easy route I have taken, but it has been a chance to travel and meet exciting people - the pay off is exciting. I do it because I love it. I have worked hard at it and I am very proud of that,"?she said. "I encourage everyone at home to keep watching me - nothing means more to me than my friends and family seeing what I do."

After joining ABC, Canning married a U.S. Marine fighter pilot in Collingwood, and she is the mother of two young children who love to come to home with her when she visits; home base is New York City. The daughter of Blue Mountain Resort board chairman Gord Canning and his late wife, Kathy (who was the daughter of Jozo and Helena Weider), she is still a girl who is very proud of her roots.

"It is an understatement to say this area has changed considering the number of people here now, and its growth during the recent past," she said. "It has built up into such a beautiful area with so much to do. I really enjoy coming home. It's such a beautiful place and there a lot to do for the kids.

"I have family that comes here to me now, but I try to come home about three times a year - and being on maternity leave gave me an excuse to come back as well. My kids love it too and can't wait to go to Blue Mountain. When I was growing up it was amazing but it even more so now - it's a year round destination."

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