Maguire returns to `Spider-Man' role he underestimated

Movies: on screen, DVD/ Video

July 01, 2004|By Barry Koltnow | Barry Koltnow,KNIGHT RIDDER / TRIBUNE

Tobey Maguire was still naive enough in 2001 to believe that Spider-Man would not change his life in any significant way.

His naivete lasted exactly three days.

On the third day after the movie opened to what was then a box-office record, Maguire left home for a lunch date, only to discover that he was a marked man. He had become instant tabloid bait. For the first time in his acting career, he was considered worthy of being stalked by celebrity photographers.

"I'm not stupid," the 29-year-old actor said as he reclined on a sofa in his dressing room on a studio lot in Culver City, Calif., just two weeks in advance of yesterday's opening of Spider-Man 2, expected to be the biggest movie of the summer.

"I was aware of the hype in advance of the first Spider-Man ... I figured that it could possibly make $70 million that first weekend. That was a lot of money to me. Most of my movies don't make $70 million in their entire run.

"Then somebody called that weekend and told me it was the biggest Saturday in history, and I still figured about $70 million. I was never thinking in terms of $114 million. I couldn't think that high. So when I left my house that Sunday, I wasn't ready for what happened."

Maguire, who was last seen on the big screen as jockey Red Pollard in Seabiscuit, said he watched his life change.

"I came out of the restaurant and there were 12 photographers hanging around my car. They jumped in four or five cars and started following me as I drove off ... I started to flip out."

The actor said he called two of his friends and explained what had happened.

"They told me not to worry about it," Maguire said with a shrug. "They told me to accept it as my new life."

Maguire's parents split when he was 2, and he and his mother moved often until he was in the ninth grade when, with her encouragement, he quit school to pursue acting.

Maguire made his big-screen debut in the Robert De Niro film This Boy's Life. In 1997 director Ang Lee cast him in The Ice Storm. It was a performance that made Hollywood take notice.

The same year, Woody Allen picked him for Deconstructing Harry, the next year he starred in the innovative Pleasantville, and then director Lasse Hallstrom hired him for The Cider House Rules, which led directly to his part as Peter Parker, the tortured alter ego of Spider-Man.

Director Sam Raimi was searching for his Peter Parker when his wife suggested that he watch The Cider House Rules.

Raimi was sold on Maguire. Maguire was sold on the role. The studio was not sold on Maguire.

In fact, Maguire had to make a screen test, and studio executives took several weeks to make up their minds, although Raimi said he never stopped fighting for the actor.

"Unlike Superman, who only pretends to be a human being, Peter Parker really is a human being," Raimi said. "He's one of us, trying to act like a superhero.

"I needed an actor like Tobey who has the ability to be a very real person on screen," Raimi said. "He doesn't just play Peter Parker. He is Peter Parker."

Maguire was locked contractually into two sequels even before the first Spider-Man was released. But that didn't mean he was excited about starring in the first sequel.

"I was very anxious until I read the script," the actor said. "My first emotion after reading it was relief that it wasn't bad. My second emotion was excitement because it was good."

In the sequel, two years have passed since Parker gave up Mary Jane's (Kirsten Dunst) love and accepted the responsibilities of being a superhero. Although his desires for Mary Jane are still there, and there is an interesting new villain in this one (a mad scientist with tentacles played by Alfred Molina)the film is more about Peter's internal struggle between what he sees as the curse and gift of his superpowers.

"I've always felt," Raimi said, "that Spider-Man is the least interesting aspect of who Peter Parker is."

For film events, see Page 32.

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