Tobey Maguire is one of the those actors you might be forgiven for asking:Tobey Who? Admittedly, Maguire is hardly a household name even after distinguished performances in critically-acclaimed films like ICE STORM, the (1997), DECONSTRUCTING HARRY (1997), WONDER BOYS (2000), and CIDER HOUSE RULES, the (1999). But he has achieved a formidable record in working for some of Hollywood's most talented directors and drawn high praise from his co-workers. And his next film, SPIDER MAN, is most certainly going to put him over the top.
The long-awaited SPIDER MAN project saw Maguire beat out actors like Jude Law, Heath Ledger, and Chris O'Donnell for the role of the seriously conflicted, self-questioning Peter Parker from the fabled Marvel comic strip and cartoon TV series. Though the casting of the rather low-key Maguire raised some eyebrows amongst industry watchers and Spidey fans ("too wimpish," "too reserved," went the refrain), the 26-year-old actor is in many ways the ideal choice to play a reluctant superhero.
"I know that some people think I'm not exciting enough or volatile enough for this kind of role, but I think that kind of criticism is absolutely off-base," says Maguire. "Peter Parker is not a typical action hero. He's probably the most down-to-earth, most carefully drawn, and least plastic of comic book figures. For me, it's a role that I knew that I could pull off without disappointing people. And once people see the movie, I think they'll come to the same conclusion. "
Maguire spent six months taking martial arts, weight training, and an intensive gymnastics programme in order to bulk up, look buff, and be able to match the lithe athleticism of Spider Man. "I wasn't able to eat that much for a long time," recalls Maguire of his training regimen. "But for someone like me who wasn't exactly a fitness freak, it was a chance of a lifetime to work with top trainers in different disciplines to get in great shape. I'm going to try to stay buff as long as I can, but it takes a lot of discipline and staying away from your favorite junk food!"
Directed by Sam Raimi, SPIDER MAN also co-stars Kirsten Dunst as Peter Parker's sexy love interest, Mary Jane. It was during the filming that Maguire and Dunst began seeing each other off the set in a relationship that remains active.
The son of a top Santa Monica chef, Maguire took up acting at the age of 12 when his mother offered him a $100 bribe to take drama classes instead of chef's school. This led to work in commercials for MacDonald's and Dorito's, before finding roles in feature films like PARENTHOOD (1989), THIS BOY's LIFE (1993), and various other unremarkable films.
But it was Maguire's subtle, poignant, and endearing portrait of youthful angst in Ang Lee's ICE STORM, the (1997) co-starring Christina Ricci and Sigourney Weaver, that confirmed Tobey as a major acting talent on the horizon. SPIDER MAN will put that reputation to an added test in seeing whether Maguire can draw major audiences as well.
Tobey, coming off impressive art-house films like ICE STORM, the (1997) and CIDER HOUSE RULES, the (1999) one wouldn't have thought that SPIDER MAN would be your first choice?
I think that's because people have a false impression of Peter Parker and the Spider Man comic books. There is a lot of serious subtext to the character if you want to look for that. That's what interested me in playing him, because you had much more freedom and much more depth there than you do with Batman or Superman, for example. Spider Man was created as a darker, more conflicted character, and that was my interest in taking the role and I think the director Sam Raimi shared that perspective. This is not just going to be a dumb action vehicle. There will be a lot of serious elements that audiences will be able to find in the film and in the Spider Man character and still have fun with the concept.
Do you worry at all about the kinds of negative reactions that greeted George Clooney when audiences didn't find him sufficiently engaging as Batman?
You can't worry about that stuff. So much depends on a lot of other factors, particularly the script, when it comes to whether an audience truly falls in love with a movie. I'm not going to take all the credit if SPIDER MAN is a huge success, and I'm not going to take all the blame if we go down in flames. That's what's exciting and a little scary about making movies - it's hard to know from the outset whether it's going to be good or not. There's a huge creative collaborative process at work when you're on the set and in the case of SPIDER MAN, the atmosphere was wonderfully creative and alive. That's why I have high hopes for the film.
What's the key to playing Peter Parker alias SPIDER MAN?
I'm not going to give it all away, because I want audiences to make that judgement. But I think the aspects which shape Peter Parker are those very common to young people who go through a whole series of existential doubts and conflicting desires about who they are and where they stand in their world. It's about identity and self-discovery and figuring out a little more about who you want to be and who you think you should be. That's what's so intriguing about the SPIDER MAN concept - the fact that Peter Parker openly raises his doubts so that the readers of the comic strip could share his worries and fears. He's not an all-powerful, all-knowing cardboard superhero. He's not a superhero at all, by that standard. He's very mortal, someone who agonizes a lot about his role in life. For an actor, being able to get into those areas is what you dream about.
Is there enough room in a film like SPIDER MAN to achieve that high substantive ground?
I think there is or I wouldn't even have considered going after the role. The darker edges are what made the film interesting for me and I think we have a chance to rev up the whole genre and focus attention away from special effects and acrobatics and also get into the core of what a character like SPIDER MAN is all about.
What do you feel about the suggestion that you are too reserved as an actor?
I know there's all this talk about my charisma deficit and I have to admit that I'm not a wild, in-your-face actor. It's not my nature to be flashy or extroverted and that's why I see it as a great challenge to me as an actor to be able to play against type and shake up people's perceptions of me. I take it as a compliment if people want to identify me personally with the characters I played in ICE STORM, the (1997) and CIDER HOUSE RULES, the (1999). I'm very proud of the work I did in those movies and I can understand that those performances reinforce a certain perception of my limitations or abilities as an actor. I don't hide from that. I just take it as a huge opportunity to make people realize that I can do a lot more than that and play completely different characters on a lot of different levels. And I think SPIDER MAN is one of those characters which is going to make people think differently about me.
One of your co-stars in SPIDER MAN is Kirsten Dunst. Talk about what she brings to the film?
Kirsten is one of the most talented young actresses around. It's amazing some of the work she's done already and how secure she is in her ability. I still don't have her kind of confidence and natural grasp of acting. I have to work at it harder and so it's just a pleasure for me to be able to work with her. She's also a great person who's pure joy to hang around with.
So are you going to officially break the news that the two of you are a serious romantic couple?
(Laughs) I don't know where you heard that from. We're just good friends and enjoy each other's company. (Smiles) And that's all I'm going to say.
Can you talk about the relationship between Peter Parker and Mary Jane in the film?
Let's just say that there's a very interesting romantic angle to their relationship that helps deepen the story. I know that's a pretty bland answer, but I'd rather let people be pleasantly surprised than blow all the suspense.
What are the qualities you admire in women?
I think women have the advantage over men - they tend to be much more in touch with their feelings and understand the dynamics of how relationships work. Men are much more cold-blooded and less willing to explore what makes a marriage or a relationship work. We like to deal in results and women are interested primarily in the process of the relationship, the little things which are actually the basics of how men and women interact. Like why you didn't seem interested in what she said after you saw a play together, or why you never say how you feel about her. Those are some of the gaps between men and women that I would love to explore in a film.
You've been on the cover of some magazines in the past and tasted some fame. Do you have any illusions of being a thinking woman's sex symbol, especially now that SPIDER MAN is in the pipeline?
I have no illusions at all about being a sex symbol. None of my former girlfriends ever thought of me that way, and I don't have any packs of women chasing me down the street like a Brad Pitt or someone like that. The most attention I get is in a book store or video shop when I go to the foreign film section. Sometimes that can be fun, but usually those women want to talk about philosophy or something very dense. It's not like they're tearing off my shirt, you know. (Laughs)
So how are you going to handle all the attention that is probably going to come your way?
I'm honestly trying not to worry about any of that. I still firmly refuse to believe that I'm the type of guy who's ever going to have that kind of status as an actor. I think I'm doomed to live with my reserved and sincere and earnest young man profile.
And how close is that nice guy image - the kind of guy you'd want your sister to marry - to the truth?
Probably too close, but I still think there's hope for me! (Laughs)
Many of the directors you've worked with in the past have praised your sensitivity and intelligence as a performer. What do you think makes an intelligent and sensitive film?
To make those kinds of films, you need to give actors the freedom to interpret because no actor is a perfect fit with a role that is described in a screenplay. So that means every actor has to establish a presence that not only fits the overall needs of the story but allows him to interact with other actors in a credible and meaningful way.
Every actor wants to work under conditions and with material that enables them to create and use their craft. If you're sitting in the audience, you probably can't see the preparation and work that goes into creating a great scene or a great part, but I can assure you that a good film depends on lot of different things falling perfectly into place.
Did you have that experience in ICE STORM, the (1997)?
Yes, and I've enjoyed those privileged moments in films like CIDER HOUSE and in WONDER BOYS (2000). When it happens, you feel like you've entered a very special kind of space and you wish it could happen more often. You feel like you've reached new levels as a performer and it gives you more confidence to go on and take on increasingly difficult roles. That's the creative framework that makes an actor thrive. You live for those really great scenes where you almost feel that the film has gone beyond what was printed on the script pages and been raised to another level. I think every good film takes on that kind of character.
After SPIDER MAN, will you play in more mainstream commercial films or will you still seek out a lot of artistic projects?
Ideally, you want to achieve a balance that allows you to retain some kind of marketability so you're not constantly passed over in favour of more bankable actors, and at the same time find a lot of difficult, interesting work. I love exploring psychology and getting inside someone's head or exploring the dynamics of how couples behave, and I would love to continue finding projects where I have the chance to address those kinds of issues. And sometimes there are going to be moments in my life where I will probably want to play some wild or sick character just to shake things up. I can't just be that nice, reserved guy all the time! (LAUGHS)