Tobey in Time

Check out the article Tobey Grows up in Time Magazine... "Folks loved his Peter Parker, but how long can Tobey Maguire really keep playing high school kids? In Seabiscuit, he saddles up and hits manhood at full gallop"
Monday, Jul. 21, 2003
In the mirror, Tobey Maguire almost looks like a regular person. It's 8 a.m., and he's sprawled out in a makeup chair on the closed set of Spider-Man II, wearing gray sweats, shorts and sneakers. He's not exactly larger than life — maybe 5 ft. 8 in. His hair is goofy and tousled. His voice is hoarse and has a touch of Californian dude-ulosity in it. But the chair swivels around, and you notice the eyes, luminous pearly gray lasers that go right through you. Then you remember: Oh, yeah. Right. Movie star.

It was Ernest Hemingway who first described the subspecies of movie star that Maguire belongs to, calling them "the great American boy-men." They're the ageless, fresh-faced whippets of the silver screen — slim of build, dazzling of smile, androgynous of gender. Leonardo DiCaprio used to be one; Elijah Wood is still one. Now Tobey Maguire is breaking ranks. In his new movie, Seabiscuit, he grows up.

Thus far Maguire has made a career out of playing dreamy-eyed kids. He was a desperate adolescent in The Ice Storm, an undergraduate wunderkind in Wonder Boys, an innocent Candide in The Cider House Rules, and lest we forget, a secretive high school super-nerd in last year's blockbuster Spider-Man. But don't confuse him with any of those losers in real life. Offscreen, Maguire is as tough as nails, managing his resume as well as any other star in Hollywood. Look at the arc of his career. It's as perfect as the part in Peter Parker's hair. At 28, he has worked for a string of A-list directors that would make James Lipton weep, including Woody Allen, Ang Lee, Terry Gilliam and Curtis Hanson. How does he do it? Where's his Weekend at Bernie's? "I wait," says Maguire. "I don't want to work as an actor just because I haven't worked in six months. I want to only do things when I really want to do them, and if they only come along every year, year and a half, then that's fine."

Maybe Maguire is a control freak because he never had much control over things as a kid. His parents were 18 and 20 when they had him, and split up two years later. Dad was a cook; Mom was a secretary. Maguire grew up ping-ponging between them, moving from state to state. Often he was so nervous he threw up in the morning before school. Then everything changed. He was in junior high, and his mom wanted him to take a drama class. She bribed him with $100. After that, it was commercials — his first onscreen performance was in an Atari ad — and TV shows like Blossom and Walker, Texas Ranger, then movies. His last year of formal schooling was ninth grade.

Maguire exercises the same kind of control over his personal life. He doesn't drink — in fact, he has been in Alcoholics Anonymous since he was 19. He doesn't eat meat. He's all about boundaries. Last year Autograph Collectors magazine ranked him No. 4 on its list of the world's worst autograph signers. Maguire has exactly one vice, illegal Cuban Cohiba Robusto cigars. On this morning, he smokes two before noon. In a three-hour interview, he makes exactly one joke. Asked if he is worried about the cigars messing up his million-dollar voice, he pretends to be offended. "A million?" he says, as if that's not enough. (Fact is, he's reportedly getting $12 million for Seabiscuit and $17 million for Spider-Man II.)

One side effect of his closed-border policy is the rumors that circulate about him. A quick rundown: Is he still dating Jennifer Meyer, daughter of Universal Studios head honcho Ron? Probably — but he doesn't talk about it. Does he really have a bad back that limits his ability to do stunts? Yes, but it's feeling fine these days, thanks. Did Columbia Pictures try to replace him in Spider-Man II with rival boy-man Jake Gyllenhaal? And did he have to beg his way back into the Spidey suit, with the help of the aforementioned well-connected girlfriend? No comment beyond "And here we are." Plus a zap with the lasers to say, Move on.

All that discipline pays off onscreen. Maguire is one of the world-champion under-actors. He never overdoes a scene, never overplays a reaction, never bullies you into feeling an emotion he doesn't earn. "One of the things that distinguishes Tobey as an actor is his ability to do more while appearing to do less," says Hanson, who directed him in Wonder Boys. Look at him once, and it's hard to tell he's even acting. His face barely seems to have a muscle in it. But you can't look at him once. There's something alert and alive in those eyes. There's something mysterious and curly going on around the corners of his mouth. It's sly, but not ironic-sly, like he's messing with you. It's more like you and he are messing with everybody else, together.

Seabiscuit is the acid test for Maguire. For one thing, he has to find out if people can look at him and not see Spidey. As Christopher Reeve found out, once you put on the tights, it can be hard to get them off. For another thing, Peter Parker was a high school kid. This is the first time we'll see Maguire as a man playing a man. "There probably won't be a lot more things I do where the character is, like, a virginal, innocent, sexually naive kind of guy," he acknowledges. "Only because being 28, it's just getting laughable to me." Not that that's why he took the part, he adds. "But am I glad I didn't have to do four or five scenes where I talk about being a virgin or have trouble talking to girls? Sure."

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Time Magazine