The Blade Interview

Young Tobey Maguire struggles with image of 'thespian in waiting'
January 9, 2000


"Tobey Maguire! TOW-BEE!"

Tobey Maguire spins around, and as if playing the straight man in a screwball comedy he stares straight ahead and sees nothing, dumbfounded, then looks down, and finds a short woman, a Canadian newspaper reporter with cat's-eye glasses and a Dr. Ruth Westheimer frame. He blinks once and waits.

"Tobey Maguire," the woman says, getting her breath back.


"Tobey, one question, Tobey."

Maguire is wearing a white T-shirt and the blank, bored look of a rising star.


'Tobey, you are an outsider."


"Your characters - not you."

"I understand."

She launches into a long question, something about the nature of cultural imperialism, way too convoluted to be sorted out in fewer than 500 words.

Reporters summarize Maguire's entire career in fewer words. Not unlike this:

Since the mid-1990s, after prominent roles in The Ice Storm and Pleasantville, the 24-year old Los Angeles native has been on the media's perennial short list of hot young up-and-coming actors, a list that gets longer and less exclusive every day. Hollywood loves and cultivates actors like Maguire. During an interview at the Toronto Film Festival, he looks blase and affected at the same time, like Tom Cruise with a little less confidence and the sad smile of Stan Laurel. He's not pretty, and not featureless enough to blend in, either. He's hip, bemused, sheepish, and it all shows on his face - you could picture him frantic in a romantic comedy, and he wouldn't be out of place as a naive Navy officer who finds his courage when pushed.

Maguire, though, sticks with the sort of serious character-driven drama that flourished in Hollywood during the 1960s and 1970s then got bumped into art houses during the 1990s. If anyone remakes The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, Maguire would be perfect. In that rarefied air he has carved himself a niche, not unlike Ralph Fiennes or Julianne Moore. But before he has even arrived in the public consciousness an anxious Hollywood has started looking for "Tobey Maguire-types."

With the lead in two new critically acclaimed films, The Cider House Rules and Ride With the Devil, and a third on the way opposite Michael Douglas in Wonder Boys, Curtis Hanson's follow-up to L.A. Confidential, Maguire is anxious to drop the "up and coming" part from stories like this and move on.

Later, during a lull in the Toronto Film Festival, where Maguire was last fall promoting Cider House, an adaptation of the John Irving novel, and Devil, from Ice Storm director Ang Lee, the actor sighs and considers the reporters and magazine editors who want to declare him "on the verge."

"I try and take everybody's labels and categories and catch phrases and just ignore it all," he says, picking absentmindedly at a dish of chocolate-covered almonds. "I read articles about me. I just try to tell the truth, and I don't know what they want, really. It always ends up being less about you than some reporter's perception of you."

I ask about his family. He sighs again.

"It just doesn't make sense to me, man. 'Emerging young actor' is just some headline writer's opinion. It's not in my control."

He doesn't want to talk about his family. Or about young Hollywood, or one of his best friends, Leonardo DiCaprio. Instead, he just sighs.

What image of himself would he like to create?

"You know," he says, "that's hard. I'm 24. I don't know." His eyes glaze. "I might have some ideas, but it's not really something I want to'85" His voice trails off. "I'm still learning. It's weird for me to talk about all this - how I want to create myself, the perception I put out there. It's strange stuff. I've decided the best way to deal is to ignore it and just work, work with good people."

Such as?

"Different filmmakers."

Anyone in particular?

"Not any one person."

Maguire has managed to cultivate the image of a thespian in waiting, say a young Dustin Hoffman, pleasant but a bit mysterious and dedicated to his work.

"Tobey didn't take a shower for two months," said Ang Lee. In Devil, he cast Maguire as a Missouri boy who joins the Confederacy. "We put him through boot camp for a month, letting him know the character and doing research on the period."

Maguire says he rode horses for a couple months before rehearsal. He read everything Lee gave him, met with guerilla warfare experts, learned how to load a gun. He didn't shower for three weeks, he corrects.

It's the most heroic role he's been given to date, but this being a young actor with a boyish face and a voice that can crack charmingly on cue, his character is a virgin. And in Cider House, Maguire plays yet another virgin, Homer Wells, an orphan who leaves home to find himself. He read Irving's novel, he says, and talked to foster children. You hear one thing during an interview with a foster child, he says, just as you're climbing into the character's skin, and it hits hard. You hook your performance to that one thing and dimensions are added to your performance.

"Because growing up," he goes on, "I always felt like an outsider. What I'm learning now about that is that most people, when they are kids, feel like that, too. I did feel I was the only one [who was different]. I'm coming to terms with that now."

I ask about his family again. His parents separated when he was young. He moved around a lot. Instead of answering, he sighs and looks around the room, as if searching for an escape hatch.

"You want one, man?" he asks, holding a chocolate in his hand. "It's almond."

1999, 2000 The Blade, copyright.

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