Interview : Tobey Maguire

No actor has ridden so rapidly to the top of the Hollywood ladder than Tobey Maguire. While he almost ended up not doing the new Spider-Man sequel, the young actor will first appear in a very different film, the horseracing drama Seabiscuit. PAUL FISCHER reports from Los Angeles.

What was your reaction to the script and what concerns did you have about horse riding?
Well, first of all, I loved the script. I thought Gary Ross did a fantastic job adapting it. I read the book prior to reading the script and I loved the story. It’s such a great book. And Gary, I thought, using the kind of documentary historical device of showing the photos and having McCullough do some narration I thought was a brilliant way to establish the time period and what was going on there and how that ties into the characters’ own personal situations in their lives was so tremendous. How do you really capture that book? It’s difficult and you don’t make the book, you make the movie. But I thought Gary did a fantastic job. The character was just wonderful, very complex and I was excited about it. I was jazzed about it. In terms of riding, I wasn’t concerned about it. I’d done another movie where I rode some horses so I knew I had a start. I did not realize what kind of athletes jockeys are. I mean, they are just warriors, these guys. It’s unbelievable. The first time I got up and actually got up in the stirrups and did a bit of a gallop on a racehorse, and also just did some posting, I couldn’t believe it. After a couple of minutes, my legs were noodles. I could barely stand up. It’s just unbelievable and these guys are doing it seven days a week, 52 weeks a year. They don’t have an off time in their season and they’re making weight and racing six, seven, eight races a day. They’re just tremendous athletes, it’s unbelievable.

How did you prepare for the role?
Well, physically, I did some training and I had to diet to lose some weight so I could appear like maybe I could be a jockey. And I worked with Chris McCarron who is now retired, a hall of fame jockey who worked on our picture. And we brought in a mechanical horse that was called an equicizer to my house and several times a week, I would get up there and Chris McCarron would coach me. And that was both for form and just to build up my strength and endurance so I could do it.

How does physical training affect you, having had to bulk up for Spiderman too?
I think it’s not hard for me in the beginning, the preparation for the film. It excites me and I just dive into it and I like seeing the results of it and something that’s tangible. A lot of the homework I do is just about learning the psychology of the character and that’s very interesting to me. This is like you look in the mirror and you see it and you start to see the characters poking through physically and that’s fun. The hard part is maintaining it while shooting. You’re working 14 hours a day and you still have to be on a diet even though you’re so tired and you’re not getting enough sleep and all you want is sugar. I’m eating 1500 calories a day and working out several times a week. That becomes hard and I had some mini breakdowns where I just said, “Bring me as much candy and donuts as you can possibly find.” I actually had competitions with a couple people. Two people each brought me different little baskets of treats but I just ended up eating it all anyway. Then I would have to pay for those breakdowns.

After finishing Seabiscuit, how did you bulk back up for Spiderman 2?
Well, I changed my diet and I changed my workout regiment. The bulking up wasn’t hard. Again, it’s just about the maintenance and I’m two-thirds of the way through Spiderman, so I’m doing okay so far. But it gets tough in the middle of a picture. You just kind of get tired.

Can you talk about any other aspects of your training?
Well, the diet I just eat a lot more calories but I keep the ratio similar in terms of lower carbs and you taper the carbs throughout the day. It’s pretty boring kind of common diet stuff. In terms of workouts, you do a little less cardio, or you don’t get your heart rate up as high because on Seabiscuit, I didn’t mind burning fat and muscle because I just needed to be trim. Whereas on Spiderman when I’m burning fight, I keep the heart rate lower so the ratio is greater towards burning fat than fat and muscle. And workouts you do lower reps, higher weight to gain mass. It’s pretty simple. I heard somebody was like, “You know, I really want to trim up but I don’t want to go on a diet and I don’t want to work out.” Okay, well then you’re not going to do it.

What makes you so tired?
Just working 14 hours a day and you’re only getting six hours of sleep a night and then after your work day you’ve got to come home and do a workout. You get a little tired. But, I mean, I’m okay. I’m just saying to maintain the diet and to maintain that stuff on that level, you know, coming into it, I’m working out three hours a day, six days a week and then you get on the picture and you can’t quite do that because you just don’t have the energy to and it wouldn’t be wise to anyway because your muscles fatigue.

Compare the concept of hero in Seabiscuit and Spiderman?
I want everybody to take a stab at this question. [LAUGHTER] I’m not really sure. Personally, I’m coming from inside both stories and I identify with both. With the odds being stacked up against you and having psychological blocks for yourself, which I think Red Pollard feeling abandoned and living in a very difficult time and being poverty-stricken, he has a lot of personal stuff to overcome, to allow himself to be a part of his team. But he also finds other broken down people and a horse and together, they’re just the right team to succeed. And I think during that time that it was very pertinent, obviously struck a chord in America that they became- – Team Seabiscuit became such a great example of not letting the times get you down and you’re going to come out of it and just keep going, keep applying yourself, dust yourself off. And I don’t know, I think that’s still a hero today. I think there can be different kinds of heroes or different kinds of inspirational stories. It’s a personal thing and I think Spiderman is as well. It’s kind of a classic outsider nerd kind of kid who gets to be a superhero, which is pretty cool.

Did you hurt your back on this film?
It was pre-existing. It wasn’t on this film. And it’s just been something that has come and gone over a few years. Nothing I did on this film really hurt my back and since, it’s gotten a lot better.

What’s harder, being Spiderman or being a jockey?
I don’t know. It’s equivalent, I guess.

What research did you do on Red Pollard?
Well, I used the book and I talked to Gary Ross, the director, a lot who did a lot of research and also spoke a lot with Laura Hillenbrand. I also had some home movies that I looked at. And, it became confusing because at some point, it was hard for me to put together what was the real stuff and what was in the movie and I would sometimes get confused about the book versus the script because I think in tone, they were very similar and I would just talk about stories about Red and I started to have to really focus on the script, because that was what I was making after all and I felt pretty rooted in who this guy was and how I was going to portray him, because it is a movie after all and it’s the world of the movie, the world that Gary Ross creates.

What drove him?
I heard on one of these documentaries that somebody said to him that he was basically going to amount to nothing and I think personally that kind of thing did drive him. But I also think it was at a point where he was kind of a broken man and a little bit desperate that it was just a fortunate set of circumstances or whatever because he was not a very successful jockey prior to Seabiscuit and he became really famous and I think he really enjoyed that. I think Red’s very complex. He was abandoned. He had a lot of anger. I think he could be self-destructive. But he met up with these people and he found a second family and they got to succeed together.

Were you a horse racing fan before this?
I was. Not avid, but I went as a child to the race track here and Hollywood Park and Del Mar. I used to go with my family sometimes. And I liked it. It was a lot of fun but this is what’s interesting to me. It was just like a big show. I think they do such a great job of putting on a show for us and then getting to go behind the scenes and see all the hard work that goes into it, I just have a whole different outlook and a different respect for it.

What’s harder, acting or racing?
Oh, it’s definitely more challenging and demanding to be a jockey. 100 percent. Also, there are only 10 percent of them that make a good living. I mean, these are professional athletes. You look at other professional sports and even your 10th or 11th guy on the bench in basketball is making a really good living. Jockeys, if you’re not in the top 10 percent, you’re not making money. So, in that, it’s tough. In that they don’t have an off season it’s tough. In the fact that like a wrestler or boxer they have to make weight, but not just before a match. They have to do it seven times a day. These guys are riding a lot of times hungry or dehydrated or whatever they have to do. Some of them maybe are naturally in the right weight category, but a lot of them are probably struggling to get below 115 every race. So, it’s nonstop. It’s constant. Chris McCarron said he took his first five day voluntary vacation after 20 years of riding. This is seven days a week, 52 weeks a year. It’s not something that I would want to do.

What is the draw of horse racing?
I don’t know. I think it’s so exciting. When I go to the races, you invest in a horse or in a team and you just get excited, you just pull for them. I go to the races and I don’t know anybody there. I don’t know the jockey or the horse or anything, but as they’re coming into the home stretch, I just find myself screaming my head off and saying funny things. I don’t know why. It’s just a lot of fun, it’s really exciting and of course now, just knowing all the work that goes into it, it’s a whole different thing for me.

Were you fired from Spiderman because of the back injury? Did you have doubts you’d reprise the role?
No, I didn’t really have any doubts and it’s not true that I was fired. Basically, I had some concerns as did the studio because the level of stunts are so much greater on the second picture than the first and we both wanted to make sure I could do it. So, we went through some tests in terms of me getting into harnesses and performing some of the stunts. We were pretty close to production, so I think things got blown out of proportion. We were three weeks out and we were making sure, or you could say questioning, whether I was able to do it. After I did the tests, we all felt good about it and off we went.

Was money an issue, you wanted more money?
That’s an invention of a journalist.

What is the nature of your back injury?
Just some low back stuff.

What are your interests during down time?
I like to read, watch movies, play video games.

The Indiana Jones video game on Xbox is pretty good. There are a couple others.

What are you reading?
I’m reading Conversations With Wilder, Cameron Crowe. Movies, hanging out with my friends and eating and playing board games, traveling.

Why is this story so relevant now?
I think it’s universal, it’s relatable. I think in terms of the overall heroic story, I think that’s relevant and also, just these people who are broken down kind of people. Someone loses a child, someone is out of place in this time meaning Tom Smith and my character is abandoned and Seabiscuit’s been abused and never really understood and I think coming together like a family, we understand and care for each other, and we allow ourselves to be cared for and from that, we face and beat the odds. I think it struck me, I’m a 28 year old guy living our time, and it struck me when I read it.

You talked about Alcohol Anonymous in the Playboy interview. Had you wanted to make that public, and did you hope the movie would show Red Pollard’s alcoholism?
I didn’t expect it to be in there and I like the framework of the movie quite a bit. In terms of your other question regarding the Playboy article, I don’t think it’s really a secret that I’ve been sober since I was 19. It’s in half the articles done about me and that was a conversation off the record with that journalist, and the journalist betrayed me. So, it upsets me. I think it’s a well written piece, but I don’t like that and then it becomes a revelation even though it’s been out there for years.

Talk about Spiderman 2?
I’m really having a good time. Everybody who’s on the picture has done it before, so I feel like it’s going even better than the first one. The story’s a lot better. I’m having fun. It’s exciting.

How does it feel to put the costume back on?
I don’t know. I haven’t thought about it.

Are you worried about this summer’s trend of people getting tired of sequels?
I don’t know. I say if a movie’s good then people will go see it.

Will you do a third?
You know, we’ll see if they’re going to make a third one.


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